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Logic as an evolved strategy... - Elf M. Sternberg
Logic as an evolved strategy...
So, I'm reading John Wilkins, one of those annoying know-it-alls whom I admire, and he has a thoughtful essay, The Logic of Evolution, in which he reveals a fascinating conundrum: if evolution is a correct explanation for our origins, then logic must be a function of our evolutionary heritage: "Logic", the formal tools for deciding truth from falsity, is a branch of biology.

Evolution, or rather the generalised aspects of the dynamics of evolution, are indeed the substrate of logic. To think otherwise is to think that logic exists in a Platonic heaven or is some kind of happenstance. Neither will really work - the one because of the baroque ontology it imposes, based, so far as we can tell, on our acceptance of Plato's post hoc justification for thinking his ideas are somehow in direct connection with the real world; the other based on the assumption that we "just have these concepts".

Way cool.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music: Carbon Based Life Forms, Hydroponic Garden

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memegarden From: memegarden Date: June 16th, 2004 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Evolution encourages the development of reason, therefore logic is a branch of biology? I don't think I buy that. We evolved to be cultural animals as well as logical ones, so I suppose you could call all of the humanities and sciences branches of biology. For that matter, religion, art, and magic seem to derive from aspects of our evolution, so we could call them biology too. But that all seems just a little silly. Or at least unuseful from the point of view of maintaining some meaning in the term "biology".

A comment at the bottom says:
George Lakoff's Where Mathematics Comes From (Amazon) is an instructive read, in these matters.

Knowing some of George Lakoff's other work as I do (Women, Fire, & Dangerous Things, More Than Cool Reason, Metaphors We Live By, I don't doubt it!
*adds to must-read list*
mothball_07 From: mothball_07 Date: June 16th, 2004 12:39 pm (UTC) (Link)


Having been an academic writer (and pretty good at obfuscation), I'm always a bit skeptical when I read something that used "durned big words" and doesn't convey an immediate meaning to me. Particularly when it seems to make the argument by counterpoint ("To think otherwise...")

I'm curious, what does this concept mean to you? (And/or how does he explain it in the book?) "Evolution .. [are] indeed the substrate of logic." In some sense is seems evolution could be argued to be the substrate of anything an evolved being does/is.

More rigourously, I would think you would have to show that logic increases with levels of evolution, and I would even argue, separate from thought. (In other words, thought may be a result of evolution. Does logic derive *independantly* from this, or as a side effect?) Are humans more logical than, say, dogs? Or are we talking about critical thought, more than logic?

I haven't read the book, but this does seem like it could be an interesting conversation... maybe I should fetch you a beer next time we find ourselves in the same location. :)
From: technoshaman Date: June 16th, 2004 01:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I go the other way to pull down the house of cards: Logic is fine, but you need a starting point, a beginning observation, a set of assumptions. But how do you prove your starting point? You can't get out of your head to look objectively; you have to trust your perceptions. You can ask someone else, a hundred other folks, but how do you know that's not just some bits in the Matrix talking back to you?

Answer: you don't. Ergo, all science is based on a value judgement. Now, game theory tells us that it's to our advantage to trust our perceptions (I'll save the rant there), but ultimately there ain't no such thing as absolute truth that a human can perceive.

From: (Anonymous) Date: June 17th, 2004 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Mathematical Neo-Platonism

See, I disagree with the his conclusion: He concludes that because evolution gives rise to our reasoning abilities, that therefore logic must somehow be a product of evolution. This shows a poor understanding of logic, and an even poorer understanding of evolution.

If we have reasoning abilities (and we do, and they consume an inordinate amount of our metabolic resources), then they must represent an evolutionary benefit. Well, why would they represent an evolutionary benefit? Because the world operates logically, and hence reasoning abilities allow one to predict future events an plan for them. Thus logic is built into the world, and not evolution itself.

At a more basic level, I am a mathematical neo-Platonist. I _do_ believe that many (if not all) of our mathematical concepts require no reference to a physical universe, and exist instead _ab_initio_. That even a disembodied mind could conceive of these concepts. The most fundamental of these concepts are those which underly logic. I do not see this as being a _baroque_ standpoint, but rather the only natural standpoint. Others may argue with me only this last statement (even those others would argue that logic and mathematics are built into the Universe on a more fundamental level than biology).

The argument presented here seems to me to be a prelude to the rehashing of the old po-mo argument: that different cultures would have different logical systems or conceptions of the way the world works, and that none of these systems is inherently more correct than any of the others. The fact that this is clearly fallacious (for example, I do assert that my opinions about the geometry of the world are _inherently_ more correct than a Flat-Earther's) does not seem to disconcert them. Perhaps because they are working by a different logical system.

I'm sorry if I seem a little harsh, but claiming that logic (and hence mathematics and science) is a function of biology (or culture, or upbringing) tends to push my buttons.

woggie From: woggie Date: June 18th, 2004 10:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, sure, there's logic to it, but it doesn't have to be *our* logic.

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