Tag Archives: Philosophy

Universal Acid

A concept that undermines the legitimacy of belief systems, systems of thought, and previously held hypotheses.
Explanation of Evolution as Universal Acid
“If Nietzsche is the father of existentialism, then perhaps Darwin deserves the title of grandfather” (62, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
“Karl Marx was exultant: ‘Not only is a death blow dealt here for the first time to ‘Teleology’ in the natural sciences but their rational meaning is empirically explained’ (62, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
“Did you ever hear of universal acid? This fantasy used to amuse me and some of my schoolboy friends — I have no idea whether we invented or inherited, along with Spanish fly and saltpeter, as parts of underground youth culture. Universal acid is a liquid so corrosive that it will eat through anything!…Little did I realize that in a few years, I would encounter an idea — Darwin’s idea — bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most landmarks still recognizable, but  transformed in fundamental ways.
     Darwin’s idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers — welcome or not — to questions of cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If redesign could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn’t the whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth, all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own ‘real’ minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin’s idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own spark of creativity and understanding.” (63, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Charles Darwin

Platonic Bias

The inclination to give a phenomena a top-down explanation when the phenomena is in reality the result of a bottom-up process.
Daniel Dennett discusses how the tradition of Plato’s Forms and Aristotle essences indoctrinated with a top-down manner of thinking: “The development of the science of geology and the discovery of fossils of manifestly extinct species gave the taxonomists further curiosities to confound them, but these curiosities were also the very pieces of the puzzle that enabled Darwin, working alongside hundreds of other scientists, to discover the key to its solution: species were not eternal and immutable; they had evolved over time. Unlike carbon atoms, which, for all one knew, had been around forever in exactly the form they now exhibited, species had births in time, could change over time, and could give birth to new species in turn. This idea itself was not new; many versions of it had been seriously discussed, going back to the ancient Greeks. But there was was a powerful Platonic bias against it: essences were unchanging and a thing couldn’t change its essence, and new essences couldn’t be born — except of course by God’s command in episodes of Special Creation….
The essentialist urge is still with us and not always for bad reasons. Science does aspire to carve nature at its joints, and it often does seem like we need essences, or something like essences, to do the job. On those point the two great kingdoms of philosophical thought, the Platonic and the Aristotelian, agree.  But the Darwinian mutation, which at first seemed to be a new way of thinking about kinds of biology, can spread to other phenomena and other disciplines (38-39, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Vital Delusion

A vital delusion is a belief that a person clings to as a manner of making their existence seem meaningful. It ‘vital’ in that when the delusion fails or is undermined, the individual immediately pursues another belief to take its place.
“G.K. Chesterton said, when people stop believing in something, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. It cannot be a coincidence that the decline in Christian worship in Europe has been accompanied by the rise in all sorts of other superstitions and cults, including those of Freud, Marx, and Gaia” (269, The Evolution of Everythiing)
The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley



Explanation of the purpose of phenomena, beyond efficient, formal, and material causes. It is the directive principle or goal behind a phenomena.


A teleological explanation: ” A teleological explanation is one that explains the existence or occurrence of something by citing a goal or a purpose that is served by the thing. ” (24, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea)


Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Lucretian swerve


When a thinker introduces an arbitrary skyhook to explain something he or she does not yet understand.


“In a world composed of atoms whose motions were predictable, Lucretius (channelling Democritus and Epicurus) could not explain the apparent human capacity of free will. In order to do so, he suggested, arbitrarily, that atoms must occasionally swerve unpredictably, because the gods make them do so. This failure of nerve on the part of the poet has been known since as the Lucretian swerve, but I intend to use the same phrase more generally for each occasion on which I catch a philosopher swerving to explain something he struggles to understand, and positing an arbitrary skyhook.” (14, The Evolution of Everything)


The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley