RICHARD Dawkins has had an enormous influence on my professional life. I had always been interested in the interface between philosophy and science, but until the 1980s, the sciences in question had been psychology and linguistics. (Physics was too damned hard.) But in 1983, at the urging of the philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, I read The Extended Phenotype—a truly great book—and was hooked on evolutionary biology. My copy disappeared under successive waves of marginal annotations as my career irrevocably changed course. In this essay I shall explore Darwinian visions of a somewhat neglected aspect of human nature: our paradoxical mix of astute intelligence and blindness to the obvious. I shall suggest that Richard's Darwinism, with its emphasis on conflict, helps us understand this paradox rather better than do alternative evolutionary approaches to our cognitive foibles.
Humans have invaded virtually every terrestrial habitat, and while few of us live permanently on or in water, we tax the sea's resources heavily as well. Our success has no biological precedent. While collectively the dinosaurs may have dominated land ecosystems from the Triassic to the Cretaceous, no single dinosaur species was both dominant and cosmopolitan. Likewise, while Stephen Jay Gould once argued that our time, like every time, is 'the age of the bacteria', no single bacterial species is found everywhere doing everything, even though bacteria are now and always have been by far the most numerous and ecologically varied organisms on earth. The immediate cause of our success is no mystery. It is our intelligent adaptability; our ability to assemble the technological and social means to solve the challenges the world's environments present to us. Moreover, our intelligent