Preface (Full Text)
- Human beings have nurtured many conceits about the exalted place of humanity within the scheme of things entire: that the Earth is the center of the universe or, if not that, then at least that the Sun orbits the Earth or, if not that, then at least that humans are the rational animals or, if not that, then at least that humans were created as the only animals with minds. The pilgrimage from Aristotle to Copernicus to Freud has been a revelation, where the cosmic insignificance of the human species has been further magnified by the relative unimportance of our solar system as a tiny feature of the Milky Way, which is merely one of billions of galaxies made up of billions of stars.
- The progressive displacement of the species from its central position at the center of the universe, at the center of the solar system, or even as distinctively rational animals has been brought about by developments within science, especially advances in psychology as well as in physics and astronomy. Anyone today who proclaimed that the Earth was the center of the universe, that the Sun revolved around the Earth, or that humans were invariably rational would be widely regarded as displaying ignorance of the classic discoveries associated with the names of Kepler, of Newton, and of Freud. Yet a tendency remains to assume that humans are still the only animals with minds.
- This book provides a systematic exploration of alternative theoretical hypotheses and recent empirical evidence with the objective of demonstrating that this conceit also should be relegated to the dustbin of intellectual history. The principal difficulties that have confronted investigations of animal mentality have revolved around the development of an adequate conception of mentality, on the one hand, and the emergence of a suitable methodology for investigating mental phenomena, on the other. Antiquated Cartesian conceptions of consciousness as the object and introspection as the method have severely constrained scientific studies of animal mind.
- The presuppositions that have affected inquiries within this domain have been distinctively philosophical, including, for example, that knowledge must be certain, while consciousness remains private — at least, for anyone other than oneself! The privacy of consciousness may preclude others from direct access to mental states, but it does not preclude indirect access: we typically draw inferences about others on the basis of observations of their speech and other behavior. And the absence of certain knowledge is compatible with the presence of uncertain knowledge: scientific knowledge is typically inductive and uncertain. Sciences of the mind are possible.
- Indeed, a hardy band of students of animal behavior have made contributions to this enterprise that deserve candid acknowledgment and further exploration. These scholars include pioneers in the application of scientific approaches to the study of social behavior among human beings as well as other species, including E.O. Wilson and Charles Lumsden, who first introduced (what is known as) "sociobiology" and its successor, "gene-culture co-evolutionary1 theory", but also those who are extending scientific techniques to the study of animal mind, Donald Griffin, Dian Fossey, Carolyn Ristau, Marian Stamp Dawkins, and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, among others.
- This book has the objective of discussing and advancing the scientific study of animal mind through the systematic elaboration of a philosophical framework that clarifies and unifies (what appears to be) a conception of the mind that applies to human beings, other animals, and even machines, if such a thing is possible. It is indispensable to such a conception that it should not "beg the question" by taking for granted that mentality is the exclusive property of a special group, even when that group is identified with humanity itself. The conception of minds as "semiotic systems" appears to possess precisely the properties that this framework requires.
- In order to appraise the theoretical potential of the conception of minds as semiotic systems, however, it is indispensable to undertake a preliminary study of the empirical phenomena that are illuminated by its adoption. This includes the work of those students of animal behavior ("ethology") who have been willing to embrace its cognitive dimensions (as "cognitive ethology"), such as Griffin's studies of animal awareness, Ristau's studies of the piping plover, Dawkins's studies of animal cognition, Fossey's studies of the great apes, and Savage-Rumbaugh's studies of the mentality of chimpanzees. Their work reflects the phenomena science must explain.
- The obstacles to progress within this domain, alas, have emerged, not from the work of scientists, but from the efforts of philosophers, such as Noam Chomsky and his conception of innate syntax, Jerry Fodor and his hypothesis of a mental language, and Stephen Pinker and his defense of the language instinct. Their publications have exerted an influence that appears to be grossly disproportional to the theoretical and empirical merits of their positions. Indeed, if the conception of minds that receives elaboration here is right, then their work is wrong — not simply in its details, which would be unsurprising, but to its core. Their work is fundamentally misconceived.
- Thus, if the arguments offered here are well-founded, then Chomsky, Fodor, and Pinker are part of the problem, not the solution. And their work is only the tip of the intellectual iceberg. The entire field of cognitive science, which they have strongly influenced, has become infatuated with the computational conception of the mind, according to which minds operate on the basis of the same (or similar) principles as digital machines. One of the most memorable characterizations of this conception would have us believe that thinking is reasoning, that reasoning is reckoning, that reckoning is computing, and that the boundaries of computation define the boundaries of thought. That is wrong.
- In order to understand the nature of animal mind, it is necessary to understand the nature of human minds. If the computational conception of human minds cannot be sustained, then its extension to animal mind — as Daniel Dennett, for example, has pursued it — cannot be sustained. But exposing the misconceptions that underlie so much of contemporary cognitive science — to the extent that at least one scholar has even defined the field as the study of computational models of the mind! — requires serious consideration of the elements implicit in that conception. If people are not computers and minds are not machines, then those contentions warrant refutation!
- Thus, if minds are to bodies as programs are to machines, then the processes or procedures that relate minds to bodies must be similar (or the same) as those that related programs to machines. Programs turn out to be causal implementations of algorithms as "effective decision procedures", which are solutions to problems that are always applicable, always reliable, and always correct. They yield appropriate solutions to problems within a specific class that are always right and they do that within a finite number of steps. If the analogy is well-founded, then human thought must be governed by mental algorithms that serve the same (or a similar) function.
- While the nature of computational systems has received considerable investigation, however, the nature of thinking things, even human beings, has not. It turns out that some of the most basic kinds of thought processes, including dreams and daydreams, perception, and memory — as well as ordinary thinking — do not satisfy the conditions for qualifying as "effective decision procedures". Even if there are modes of thought, such as the evaluation of proofs in logic, say, that do properly qualify as algorithmic, the computational conception no longer remains defensible. The analogy between human beings and digital machines cannot be sustained.
- This misconception has also been imported into the study of what is known as "evolutionary2 psychology" in the work of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, among others. This has an ironic aspect, since digital machines are cultural artifacts that are subject to artificial selection rather than members of species that are subject to natural selection. Their appeals to "Darwinian algorithms" not only suffer from defects inherent in the computational conception, which they embrace, but also in mistakes specific to arguments for their own position, addressed in the Appendix. This domain is better understood as devoted to the study of the influence of evolution3 upon psychology than as pursuing the study of the evolution4 of algorithms.
- Indeed, although Cosmides and Tooby advance the notion of Darwinian algorithms as an improvement upon the counterpart conception of "epigenetic rules" that Lumsden and Wilson have proposed, there are excellent reasons to suppose that their earlier conception is also the more justifiable. It does not assume that mental processes are invariably algorithmic, which makes it a more encompassing conception. When "semiotic" epigenetic rules are distinguished within the general class of "epigenetic rules", it clarifies the nature of mentality. And it permits the evolution5 of mentality as a concomitant effect of the evolution6 of epigenetic rules.
- One of the most important scientific hypotheses advanced in the pages of this book is the proposal that the general intelligence factor "g" discussed by Arthur Jensen, among others, should be identified with epigenetic rules that involve the use of signs. While Lumsden and Wilson introduced their notions of "selectivity" as of "penetrance" as properties of predispositions to acquire and to utilize one or another disposition within a certain range, an additional measure of "ease of learnability" appears to be required. Semiotic epigenetic rules then have three dimensions: the range of dispositions organisms could acquire, under suitable conditions (selectivity); the ease with which those dispositions would be acquired (rapidity); and the strength of the acquired dispositions to manifest themselves (penetrance).
- Ultimately, distinctions must be drawn between "intelligence" and "mentality", because, although "intelligence" can be envisioned as a special kind of mentality associated with cognitive versatility and behavioral plasticity, it can also be employed to describe inanimate machines that display behavioral plasticity, not because of their cognitive versatility, but because of their capacity to "learn" or to "acquire" a wide range of different forms of behavior, which are consequences of their susceptibility to programming. When properly understood, therefore, it is perfectly appropriate to describe systems of this kind as "intelligent machines".
- No doubt, the most controversial dimension of the evolution7 of intelligence addressed here is the hotly disputed contention — which, with important qualifications, I endorse that cognitive abilities of human races8 have evolved in ways that differentiate them. In exploring this possibility, I have discussed work by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray as well as by J. Phillipe Rushton, who has summarized hundreds of studies that appear to support this conclusion. Though other scholars, such as Stephen Jay Gould, denounce their findings, so far as I am able to discern, they appear to have a firm foundation in these empirical studies.
- While this aspect of my discussion may be discounted as politically incorrect, the subject is not political but scientific. Two questions demand differentiation, because the answer to one does not determine the answer to the other, namely:
The first is an empirical and scientific question, while the second is a moral and political question. Open and democratic societies should adopt public policies that benefit all of their citizens. But, absent such knowledge, which are those and how could we tell?
- (Q1): What cognitive differences, if any, may distinguish the races9?; and,
- (Q2): If such differences exist, what attitude should we adopt toward them?
- The range of alternatives extends from the pessimistic conception Herrnstein and Murray explore ("the custodial state") to the optimistic alternatives others have described (more enlightened options) that are discussed in the final chapter of this inquiry. There always remains the prospect that new hypotheses and new evidence may transform our understanding of the cognitive versatility not only of specific races10 but of the human species, as Richard Rothstein (2000) remarks. Indeed, recent research on the human genome has led some students of race11 to conclude that there is no genetic basis for distinctions between different races12.
- Natalie Angier (2000) has reported that the demise of a genetic basis for race13 has been endorsed by J. Craig Venter, the head of Celera Genomics Corporation, who suggests, "Race14 is a social concept, not a scientific one", where those traits often used to distinguish the races15 — such as skin and eye color, or the width of the nose — appear to be controlled by a relatively small number of genes. In a similar vein, Harold P. Freeman of North General Hospital in Manhattan, asserts, "If you ask what percentage of your genes is reflected in your external appearance, the basis by which we talk about race16, the answer seems to be in the range .01 percent", which is a very small percentage of a person's genetic make-up.
- But the existence of polygenic and of pleiotropic effects, where many genes interact to bring about single traits, on the one hand, or where single genes are responsible for many traits, on the other, hints that obituaries for race17 as a scientific category are probably premature. Human beings and chimpanzees share approximately ninety-eight percent of their chromosomes. That does not imply that significant differences between us do not exist. On the contrary, it indicates the importance of that two percent genetic difference. Genetic differences between the races18 of .01 percent or less may prove to be as important as they are subtle and complex.
- The alteration of a single gene has been sufficient to change the sexual behavior of fruit flies from heterosexual to homosexual, which appears to be the first occasion where a single gene has been shown to control complex behaviors (Rosenthal 2005). Since female mammals possess two copies of the X chromosome while males possess one X and one Y chromosome, the X chromosome containing 1,098 genes and the Y only 78, it shouldn't be surprising if women display traits different from those of men across a broad spectrum of behavior. It may even turn out that Lawrence Summers, Harvard's President, was not actually mistaken in suggesting that there might be differences in aptitudes for science and mathematics between the sexes, but was targeted ideologically for advancing opinions regarded as being politically incorrect, because his critics knew no better.
- A recent study has suggested that an unusual pattern of genetic diseases which occurs among Jews of central or northern European origin, called "Ashkenazim", may be an effect that accompanies natural selection for intellectual ability. While praising the scholarly qualities of the authors' research, Stephen Pinker has remarked that "It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is" (Wade 2005). But surely empirical claims are properly appraised on the basis of logic and evidence, not by their capacity to conform to political preferences. On the basis of an investigation of ten categories of research, the latest review concludes that racial differences in IQ are as much as eighty percent genetic in character (Rushton and Jensen 2005). Political correctness, alas, can also exert a powerful negative influence upon the integrity of science, which may be more subtle than, but still has parallels with, that of religious fundamentalism.
- Moreover, other studies substantiate the "out of Africa" hypothesis of the origins of Homo sapiens. Additional investigations of mitochondiral DNA substantiate the thesis that our species originated in Africa and dispersed across the continent to Europe and to Asia perhaps as recently as fifty thousand years ago (Donn 2000, Wade 2000). This work, based upon larger samples, reinforces earlier research that provided the foundation for concluding that the species had emerged from Africa less than two hundred thousand years ago, as this book explains. Traits that affect intelligence may be among those that were selected during the history of the species, even across an evolutionary19 past of fifty thousand years.
- The study of human differences is an important area of scientific inquiry, but we must be as tolerant of group differences as we are of individual differences. We cannot begin to understand the evolution20 of intelligence unless we possess a suitable conception of the nature of the mind and its origins in other species. While the computational conception has been shown to be mistaken, the conception of minds as semiotic systems appears to fare much better. Its broad scope and explanatory power are displayed relative to human beings and other animals as well as inanimate machines. And understanding the evolution21 of intelligence places us in a better position to appreciate where humans stand in the natural scheme of things and better able to promote our survival as a species.
- It also provides an indispensable foundation for understanding the nature of rationality. Once we understand the nature of rationality, we begin to appreciate that, as a transient property humans can be without and still remain members of the species, its emergence tends to depend upon the presence of conditions that are fortuitous, such as having reasonable and open-minded parents, benefiting from a broad education that develops critical thinking, and acquiring the strength of mind necessary to preserve independence of thought in a world increasingly dominated by the manipulation of information for political purposes. One of the most important reasons for studying the evolution22 of intelligence thus turns out to be that it can contribute to the exercise of our own rationality by providing us with a better-grounded understanding of our place as humans in a troubled world.
- The study of ethics, moreover, raises further important questions about relations between religion, evolution23, and morality. The positions advanced in the pages of this book contend that religion alone cannot justify morality, but that morality transcends the boundaries of evolution24 as well. Neither religious-based morality nor evolutionary25 ethics are theoretically defensible conceptions, where the autonomy of morality offers a perspective from which the respective contributions of religion and of science may be more adequately understood and potentially reconciled. The study of science and its ramifications for public policies, however, suggests that commitments to theology that lie beyond any prospect of empirical testability should not be permitted to take precedence over scientific findings in relation to the determination of public policies.
- Ultimately, however, relations among ideas must also be reconciled with behavior among people. As Bertrand Russell observed long ago, probably more human beings have been slaughtered in the name of religion than have died from all other intentional causes. If we are to attain forms of organization that approximately something that might qualify as "the moral society", then we are going to have to practice forms of mutual respect and toleration for human diversity that have not been widely embraced in recent times. The moral society, which combines majority rule with minority rights, fulfills its destiny by embracing and defending freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The task may not be easy, but the goal is worthy. Our potential for doing the right thing depends upon it.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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