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Reciprocating Bill

Posts: 4265
Joined: Oct. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 29 2011,04:29   

Quote (sparc @ Jan. 29 2011,01:32)
You can comment on the the post on Flannery's book on Wallace (currently 16 comments, two by Luskin, another two by O'Leary). Comments are moderated. Other threads including the one on Synthese still don't allow comments.

ETA ENV's comment policy:  
Comment Policy

All comments are held for moderation. The debate over evolution and intelligent design attracts all kinds, including those who detract from the conversation by their obnoxious behavior. In order to maintain a higher level of discourse, we will not publish comments that use foul language, ad hominem attacks, threats, or are otherwise uncivil.

I have posted the following. Let's see if it appears:
"It all sounds impressive until Pinker tries to actually make a case for any of this. The narrative quickly degenerates into a trivial recounting of what humans currently do and then into a collection of speculative scenarios about how certain primordial hominids "might have" done this or "perhaps" did that."

Wallace's claim too may be characterized as a recounting of what humans currently do coupled with the assertion that these capabilities cannot have arisen by gradations. The argument for this assertion inheres in characterizations of these activities, e.g. their level of abstraction, and the follow-on claim that lesser forms of such capabilities cannot have been useful to our hominid ancestors, and therefore cannot have arisen step-wise. This is a conceptual argument, not an empirical one - which is why it is characterized as a "paradox."

When a conceptual claim is made, a conceptual response may be sufficient to dispute that claim. Wallace - and now ID proponents - argue not that these things did not happen (broadly an empirical claim), but that they cannot have happened - that to assert otherwise is to invoke a paradox (a conceptual claim). To refute an argument of this kind all one need only show that such events can have happened - that the claim is not in fact paradoxical. That is the level of Pinker's argument (as you summarize it here). Qualifiers such as "may have been," "may serve as," "perhaps," "may connect" are appropriate when mounting a conceptual response to a conceptual claim.

That response alone does not amount to science (nor is Wallace's claim science), nor does it follow from the argument that events can have happened that they did indeed happen. The science lies in the very hard work of formulating hypotheses regarding human cognitive evolution that are testable - a difficult proposition given that the hypothesized cognitive attainments occurred tens of thousands to millions of years in the past, and by their very nature can have left no physical traces other than cultural artifacts. The most interesting work in this field, which is far from new, draws not just upon characterizations of the skills in question but also upon predictions arising from a "triangulation" between findings in cognitive science, primatology, and human developmental psychology (ie. the unfolding of cognitive abilities in individual children). Perhaps we can never attain a high level of confidence regarding particular hypotheses. But a conceptual response alone can refute the bare conceptual claim that such hypotheses cannot be correct.

Myth: Something that never was true, and always will be.

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
- David Foster Wallace

"Here’s a clue. Snarky banalities are not a substitute for saying something intelligent. Write that down."
- Barry Arrington

  806 replies since Jan. 20 2011,10:32 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

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