TED Talks Worth Talking About | Daniel Dennett – Cute, Sexy, Sweet, Funny: An Evolutionary Riddle

Posted on March 20, 2009




I find Daniel Dennett to be one of the most challenging atheist philosophers for several reasons. First, he is, in my perspective, respectable and reasonable as well as intelligent in his argumentation. While others are vitriolic, Dennett continues to pose thoughts and ideas that are honorable to the field of science, philosophy, and even religion (his critique of Rick Warren’s book is a good example). This is not to say he isn’t biased or presupposed, but it is to say that he ought to be listened to and contended with respectably and sincerely. For that, I continue to engage.

This talk on “Cute, Sexy, Sweet, Funny” was especially intriguing for me, as someone who presupposes a theistic worldview, for one of the arguments for theism that seems substantial is the existence of pleasure. While many use the “problem of pain,” to discount the existence of God, theologians have proposed a “problem of pleasure” to the non-theist as an argument for the existence of good, and therefore, of some benevolent “good-giver.”

Dennett addresses these pleasures from his evolutionary standpoint, suggesting that there are good reasons for their existence, and that our observation and reasoning of them needs to be “inverted.”

— VIA —

I appreciate his approach, and believe that it is sincerely logical. I have a few questions, however, that I believe keeps the case still open for discussion, interpretation, and for deductive reasoning.

1) While “cute, sexy, sweet, funny” may be neurological wired and evolutionarily developed, does it explain, fundamentally, why the human is wired this way for the purpose of survival? In other words, the fundamental principles are “survival” and “adaptation.” These are driving ethics that every evolutionist would adhere to. But why do those powers exist in the first place? Do we settle on the foundation of survival? Is that our philosophical base?

1b) This question is really along the lines of “infinite regression,” where many atheists argue that if God could be logically deduced as the prime creator of existence, it begs the question, “what/who created God?” Fair enough. I pose the same inquiry when it comes to the evolutionists’ stance that the answer to the question of “why” is “survival.” Well, what causes “survival” to “survive” or to even exist?

2) What about the adaptation of all those senses, (especially sexy and funny) in wide variances in our global culture? Surely the picture he showed is not sexy to some, and the humor of one culture is most definitely not funny in another. What explanation is there for the vast diversity of those experiences within our unified “race” or “species” called “human,” and how does that inform evolutionary theory?

2b) Especially given the augmentation that we are doing to our bodies and the images that follow (at least in Western culture), it seems that “sexy” continually evolves, even within our own generation, and works counter to the real “adaptation” that evolution supposes. In addition, perhaps we have “created” sexy ourselves as an aberrant ethic out of a deeper more spiritual reality, “beauty.”

3) What about the aberrant existences of those phenomena? For some, “sexy” includes behavior that many deem demeaning, misogynistic, perverse, and disgusting, evaluations that may be contrary to evolutionary development. It doesn’t seem to be an open-and-shut case on what “sexy” really is, and what it really does. Same with “cute.”

There may be other questions, but for now, I simply put these out there for our musing.

Thanks, Daniel, for continuing to stretch my thinking and approach to this world.