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Knowledge as Behaviors

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Key Concept

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Quote  

Henry Plotkin, “Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge” (Harvard University Press, 1994), pps. xiv-xv:  

“How, then, can we make that connection between adaptation and knowledge?  We do so through a two-track argument.  The first is that the human capacity to gain and impart knowledge is itself an adaptation, or a set of adaptations.  To the scientifically literate this may not seem to be a startling claim.  But it does have specific and interesting implications.  We simply will not understand human rationality and intelligence, or human communication and culture, until we understand how these seemingly unnatural attributes are deeply rooted in human biology.  They are, I will argue, the special adaptations that make us special.  What is unarguable is that they are the products of human evolution, whether adaptations or not.  There really are no substantive alternative ways of understanding our extraordinary capacity for knowledge....”  

“The second track of the argument is the one that many find strange and difficult, and one which has already been partially given in the Preface.  It is that adaptations are themselves knowledge, themselves forms of ‘incorporation’ of the world into the structure and organization of living things.  Because this seems to misappropriate a word, ‘knowledge’, with a widely accepted meaning - knowledge usually just being something that only humans have somewhere in their heads - it makes the argument easier if the statement reads ‘adaptations are biological knowledge, and knowledge as we commonly understand the word is a special case of biological knowledge’.”  

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Page updated 5/12/01