Evolutionary Epistemology

Evolutionary epistemology takes into account the fact of belonging humanly within the natural order. It is our embodied relationships within the natural order which shape our categories of thought and very expectations. Contrary to Leibniz, it is evolution—and not God or logical necessity—that is responsible for the “pre-established harmony” between ordinary cognition and natural reality. And it is this belonging that must ultimately also be responsible for the harmony possible between mathematics, scientific thought and the natural world. Einstein called the capacity of reason and mathematics to grasp reality “miraculous.” Following Hume, he saw no logically necessary connection between experience or thought and external reality. What was missing in his generation’s understanding of that relationship is today called evolutionary epistemology, according to which the organism establishes the connections between its own cognition and objective reality in such ways as to permit its survival. In other words, cognition is shaped by natural selection. While evolutionary epistemologists may use logic to reflect on the human condition shared with other creatures, logic itself must then be an evolutionary product. This brings evolutionary epistemology full circle as a discipline that cannot elude self-reference. It is therefore a prime candidate for a second-order science, which considers its own methodology as part of its subject matter. An evolutionary general theory of intelligence and cognition might help account for the astonishing effectiveness of logic and mathematics, which would then simply reflect the broader capacity to model, abstract, and generalize that characterizes human cognition. It would also be better positioned than first-order sciences (such as psychology presently still is) to shed light on the age-old problems of mind-body dualism and the “hard problem of consciousness.” Only such a reflexive approach can hope to resolve the contradiction involved in trying to understand consciousness using tools historically devised to exclude it.

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