Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Viruses" Rule the World: Dan Dennett on Memes, Consciousness and Religion

This mind-bending lecture from Tufts University philosopher/cognitive scientist Dan Dennett is a must-listen if you haven't already. Kicking it off with the genetic analogy of parasite-driven ant suicide, Dennett picks up where Dawkins left off with The Selfish Gene, expanding on the meme ("idea-gene") concept to demonstrate how Darwinian principles can help us to understand the spread and impact of culture and ideas. In particular, he uses this approach to ask why many people are willing to sacrifice their own life for certain ideas. This leads to a discussion of the religion virus, and it's interesting that he takes quite a different position on the issue than the extremist one currently favored by Dawkins himself. Also manages to get in some important points on the illusion of human consciousness. It's 20 minutes well worth it, I promise you. See his other TED talks for more detailed treatments of religion and consciousness.

PS - You don't have to take my word for it - look at that classic beard and decide for yourself whether the man isn't a wizard-scholar of the highest order...