Author(s): Beer CG
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Abstract This essay samples evolutionary epistemology, ideas about formative influences of behavior in evolution, and recent work in animal learning. It does so to illustrate how contrasting conceptions of science - as beginning in presuppositionless observation, and as conjecture and refutation - can be compared to views about how trial and error processes have entered into the evolution of animal cognitive capacities. Campbell's argument that visual perception arose as a means of vicarious locomotory trial and error, due to coincidence between the visual spectrum and penetrability, is contrasted with Wächtershäuser's case for a prior coincidence between visual sensitivity and the wavelengths capable of driving photosynthesis. The Darwinian picture of organisms as passive products of chance variation and natural selection is contrasted with the views of Popper, Waddington and Gottlieb, according to which animals may take the evolutionary initiative by generating behavioral novelty. In the study of learning operant and respondent conditioning contrast with regard to the active/passive comparison, but recent work has shown that associative learning can involve active computational processing, and that both types of learning are bound by historically imposed constraints. One such constraint may be modularity, which Fodor takes to imply that scientific observation can be theory-neutral. This view is opposed by Churchland, who argues that, even at the level of observational description, science is a process of trial and error, in which the trials always involve theoretical assumptions.
This article was published in Behav Processes
and referenced in Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies