This massively modular architecture accounts for all of our sophisticated behavior. Our successful navigation of the world results from the action of one or more of our many modules.
Jerry Fodor was the first to mount a sustained philosophical defense of modularity as a theory of cognitive architecture Fodor His modularity thesis is distinct from the massive modularity thesis in a number of important ways. The modular detection systems feed output to a central system, which is a kind of inference engine. Fodor presents a large number of arguments against the possibility of modular central systems.
Fodor draws a bleak conclusion about the status of cognitive science from his examination of the character of central systems: cognitive science is impossible. Carruthers is well aware that Fodor see e. Fodor does not believe that central systems can be modular but he presents arguments from evolutionary psychologists and others that support the modularity thesis for the whole mind.
Perhaps one of the reasons that there is so much philosophical interest in evolutionary psychology is that discussions about the status of the massive modularity thesis are highly theoretical. Richard Samuels speculates that argument rather than empirical data is relied on, because the various competing modularity theses about central systems are hard to pull apart empirically. Carruthers exemplifies this approach as he relies heavily on arguments for massive modularity often at the expense of specific empirical results that tell in favor of the thesis.
There are many arguments for the massive modularity thesis. Some are based upon considerations about how evolution must have acted; some are based on considerations about the nature of computation and some are versions of the poverty of the stimulus argument first presented by Chomsky in support of the existence of an innate universal grammar.
See Cowie for a nice presentation of the structure of poverty of the stimulus arguments. Myriad versions of each of these arguments appear in the literature and many arguments for massive modularity mix and match components of each of the main strands of argumentation. Here we review a version of each type of argument. Each of these organs arises as a result of natural selection and the organs, acting together, contribute to the fitness of the organism.
The functional decomposition is driven by the response to specific environmental stimuli. Rather than natural selection acting to produce general purpose organs, each specific environmental challenge is dealt with by a separate mechanism. All versions of this argument are arguments from analogy, relying on the key transitional premise that minds are a kind of biological system upon which natural selection acts. The second type of argument makes no appeal to biological considerations whatsoever although many evolutionary psychologists give these arguments a biological twist.
Call this the computational argument, which unfolds as follows: minds are computational problem solving devices; there are specific types of solutions to specific types of problems; and so for minds to be successful general problem solving devices, they must consist of collections of specific problem solving devices, i. This type of argument is structurally similar to the biological argument as Carruthers points out.
Types of Research Hypotheses
The key idea is that there is no sense to the idea of a general problem solver and that no headway can be made in cognitive science without breaking down problems into their component parts. Many evolutionary psychologists see e.
Tooby and Cosmides appeal to the idea that there is neither enough time, or enough available information, for any given human to learn from scratch to successfully solve all of the problems that we face in the world. If we invoke this argument across the whole range of problem sets that humans face and solve, we arrive at a huge set of innate mechanisms that subserve our problem solving abilities, which is another way of saying that we have a massively modular mind.
There are numerous responses to the many versions of each of these types of arguments and many take on the massive modularity thesis head on without considering a specific argument for it.
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I will defer consideration of responses to the first argument type until section 4 below, which focuses on issues of the nature of evolution and natural selection — topics in philosophy of biology. The second type of argument is one side of a perennial debate in the philosophy of cognitive science. Fodor , 68 takes this argument to rest on the unwarranted assumption that there is no domain-independent criterion of cognitive success, which he thinks requires an argument that evolutionary psychologists do not provide.
Samuels see esp. Samuels responds to evolutionary psychologists that arguments of this type do not sufficiently discriminate between a conclusion about domain specific processing mechanisms and domain specific knowledge or information. The library model of cognition is not massively modular in the relevant sense but type two arguments support it.
According to Samuels, evolutionary psychologists need something more than this type of argument to warrant their specific kind of conclusion about massive modularity. Buller introduces further worries for this type of argument by tackling the assumption that there can be no such thing as a domain general problem solving mechanism. Buller worries that in their attempt to support this claim, evolutionary psychologists fail to adequately characterize a domain general problem solver.
For example, they fail to distinguish between a domain general problem solver and a domain specific problem solver that is over generalized. He offers the example of social learning as a domain general mechanism that would produce domain specific solutions to problems. He uses a nice biological analogy to drive this point home: the immune system is a domain general system in that it allows the body to respond to a wide variety of pathogens. While it is true that the immune system produces domain specific responses to pathogens in the form of specific antibodies, the antibodies are produced by one domain general system.
These and many other respondents conclude that type two arguments do not adequately support the massive modularity thesis. Fodor and Kim Sterelny provide different responses to type three arguments. Sterelny responds to the generalizing move in type three arguments. He takes language to be the exception rather than the rule in the sense that while the postulation of an innate, domain specific module may be warranted to account for our language abilities, much of our other problem solving behavior can be accounted for without postulating such modules Sterelny , For example, he accounts for folk psychology and folk biology by appealing to environmental factors, some of which are constructed by our forebears, that allow us to perform sophisticated cognitive tasks.
If we can account for our success at various complex problem solving tasks, without appealing to modules, then the massive modularity thesis is undercut.
Evolutionary Psychology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Sterelny sharpens his response to massive modularity by adding more detail to his accounts of how many of our uniquely human traits may have evolved see e. Sterelny Cecilia Heyes adopts a similar approach to Sterenly in attacking massive modularity. Rather than presenting arguments against massive modularity, she offers alternative explanations of the development of folk psychology that do not rely on the massive modularity thesis Heyes a; Heyes b.
Heyes and Sterelny not only reject massive modularity but also have little expectation that any modularity theses will bear fruit but there are many critics of the massive modularity thesis who allow for the possibility of some modularity of mind. Such critics of evolutionary psychology do not reject the possibility of any kind of modularity, they just reject the massive modularity thesis. There is considerable debate about the status of the massive modularity thesis and some of this debate centers around the characterization of modules.
If modules have all the characteristics that Fodor first presented, then he may be right that central systems are not modular. Both Carruthers and Barrett and Kurzban present modified characterizations of modules, which they argue better serve the massive modularity thesis. Many philosophers have criticized evolutionary psychology. Downes What is at stake are differing views about how to best characterize evolution and hence how to generate evolutionary hypotheses and how to test evolutionary hypotheses.
For evolutionary psychologists, the most interesting contribution that evolutionary theory makes is the explanation of apparent design in nature or the explanation of the production of complex organs by appeal to natural selection. Evolutionary psychologists generate evolutionary hypotheses by first finding apparent design in the world, say in our psychological make up, and then presenting a selective scenario that would have led to the production of the trait that exhibits apparent design.
The hypotheses evolutionary psychologists generate, given that they are usually hypotheses about our psychological capacities, are tested by standard psychological methods.
Philosophers of biology challenge evolutionary psychologists on both of these points. I introduce a few examples of criticisms in each of these two areas below and then look at some responses to philosophical criticisms of evolutionary psychology. Adaptation is the one biological concept that is central to most debates over evolutionary psychology. Every theoretical work on evolutionary psychology presents the research tradition as being primarily focused on psychological adaptations and goes on to give an account of what adaptations are see e. Tooby and Cosmides ; Buss et al.
Much of the philosophical criticism of evolutionary psychology addresses its approach to adaptation or its form of adaptationism. Let us quickly review the basics from the perspective of philosophy of biology. Sober makes a few further clarifications of the notion of adaptation that are helpful. First, we should distinguish between a trait that is adaptive and a trait that is an adaptation.
Any number of traits can be adaptive without those traits being adaptations. A sea turtles forelegs are useful for digging in the sand to bury eggs but they are not adaptations for nest building Sober , Also, traits can be adaptations without being currently adaptive for a given organism. Vestigial organs such as our appendix or vestigial eyes in cave dwelling organisms are examples of such traits Sterelny and Griffiths Second, we should distinguish between ontogenic and phylogenetic adaptations Sober , The adaptations of interest to evolutionary biologists are phylogenetic adaptations, which arise over evolutionary time and impact the fitness of the organism.
Ontogenetic adaptations, including any behavior we learn in our lifetimes, can be adaptive to the extent that an organism benefits from them but they are not adaptations in the relevant sense. Finally, adaptation and function are closely related terms.
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On one of the prominent views of function—the etiological view of functions—adaptation and function are more or less coextensive; to ask for the function of an organ is to ask why it is present. Sterelny and Griffiths , — Evolutionary psychologists focus on psychological adaptations.
The way in which psychological adaptations are identified is by evolutionary functional analysis, which is a type of reverse engineering. While it is true that evolutionary functional analysis can lend itself to just-so story telling, this is not the most interesting problem that confronts evolutionary psychology, several other interesting problems have been identified. Buller thinks that evolutionary psychologists overemphasize design and that they make the contentious assumption that with respect to the traits they are interested in, evolution is finished, rather than ongoing.
Rather, clutch size in birds , schooling in fish , leaf arrangement, foraging strategies and all manner of traits can be adaptations cf. Seger and Stubblefield Buller argues the more general point that phenotypic plasticity of various types can be an adaptation, because it arises in various organisms as a result of natural selection. For evolutionary psychologists, the hallmark of natural selection is a well functioning organ and for their critics, the results of natural selection can be seen in an enormous range of traits ranging from the specific apparent design features of organs to the most general response profiles in behavior.
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