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Is the meaning of life simply to reproduce? Daniel Dennett says no.

Dennett, a Tufts University philosophy professor, spoke to a packed Meyerson auditorium yesterday evening as this year's lecture at the Philomathian Society's Annual Oration. The event, sponsored by the Provost's office and various academic departments, was entitled "From Animal to Person: The Role of Cultural Evolution."

Dennett argued for human distinction from animals through an ambitious summary of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Beyond tracing biological evolution, Dennett identified the evolution of ideas. He described human learning as "ideas infect[ing] our mind[s]," drawing comparison to viruses invading host organisms. He then identified religion and politics as "ideas to die for."

"Philosophers ask questions that, while big and important, are not provable. There's always a counterargument," said Wharton junior Jason Lee. "Philosophical questions like the meaning of life come from the individual."

At one point, Dennett asked the audience if they believed in Einstein's theory E=MC2. About half the audience said yes. Dennett then followed-up by asking who actually understood the formula. Few did.

He explained that "humans copy things they do not always understand. We'll do the believing and leave understanding to experts."

When asked why she attended the event, College freshman Aliya Jordan said, "I don't think much about philosophy, but my friends told me Dennett was a big name in cognitive science."

College sophomore Charles Kenworthy is actively involved with philosophy as the Second Magister of Penn's Sermo Humanita Philosophical Society. He said that Dennet's lecture was "too presentable." He added, "I don't think Penn is a philosophical campus. There are only two serious student philosophical organizations, the Philomathians and the Sermo Humanita."

Other students disagreed. "I think this was a terrific event, but I didn't really get what [Dennett] was saying half of the time," said Wharton freshman Chelsea Song.

So what is the meaning of life? Well, Dennett didn't have an answer for that one.

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