Tracing the biological roots of knowledge

In Rangaswamy N. S. (ed.), Life and Organicism. Centre for Studies in Civilizations (2009)
The essay is a critical review of three possible approaches in the theory of knowledge while tracing the biological roots of knowledge: empiricist, rationalist and developmentalist approaches. Piaget's genetic epistemology, a developmentalist approach, is one of the first comprehensive treatments on the question of tracing biological roots of knowledge. This developmental approach is currently opposed, without questioning the biological roots of knowledge, by the more popular rationalist approach, championed by Chomsky. Developmental approaches are generally coherent with cybernetic models, of which the theory of autopoiesis proposed by Maturana and Varela made a significant theoretical move in proposing an intimate connection between metabolism and knowledge. Modular architecture is currently considered more or less an undisputable model for both biology as well as cognitive science. By suggesting that modulation of modules is possible by motor coordination, a proposal is made to account for higher forms of conscious cognition within the four distinguishable layers of the human mind. Towards the end, the problem of life and cognition is discussed in the context of the evolution of complex cognitive systems, suggesting the unique access of phylogeny during the ontogeny of human beings as a very special case, and how the problem cannot be dealt with independent of the evolution of coding systems in nature.
Keywords biology and knowledge  Karmiloff-Smith  critique of Fodor  developmental view  Piaget  metabolism and knowledge  Maturana  critique of modularity  modularity  implicit and explicit knowledge
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