Skip to main content

The Robot’s Rebellion

Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin

The idea that we might be robots is no longer the stuff of science fiction; decades of research in evolutionary biology and cognitive science have led many esteemed scientists to the conclusion that, according to the precepts of universal Darwinism, humans are merely the hosts for two replicators (genes and memes) that have no interest in us except as conduits for replication. Richard Dawkins, for example, jolted us into realizing that we are just survival mechanisms for our own genes, sophisticated robots in service of huge colonies of replicators to whom concepts of rationality, intelligence, agency, and even the human soul are irrelevant.

Accepting and now forcefully responding to this decentering and disturbing idea, Keith Stanovich here provides the tools for the "robot’s rebellion," a program of cognitive reform necessary to advance human interests over the limited interest of the replicators and define our own autonomous goals as individual human beings. He shows how concepts of rational thinking from cognitive science interact with the logic of evolution to create opportunities for humans to structure their behavior to serve their own ends. These evaluative activities of the brain, he argues, fulfill the need that we have to ascribe significance to human life.

We may well be robots, but we are the only robots who have discovered that fact. Only by recognizing ourselves as such, argues Stanovich, can we begin to construct a concept of self based on what is truly singular about humans: that they gain control of their lives in a way unique among life forms on Earth—through rational self-determination.

Read an excerpt.

374 pages | 9 figures, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2004

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Evolutionary Biology

Cognitive Science: General Works

Philosophy of Science

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Staring into the Darwinian Abyss
Why Jerry Falwell Is Right
The Replicators and the Vehicles
What Kind of Robot Is a Person?
Whose Goals Are Served by Our Behavior?
All Vehicles Overboard!
Your Genes Care More about You than You Should Care about Them!
Escaping the Clutches of the Genes
The Pivotal Insight: Putting People First

Chapter 2. A Brain at War with Itself
Two Minds in One Brain
The Autonomous Set of Systems (TASS): The Parts of Your Brain that Ignore You
Characterizing the Analytic System: Avoiding the Homunculus Problem
One Step at a Time: Figuring Out the Way the World Is with Language
Hypothetical Thinking and Representational Complexity
Processing without Awareness: There are Martians in Your Brain!
When the Different Kinds of Minds Conflict: The Override Function of the Analytic System
The Brain on a Long Leash and the Brain on a Short Leash
Try It Yourself—Can You Override TASS in the Famous Four-Card Selection Task and the Famous Linda Task?
Don’t Be Sphexish
Putting the Vehicle First by Getting the Analytic System in the Driver’s Seat

Chapter 3. The Robot’s Secret Weapon
Choosing Humans over Genes: How Instrumental Rationality and Evolutionary Adaptation Separate
What It Means to Be Rational: Putting the Person (the Vehicle) First
Fleshing Out Instrumental Rationality
Evaluating Rationality: Are We Getting What We Want?

Chapter 4. The Biases of the Autonomous Brain: Characteristics of the Short-Leash Mind that Sometimes Cause Us Grief
The Dangers of Positive Thinking: TASS Can’t "Think of the Opposite"
Now You Choose It—Now You Don’t: Framing Effects Undermine the Notion of Human Rationality
Can Evolutionary Psychology Rescue the Ideal of Human Rationality?
The Fundamental Computational Biases of the Autonomous Brain
The Evolutionary Adaptiveness of the Fundamental Computational Biases
Evolutionary Reinterpretations of Responses on Heuristics and Biases Tasks
The Fundamental Computational Biases and the Demands for Decontextualization in Modern Society
The TASS Traps of the Modern World

Chapter 5. How Evolutionary Psychology Goes Wrong
Modern Society as a Sodium Vapor Lamp
Throwing Out the Vehicle with the Bathwater
What Follows from the Fact that Mother Nature Isn’t Nice

Chapter 6. Dysrationalia: Why So Many Smart People Do So Many Dumb Things
Cognitive Capacities, Thinking Dispositions, and Levels of Analysis
TASS Override and Levels of Processing
The Great Rationality Debate: The Panglossian, Apologist, and Meliorist Positions Contrasted
Dysrationalia: Dissolving the "Smart But Acting Dumb" Paradox
Would You Rather Get What You Want Slowly or Get What You Don’t Want Much Faster?
Jack and His Jewish Problem
The Panglossian’s Lament: "If Human Cognition Is So Flawed, How Come We Got to the Moon?"

Chapter 7. From the Clutches of the Genes into the Clutches of the Memes
Attack of the Memes: The Second Replicator
Rationality, Science, and Meme Evaluation
Reflectively Acquired Memes: The Neurathian Project of Meme Evaluation
Personal Autonomy and Reflectively Acquired Memes
Which Memes Are Good for Us?
Why Memes Can Be Especially Nasty (Nastier Than Genes Even!)
The Ultimate Meme Trick: Why Your Memes Want You to Hate the Idea of Memes
Memetic Concepts as Tools of Self-Examination
Building Memeplex Self on a Level Playing Field: Memetics as an Epistemic Equalizer
Evolutionary Psychology Rejects the Notion of Free-Floating Memes
The Co-Adapted Meme Paradox

Chapter 8. A Soul without Mystery: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin
Macromolecules and Mystery Juice: Looking for Meaning in All the Wrong Places
Is Human Rationality Just an Extension of Chimpanzee Rationality? Context and Values in Human Judgment
There’s More to Life than Money—But There’s More than Happiness Too: The Experience Machine
Nozick on Symbolic Utility
"It’s a Meaning Issue, Not a Money Issue": Expressive Rationality, Ethical Preferences, and Commitment
Rising Above the Humean Nexus: Evaluating Our Desires
Second-Order Desires and Preferences
Achieving Rational Integration of Desires: Forming and Reflecting on Higher-Order Preferences
Why Rats, Pigeons, and Chimps Are More Rational than Humans
Escaping the Rationality of Constraint
Two-Tiered Rationality Evaluation: A Legacy of Human Cognitive Architecture
The Spookiness of Subpersonal Entities
Desires Connected to Dollars: Another Case of Spooky Subpersonal Optimization
The Need for Meta-Rationality
The Formula for Personal Autonomy in the Face of Many Subpersonal Threats
Are We up to the Task? Finding What to Value in Our Mental Lives

Author Index
Subject Index

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press