Top Down and Bottom Up Design

Daniel Dennett: “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds” | Talks at Google

Dennett makes a distinction between top down and bottom up design comparing “on the left an Australian termite castle; on right, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona”

He argues that while the end product is remarkably similar the processes by which these products have been made are “hugely different”.

He seeks to make a contrast between the clueless bottom up design process of the termites (and evolution) vs the intelligence of a top down human design process.

But when you consider what is going on in these design processes there really is no distinction between bottom up design and top down design.

For evolution to take place we need two things: 1) Replication and propagation that tries to go in many directions 2) Natural selection that judges some paths as fit and others as unfit.

Our mind is no different. We have very strong desires that tell us to go in many different directions and a frontal cortex that inhibit those desires. Together these processes create behavior which is intelligent.

Bottom up and top down processes are involved in natural selection just as both are used within the mind. Our mind is like a mini version of what evolution by natural selection has been doing all along.

Human culture follows the same process of expression followed by selection, and capitalism really takes advantage of this paradigm by allowing the freedom of product creation and failure. We should be aware of how top down and bottom up process work together in order to build more robust systems.

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