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The book doesn't simply lay before the reader the author's observations and research on his topic like so many others. In fact Dennett himself points out this fact in his introduction when he notes that the volume is a book on science not a work of science. As he rightfully notes, "Science is not done by quoting authorities, however eloquent and eminent, and then evaluating their arguments (p. 11)." What he does do is describe the topic of Darwinian evolution and its impact on society, then presents the observations and research of diverse professionals in the field, critically dissecting them for the benefit and edification of the reader. It should be noted that Dennett is not himself an anthropologist or biologist, but he is trained in critical analysis. As Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor at Tufts University and director of that institution's Center for Cognitive Studies, he is considered a philosopher whose specialty is consciousness as high-level, abstract thinking and is known as a leading proponent of the computational model of the mind. As such he is also considered a philosophical leader among the artificial intelligence (AI) community. His credentials, therefore, give him more than adequate qualifications for performing the above noted dissection with precision and thoroughness.
It is sometimes difficult for the average person, especially one who is not specifically trained in a field of research or in the rules of logic, to be objective about the literature in an area outside their specialty. The power of the written word, the forceful current of a persuasive argument, and the care with which confirming evidence is presented and refuting evidence suppressed or camouflaged, all make it difficult to see the flaws in some of the popular works on evolution--or any other science. Therein lies the value of Professor Dennett's efforts in DDI. He carefully points out the errors and strengths of the authors he cites. As he writes, "There is no such thing as a sound Argument from Authority, but authorities can be persuasive, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. I try to sort this all out....(p. 11)." And he does so step by step so that the reader can follow the logic or illogic of the arguments under discussion. In doing so he takes on some pretty visible and popular authors, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins among the better known perhaps, and some very high level math-physics intellects, most notably Stuart Kaufmann and Roger Penrose.
I found that the work almost seemed like a collection of essays of varying length on assorted topics with all of them linked by a common theme. The book is probably best read with this in mind, since it's difficult to digest in a single sitting or even with a single read. (I tend to use post-it-note page markers to highlight points on pages I wish to review after finishing a book. There were so many post-it-notes marking my copy of DDI, that a friend at work pointed out that I might just as well re-read the entire book. He's probably right!) Part of the problem lies in the book's basic premis. As a critique of various works by diverse authorities, it demands that the reader more actively participate in the thought process of that criticism. And that participation requires a rather diverse background of knowledge: anthropology, architecture, artificial intelligence, biology, evolutionary theory, game theory, physics, philosophy, are among some of the topics covered under the cover of Darwin and evolution! It also requires some knowledge of the author's under discussion.
While I don't want to scare a prospective reader, I also think that this book might be a little more than most can or wish to handle. I do think that the person who undertakes to read it, devoting to the project the time and care that it deserves, will come away with, not only a good deal of solid information, but with a first rate training in critical thinking as well!
The point of this book is, of course, that Darwin's concept hasn't been universally accepted. Even those who acknowledge evolution may still contest Darwin's mechanism of natural selection through adaptation. Dennett's analysis of iconoclast Stephen Gould's 'punctuated equilibrium' is delightfully scathing, but precisely on the mark. The role of the heretic is to threaten orthodoxy, whether or not the orthodoxy is false. Gould, after trying for a generation to scupper orthodox Darwinism, is here demonstrated to have failed miserably. His attacks, however, have frightened the orthodox without weakening the structure of natural selection. Dennett's superb critique of "punctuated equilibrium" isn't a call for blind adherence to orthodoxy, but instead demonstrates the strengths of Darwin's analysis and why Gould's iconoclasm is misleading. Gould's response to Dennett's clear review of the reality of Darwinism has been petulant stubbornness rather than sound scholarship. That's a pity.
Dennett's prose is delightful. His analysis is direct and pointed in arriving at his conclusions. Taking you step by step through his presentations, it becomes unequivocally clear that his conclusions are iron-clad. Nothing is left hanging - you are brought to each point with a clarity any writer would envy. The book isn't brief, but as Mozart once responded to the criticism that there were 'too many notes' in his opera, what would you take out? Dennett builds his case with confidence, using numerous sources to support his contentions. Coupling a high degree of readability with an equally elevated scholarship is no mean feat, but Dennett achieves it with apparent ease. For contrast, try Michael Ruse's "Understanding Darwin", another philosophical view of the impact of Darwin's idea.
If there's a better book somewhere on the impact of the greatest concept in science, please point it out. Dennett's analysis shows how widely Darwin's idea of evolution through natural selection has permeated through all the sciences and society. The resistance to the concept remains high in the United States, the only facet Dennett is unable to address. He's not alone in that, but with the rise of Richard Dawkins' thesis of the 'meme' perhaps we may soon have an answer.