1. bookVolume 18 (2017): Issue 1 (April 2017)
Journal Details
License
Format
Journal
eISSN
1647-659X
First Published
01 Mar 2016
Publication timeframe
3 times per year
Languages
English
Open Access

How Our Biology Constrains Our Science

Published Online: 06 Jun 2017
Volume & Issue: Volume 18 (2017) - Issue 1 (April 2017)
Page range: 31 - 53
Journal Details
License
Format
Journal
eISSN
1647-659X
First Published
01 Mar 2016
Publication timeframe
3 times per year
Languages
English
Abstract

Reasoning from a naturalistic perspective, viewing the mind as an evolved biological organ with a particular structure and function, a number of influential philosophers and cognitive scientists claim that science is constrained by human nature. How exactly our genetic constitution constrains scientific representations of the world remains unclear. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it often leads to the unwarranted conclusion that we are cognitively closed to certain aspects or properties of the world. Secondly, it stands in the way of a nuanced account of the relationship between our cognitive and perceptual wiring and scientific theory. In response, I propose a typology or classification of the different kinds of biological constraints and their sources on science. Using Boden’s (1990) notion of a conceptual space, I distinguish between constraints relating to the ease with which we can reach representations within our conceptual space (which I call ‘biases’) and constraints causing possible representations to fall outside of our conceptual space. This last kind of constraints does not entail that some aspects or properties of the world cannot be represented by us – as argued by advocates of ‘cognitive closure’ – merely that some ways of representing the world are inaccessible to us. It relates to what Clark (1986) and Rescher (1990) have framed as ‘the alien scientist hypothesis’ (the possibility that alien scientists, endowed with radically different cognitive abilities, could produce representations of the world that are unintelligible to us). The purpose of this typology is to provide some much needed clarity and structure to the debate about biological constraints on science.

Keywords

Aristotle. (1941). De Anima, J.A. Smith (trans). In McKeon (ed.), The Basic Works of Aristotle, pp. 535–603. New York: Random House.Search in Google Scholar

Atran, S. (1995). Causal constraints on categories and categorical constraints on biological reasoning across cultures. In Sperber, D., Premack, D., Premack, A. (eds.) Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Atran, S. (1998). Folk biology and the anthropology of science: Cognitive universals and cultural particulars. Behavioral and brain sciences, 21: 547-609.Search in Google Scholar

Baillargeon, R. (1991). Physical reasoning in infancy. In Gazzaniga, M. (ed.) The cognitive neurosciences. Cambridge: MIT Press: 181-204.Search in Google Scholar

Baillargeon, R., Kotovsky, L., Needham, A. 1995. The acquisition of physical knowledge in infancy, in Sperber, D., Premack, D., Premack, A. (eds.) Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate. Oxford: Clarendon Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198524021.003.0004Search in Google Scholar

Barkow, J, Tooby, J, Cosmides, L. (eds.) (1992). The adapted mind: evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Berger, L. et al. (2015). Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, in eLife 4.10.7554/eLife.09560Search in Google Scholar

Boden, M. (1990). The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Search in Google Scholar

Boyer, P. (2000). Natural epistemology or evolved metaphysics? Developmental evidence for early-developed, intuitive, category-specific, incomplete, and stubborn metaphysical presumptions. Philosophical psychology, vol. 13, 3: 277-297.Search in Google Scholar

Carruthers, P. (2006). The architecture of the mind: Massive modularity and the flexibility of thought. Oxford: Clarendon Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199207077.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Chomsky, N. (2000). New Horizons in the Study of language and Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511811937Search in Google Scholar

Darwin, C. (1881). Letter 3230 – Charles Darwin to William Graham. July 3rd, 1881, retrieved from: http://darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-13230Search in Google Scholar

Darwin, C. (1859). On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: John Murray.Search in Google Scholar

Darwin, C. (1871). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. Detroit: Gale Research (1974).Search in Google Scholar

Clark, A. 1986. Evolutionary epistemology and the scientific method. Philosophica 37: 151-162.10.21825/philosophica.82528Search in Google Scholar

Clark, A., Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58(1): 7-19.Search in Google Scholar

De Cruz, H., De Smedt, J. (2007). The role of intuitive ontologies in scientific understanding – the case of human evolution. Biology and Philosophy, 22: 351-368.Search in Google Scholar

De Cruz, H., De Smedt, J. (2012). Evolved cognitive biases and the epistemic status of scientific beliefs. Philosophical studies, 157: 411-42910.1007/s11098-010-9661-6Search in Google Scholar

Dennett, D. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. London: Allen Lane.Search in Google Scholar

Dennett, D. (2000). Making tools for thinking. In Sperber, D. (Ed), Metarepresentation: A multidisciplinary perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 17-29.Search in Google Scholar

Dycke, R., Peebles, P., Roll, P., Wilkinson, D. (1965). Cosmic Black-Body Radiation. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 142: 414-419.Search in Google Scholar

Fodor, J. (1983): The Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology, Cambridge: MIT Press.10.7551/mitpress/4737.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Frege, G. (1884). Grundlagen der Arithmetik. Breslau: Marcus. 1934.Search in Google Scholar

Lumsden, C., Wilson, E. (1981). Genes, mind and culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Mayr, E. (1950). Taxonomic categories in fossil hominids. Cold Spring Harb. Symp. Quant. Biol., 15: 109-117.Search in Google Scholar

McCauley, R. (2000). The naturalness of religion and the unnaturalness of science. In: F. Keil and R. Wilson (eds.), Explanation and Cognition. Cambridge, MIT Press: 61-85.Search in Google Scholar

McGinn, C. (1994). The problem of philosophy. Philosophical Studies, 76 (2): 133-156.Search in Google Scholar

Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: W.W. Norton and company.Search in Google Scholar

Quine, W. (1969). Epistemology naturalized. In: Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. New York: Columbia University Press: 69-90.Search in Google Scholar

Rescher, N. (1990). A Useful Inheritance: Evolutionary aspects of the theory of knowledge. Savage: Rowman & Littlefield.Search in Google Scholar

Ruse, M. (1986). Taking Darwin seriously. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Spelke, E. (1991). Physical knowledge in infancy: Reflections on Piaget’s theory. In: Carey, S., Gelman, R. (eds.). The Epigenesis of Mind. Hillsday: Erlbaum: 133-169.Search in Google Scholar

Spelke, E. (2003). What makes us smart? Core knowledge and natural language. In Gentner, D., Goldin-Meadow, S. (eds.) Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought. Cambridge: MIT Press: 227-312.Search in Google Scholar

Sterelny, K. (2010). Minds: extended or scaffolded. Phenomology and the Cognitive Sciences, 9: 465-481.Search in Google Scholar

Stove, D. (1995). Judge’s report on the competition to find the worst argument in the world. In: Stove, D. (ed.) Cricket Versus Republicanism. Sydney: Quakers Hill Press: 66-67.Search in Google Scholar

Tattersall, I. (2000). Paleoanthropology: the last half-century. Evolutionary anthropology, 9: 2-15.Search in Google Scholar

Tomasello, M. (2001). Cultural transmission: a view from chimpanzees and human infants. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32: 135-146.Search in Google Scholar

Von Uexküll, J. (1909). Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere. Berlin: J. Springer.Search in Google Scholar

Wolpert, L. (1992). The unnatural nature of science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Recommended articles from Trend MD

Plan your remote conference with Sciendo