Volume 29, Numbers 1 and 2, Winter and Spring 2008 (special issue): Evolutionary Biology and the Central Problems of Cognitive Science, by David Livingstone Smith (Editor), University of New England

The Central Problem of Cognitive Science: The Rationalist–Empiricist Divide

One of the oldest and most fundamental distinctions and disputes of classical epistemology is that between the rationalists and empiricists. In recent decades, partly due to the increasing influence of evolutionary thought in psychology, the argument has become central in cognitive science as well, but it will remain empirically intractable until further advances occur in neurogenetics, neuroscience, and how these tie in to fundamental psychological mechanisms and processes.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Henry Plotkin, 10 Manorcrofts Road, Egham, Surrey TW20 9LU United Kingdom.
Email: vicky.plotkin@btopenworld.com

The Concept of Innateness and the Destiny of Evolutionary Psychology

According to a popular version of the current evolutionary attitude in cognitive science, the mind is a massive aggregate of autonomous innate computational devices, each addressing specific adaptive problems. Our aim in this paper is to show that although this version of the attitude, which we call GOFEP (Good Old Fashioned Evolutionary Psychology), does not suffer from fatal flaws that would make it incoherent or otherwise conceptually inadequate, it will nevertheless prove unacceptable to most cognitive scientists today. To show this, we raise a common objection to the concept of innateness, not to mount an attack on GOFEP but to study how its proponents have attempted to meet that challenge. The aim of this move is to show that GOFEP cannot face the challenge without, as it were, losing its soul. There is, or so we will argue, something deep at the heart of GOFEP that prevents its proponents from meeting the challenge.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Pierre Poirier, Départment de Philosophie, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888, succursale centre-ville, Montréal, H3C 3P8 Canada.
Email: poirier.pierre@uqam.ca

Naming and Normativity

Evolutionary theory has recently been applied to language. The aim of this paper is to contribute to such an evolutionary approach to language. I argue that Kripke’s causal account of proper names, in terms of natural selection, captures the norm of uses of a proper name, which is to refer to the same object as past uses in a linguistic community. My argument appeals to Millikan’s theory of direct proper functions, which captures the norms of various functional entities in terms of natural selection.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Osamu Kiritani, Ph.D., User Science Institute, Kyushu University, 4-9-1 Shiobaru, Minami-ku, Fukuoka 815-8540, Japan. Email: okiritan@nifty.com

Content and Action: The Guidance Theory of Representation

The current essay introduces the guidance theory of representation, according to which the content and intentionality of representations can be accounted for in terms of the way they provide guidance for action. The guidance theory offers a way of fixing representational content that gives the causal and evolutionary history of the subject only an indirect (non-necessary) role, and an account of representational error, based on failure of action, that does not rely on any such notions as proper functions, ideal conditions, or normal circumstances. Moreover, because the notion of error is defined in terms of failure of action, the guidance theory meets the “meta-epistemological requirement” that representational error should be potentially detectable by the representing system itself. In this essay, we offer a brief account of the biological origins of representation, a formal characterization of the guidance theory, some examples of its use, and show how the guidance theory handles some traditional problem cases for representation: the representation of fictional and abstract entities. Being both representational and action-grounded, the guidance theory may provide some common ground between embodied and cognitivist approaches to the study of the mind.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Michael L. Anderson, Department of Psychology, Franklin & Marshall College, P.O. Box 3003, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17604–3003. Email: michael.anderson@fandm.edu

Continuous Sticktogetherations and Somethingelsifications: How Evolutionary Biology Re-Wrote the Story of Mind
Robin L. Zebrowski, University of Oregon

Cognitive science is undergoing a rebirth, overturning much of the traditional thought established by people like Chomsky and Newell and Simon. This second-generation thought, exemplified by people like Clark, Lakoff, and Johnson, is pursuing the same project as the traditional thinkers, but with evolutionary considerations. This revision of cognitive science can trace its roots back to the American Pragmatists, while still attending to even the most recent work in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. If one takes this embodied, evolutionary story seriously, we can eliminate many of the oppressive problems that plague cognitive science, including those surrounding qualia, intelligence, and even consciousness.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Robin L. Zebrowski, Department of Philosophy, 1295 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403–1295. Email: rzebrows@uoregon.edu

The Normativity Problem: Evolution and Naturalized Semantics
Mason Cash, University of Central Florida

Representation is a pivotal concept in cognitive science, yet there is a serious obstacle to a naturalistic account of representations’ semantic content and intentionality. A representation having a determinate semantic content distinguishes correct from incorrect representation. But such correctness is a normative matter. Explaining how such norms can be part of a naturalistic cognitive science is what I call the normativity problem. Teleosemantics attempts to naturalize such norms by showing that evolution by natural selection establishes neural mechanisms’ functions, and such functions provide the normativity requisite for a determinate semantic content. I argue that such attempts fail, because when specifying functions, and thus semantic contents, that are determinate enough to enable misrepresentation, they must tacitly appeal to human normative practices, especially the practice of giving intentional states as reasons for actions. I present a different tactic: using evolution by natural selection to avoid rather than solve the normativity problem. Representations’ semantic contents and their intentional targets are irreducibly normative. Semantics and intentionality are constituted within human normative practices. However, evolution by natural selection can be used to naturalistically explain the transition from a world without human beings and human normative practices — and thus without any distinction between thoughts that may be called “correct” or “incorrect” — to a world in which such human practices and distinctions are commonplace.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Mason Cash, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida 32816-1352. E-mail: mcash@ucf.edu

Using the World to Understand the Mind: Evolutionary Foundations for Ecological Psychology
Alan C. Clune, Sam Houston State University

In this paper I argue that when behaviorism began to wane and cognitivism became the more dominant framework in psychology, ecological psychology was also strongly suggested at two different levels. First, ecological psychology, considered in light of evolutionary theory, promised to handle three serious philosophical challenges to behaviorism. Second, this ecological approach promised to explain several anomalies in behavioral research. Ecological psychology, then, although largely overlooked, was and still is a viable alternative to internalist frameworks — such as cognitivism — as a fruitful framework for studying behavior.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Alan C. Clune, Sam Houston State University, Department of Psychology and Philosophy, Box 2447, Huntsville, Texas 77341–2447. Email: clunea@yahoo.com

New Physical Foundations for Cognitive Science
Stephen W. Kercel, University of New England

Why should the subject of physics arise in a paper ostensibly concerned with cognitive science and evolutionary biology? If we were advocating a new physics of life and mind simply because we cannot devise an explanation of brain function within the framework of conventional physics, it would appear to reveal a fundamental flaw in the paradigm that we are discussing. If cognition is a biological process, and if biology is ultimately reducible to physics, should not physics be sufficient to entail it? In fact, avoiding such an appearance of being “unscientific” motivates many brain scientists to find a way at all costs to couch their explanations of brain behavior in terms of the traditional concepts of physics. Curiously, they do so while failing to appreciate that the fundamental need for new physics is postulated not by the students of the processes of life and mind, but rather by some of the world’s most renowned physicists. In the present paper, I will use the expression “old physics” to include nineteenth century classical physics, general and special relativity, traditional quantum mechanics and chaotic dynamics. I subsume all of these under the umbrella of old physics because, in spite of their differences, they share a set of metaphysical presuppositions. I will argue that some of these suppositions are deeply flawed and that these flaws render old physics insufficient to portray reality coherently, and that abandoning these flawed concepts may provide new and viable theoretical foundations for both biology and cognitive science.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Stephen W. Kercel, 2 Brian Drive, Brunswick, Maine 04011. Email: kercel1@suscom-maine.net

The Evolution of a Cognitive Architecture for Emotional Learning from a Modulon Structured Genome
Stevo Bozinovski and Liljana Bozinovska, South Carolina State University

The paper addresses a central problem in evolutionary biology and cognitive science: evolution of a neural based learning phenotype from a structured genotype. It describes morphogenesis of a neural network-based cognitive system, starting from a single genotype having a modulon control structure. It further shows how such a system, denoted as GALA architecture, growing its own recurrent axon connections, can further develop into various structures capable of learning in different learning modes, such as advice learning, reinforcement learning, and emotion learning. The paper particularly considers the emotion learning systems and their motivational structure. A simulation experiment is provided to illustrate the theoretical issues discussed.

Requests for reprints should be sent either to Stevo Bozinovski, Ph.D., AI/Robotics/Biocybernetics Laboratory, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, South Carolina 29117, or to Liljana Bozinovska, M.D. Ph.D., Neuroscience and Electrophysiology Laboratory, Department of Biological and Physical Sciences, South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, South Carolina 29117. Email: sbozinovski@scsu.edu or lbozinov@scsu.edu