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.