How did we come to have minds?
For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivalled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.
That is now changing, says Daniel Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection.
The word “supernatural” means above nature, and the supernatural has traditionally been imagined as a higher reality, typically a Divine Creator, existing before the Creation, from whom all that we think of as “natural” has descended; but the natural sciences have gradually drained this image of all credibility. Consequently, if we wanted to find a way for scientifically educated people to talk meaningfully about the supernatural, we should need to re-imagine it, and one way of doing this might be to think of the supernatural not in the traditional image of a pre-existing First Cause that created the physical universe, but rather as a Final Effect that appeared only after the Big Bang, after the emergence of life on Earth and after even the evolution of our own species. We could think of it as a reality that has risen above(or “transcended”) the processes of nature.
I shall argue that there are well-attested examples of entirely rational and consciously principled human action which can’t be explained in terms of any kind of natural motive and which must therefore be regarded as miraculous, i.e., supernaturally motivated.
The talk takes its inspiration from Joshua Greene’s ‘From neural ‘is’ to moral ‘ought’: what are the moral implications of neuroscientific moral psychology?’
Greene continues: “Many moral philosophers regard scientific research as irrelevant to their work because science deals with what is the case, whereas ethics deals with what ought to be.”
But Greene (director of Harvard’s ‘Moral Cognition Lab’) goes on:
“I maintain that neuroscience can have profound ethical implications by providing us with information that will prompt us to re-evaluate our moral values and our conceptions of morality.”
What are those profound implications? In this talk I explore various ideas to try to present a neuroscientific perspective on morality.
Violence and warfare can be viewed in two ways. To ‘hawks’ violence and warfare are natural: they give an evolutionary advantage and are seen clearly in our closest ape cousins, but are now controlled by the state and law. ‘Doves’, however, suggest that violence and warfare have increased with the accumulation of property, debt, status and nationality. Hawks consider levels of violence to have gradually decreased through time whereas doves consider levels to have increased.
Archaeological evidence appears to suggest great variations in levels of violence through prehistory. This evidence is often adopted selectively by hawks and by doves, and is sometimes interpreted as the result of population dynamics or environmental factors.
In this talk I will discuss the adoption of agriculture to see what the evidence reveals about its effects on violence and warfare. Is violence a natural state for humans so the start of farming had no effect? Or did early agriculture lead to conflicts over land? Or perhaps increases in food supplies reduced population pressure and decreased levels of warfare? I want to use the archaeological evidence to make a tentative case that violent conflict doesn’t always happen and when it does, it may be as a result of resource security rather than scarcity.