Evolution, selection, and cognition: From learning to parameter setting in biology and in the study of language

Cognition 31 (1):1-44 (1989)
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Most biologists and some cognitive scientists have independently reached the conclusion that there is no such thing as learning in the traditional “instructive‘ sense. This is, admittedly, a somewhat extreme thesis, but I defend it herein the light of data and theories jointly extracted from biology, especially from evolutionary theory and immunology, and from modern generative grammar. I also point out that the general demise of learning is uncontroversial in the biological sciences, while a similar consensus has not yet been reached in psychology and in linguistics at large. Since many arguments presently offered in defense of learning and in defense of “general intelligence‘ are often based on a distorted picture of human biological evolution, I devote some sections of this paper to a critique of “adaptationism,‘ providing also a sketch of a better evolutionary theory. Moreover, since certain standard arguments presented today as “knock-down‘ in psychology, in linguistics and in artificial intelligence are a perfect replica of those once voiced by biologists in favor of instruction and against selection, I capitalize on these errors of the past to draw some lessons for the present and for the future.



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Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
University of Arizona

References found in this work

Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism.Niles Eldredge & Stephen Jay Gould - 1972 - In Thomas J. M. Schopf (ed.), Models in Paleobiology. Freeman Cooper. pp. 82-115.
Exaptation–A missing term in the science of form.Stephen Jay Gould & Elisabeth S. Vrba - 1982 - In David L. Hull & Michael Ruse (eds.), The Philosophy of Biology. Oxford University Press.
Artifact, cause and genic selection.Elliott Sober & Richard C. Lewontin - 1982 - Philosophy of Science 49 (2):157-180.
On semantics.James Higginbotham - 1985 - Linguistic Inquiry 16:547--593.

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