School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

Humanities Academic Presents Paper at Evolving Minds Conference

Professor David Spurrett (right) with Professor Daniel Dennett at the Evolving Minds conference in Australia.
Professor David Spurrett (right) with Professor Daniel Dennett at the Evolving Minds conference in Australia.

Dean and Head of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics Professor David Spurrett presented a paper at the Evolving Minds conference in Darwin, Australia.

The conference was organised to celebrate the work of Philosopher Daniel Dennett who was this year’s recipient of the ‘Charles Darwin Scholar’ award from the Charles Darwin University. Dennett is the author of influential works including The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1997). His most recent book is titled: From Bacteria to Bach and Back (2017).

The conference focused on themes central to Dennett’s work, including human consciousness and evolutionary biology as well as wider applications of evolutionary thinking to phenomena of mind and culture.

Spurrett’s well-received paper, titled: Affording Affordances, was about how the need to efficiently solve problems of action selection was a constraint on the evolution of minds, especially in organisms with moderately complex bodies.

‘A striking feature of the latest version of Dennett’s “big picture” of the evolution of life and mind is the way that cognition is understood in terms of “affordances”,’ said Spurrett. ‘An affordance is, roughly, a possibility for action given a creature and an environment. Many combinations of creatures and environments will provide more than one simultaneous affordance. In such cases, a reasonable question is: What will the creature actually do?’

A short version of the paper, accompanied by a positive commentary from Dennett, has recently been published in a symposium on Dennett’s new book in the Spanish journal Teorema.

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