On Fodor on Darwin on Evolution



Download 303.92 Kb.
Page2/5
Date20.01.2021
Size303.92 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5
KEYWORDS: adaptation, Chomsky, consciousness, counterfactuals, Darwin, evolution, fitness, Fodor, learning, lexicon, mind, natural selection, poverty of the stimulus, Skinner, Turing, underdetermination, universal grammar
This is an essay on Jerry Fodor's Hugues Leblanc Lecture Series at UQAM on "What Darwin Got Wrong" (Fodor, forthcoming; Fodor & Piatelli-Palmarini).
I begin with my own 16-point summary of Fodor's position (as I understand it), followed by point-by-point commentary on that summary. (Note that the commentary is on my own version of Fodor’s position. I will be happy to correct miconstruals, if any.)
(1) Darwin's theory of evolution is not a "covering-law" scientific theory of the sort we have (for example) with the laws of physics. It does not "support counterfactuals" (i.e., "This is what would have happened if that had happened") in the way Newton’s "F = ma" does.
(2) Rather, Darwin's theory looks much closer to a tautology.
(3) Fodor expressed the principle of "Natural Selection" (PNS) in words to the effect that: 
PNS: "There is natural variation of (heritable) traits, and, from that (heritable) variation, 'Natural Selection' 'selects for' those traits that confer the greater 'fitness' (in much the same way that, in Artificial Selection, the animal breeder selects for the traits he prefers)."
(4) Fodor's criticism of this principle was that artificial selection does indeed work this way: the breeder selects the traits he has in mind, and if they also happen to be correlated with other traits, we can find out exactly which traits he was actually selecting for by asking the breeder which one(s) he was selecting for.
(5) But with natural selection we do not have this, because no one has any traits "in mind." So it makes no sense to say that there was something (namely, increased "fitness") that natural selection somehow "selected for," because "selecting for" is something only minds do, intentionally, and "natural selection" has no mind.
(6) So the theory of natural selection is wrong.
(7) Not only wrong, but empty, since PNS does not predict or explain what will happen in any given situation: We have to look at the actual history in any given case, and then come up with a (possibly true, but post-hoc) explanation of the outcome in that particular case.
(8) And in order to find out which (of potentially very many) correlated traits were the ones that actually caused the organisms that had them to survive and reproduce better, the biologist has to do further experiments and simulations -- something that "natural selection" itself did not do, and has no way of doing.
(9) So evolutionary explanation is really just post-hoc historical explanation; there is no underlying "covering law," and Darwin's notion of "natural selection" is tautological, mentalistic, and explains nothing.
(10) Fodor also pointed out that much the same thing is true (and for much the same reasons) not just of evolution but of "learning" -- in particular, Skinner's reinforcement learning:
(11) When an organism is rewarded by the trainer for doing one thing (choosing a green triangle) rather than another (choosing something other than a green triangle), it is not even clear -- without further experiments -- what the animal is choosing from among these correlated features (something that's both green and a triangle, or anything that's green, or anything that's triangular, or...), just as it is unclear in evolution which of multiple correlated traits is the adaptive trait.
(12) And people (at least) choose on the basis of what they have in mind (as the animal breeder does).
(13) Skinner was wrong to imagine that the shape that behavior takes is a result of reinforcement, just as Darwin was wrong to think that the shape that organisms take is a result of "natural selection".
(14) Skinner was wrong because reinforcement learning is unable to explain why people do what they do: their mental states (beliefs, desires, etc.) explain it, and Skinner ignored those.
(15) So psychology has the option of studying the true causes of what people do, which are mental (whereas Skinnerian learning explains next to nothing).
(16) But biology does not even have this option of studying the "true" mental causes of evolutionary outcomes, because there are no mental causes, so all that's left is post-hoc historical explanation.
Now some comments:
(1) Darwin's theory of evolution is not a "covering-law" scientific theory of the sort we have (for example) with the laws of physics. It does not "support counterfactuals" (i.e., "This is what would have happened if that had happened") in the way Newton’s "F = ma" does.
This is true, but I think everyone (including Darwin) already recognized it. The principle of natural selection is not meant to be a "law." Before Darwin, there were two views of why organisms have the traits they have: (i) God created them with those traits (creation theory) or (ii) creatures are as they always were ("steady state" theory).
Darwin suggested the third (and true) alternative which is that, no, creatures did not always have the traits they now have: They evolved that way, in real time, from earlier creatures. Their traits vary from creature to creature, and some of the variants are heritable. So the (heritable) traits of present-day organisms are those that helped their ancestors pass on those very traits more successfully than other (heritable) variants in that ancestral environment:
The methodological consequence of this original and productive insight is that biologists should investigate which traits are heritable, what the mechanism of the heritability is (it turned out to be genes), and what it was in the ancestral environment that made some traits more successfully transmissible than others (and how, and why).
(For some reason, Fodor tends to speak uniformly of “phenotypes” even when he should be saying “genotypes.” An organism’s genotype codes its heritable traits. The organism’s phenotype is the joint result of the expression [through growth and development] of its heritable traits, as modulated by its nonheritable traits, which may be environment-induced or acquired ones. Only heritable [hence genotypic] traits are transmitted genetically, through reproduction, to the next generation – although some phenotypic traits may be transmitted culturally; Sperber & Cladière 2006.)
(2) Rather, Darwin's theory looks much closer to a tautology.
It is not quite a tautology, and precisely in the respects that it is not a tautology lies its great theoretical and especially methodological value.
That today's heritable traits are those of yesterday's heritable traits that caused the creatures inheriting them to be more successful, in their environment, in surviving and reproducing thanks to (some of) those very traits, is indeed a tautology -- once you realize the consequences of the fact that there does indeed exist such a heritable variation/retention process; but not without that realization. And that is the realization we owe to Darwin.
It was neither obvious before Darwin -- nor is it true a-priori, as a matter of necessity -- that there exists heritable variation underlying creatures' traits, and that the survival/reproduction advantages -- i.e., the adaptive advantages -- of those heritable traits in creatures' ancestral environments were what shaped the current traits of creatures across time. Hence it was not obvious that that was what you had to investigate if you wanted to know what traits had evolved in what environments, as a result of what adaptive advantages. But the general principle itself does not identify any particular trait of any particular creature in any particular environment.
(3) Fodor expressed the principle of "Natural Selection" (PNS)  in words to the effect that
PNS: "There is natural variation of (heritable) traits, and, from that (heritable) variation, 'Natural Selection' 'selects for' those traits that confer the greater 'fitness' (in much the same way that, in Artificial Selection, the animal breeder selects for the traits he prefers)."
This formulation of the PNS is correct, but a more explicit and perspicuous way to put it (with more words but fewer metaphors) would be:



Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5




The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page