Jerry Fodor, o crítico persistente do neodarwinismo

quinta-feira, dezembro 14, 2017


Jerry Fodor’s Enduring Critique of Neo-Darwinism

By Stephen Metcalf December 12, 2017

The philosopher Jerry Fodor was important for the same reason you’ve probably never heard of him: he was unimpressed, to put it politely, by the intellectual trends of the day. His focus was the philosophy of the mind, and he regarded much of what went on in brain labs as make-work. “If the mind happens in space at all, it happens somewhere north of the neck,” he wrote in The London Review of Books, in 1999. “What exactly turns on knowing how far north?” Fodor was indifferent to recent developments in European thought—everything since Kant, more or less. But he was that rare thing, a man who could lift your spirits while derogating your world view. When he died, last month, philosophy Twitter filled with variations of the same sentiment: I loved Jerry, even though he was wrong about everything.

Fodor first made his name at M.I.T., in the sixties and seventies, by pioneering a theory of the mind. He offered an updated version of what is sometimes called, in philosophy survey courses, rationalism. He didn’t think it was possible that we started our lives as blank slates and acquired, through experience alone, our mental repertoires; combining aspects of Chomsky’s theory of linguistic innateness with Turing’s insights into mathematical computation, he argued that there had to be a prior, unacquired “language of thought”—the title of his career-making book—out of which everyday cognition emerges. In offering a naturalistic account of mental representations, he staked out a middle ground where nobody thought one was possible: between our ordinary (or “folk”) notions about our own psychology—the fact that people “account for their voluntary behavior by citing beliefs and desires they entertain”—and the neurophysiology of the brain.

As his career progressed, Fodor became a skeptic—but that doesn’t quite capture it. What do you get when you cross a unicorn with a gadfly? He became skeptical of his own earlier, more strictly modular thesis of the brain. Our reasoning is too holistic in its inferences for it to proceed solely from mechanical rule-following, he decided. “The moon looks bigger when it’s on the horizon; but I know perfectly well it’s not. My visual perception module gets fooled, but I don’t. The question is: who is this I?” (There is, as of yet, no A.I. for this I.) But nothing inspired his skepticism more than the current vogue for Charles Darwin—specifically, the fusion of evolutionary biology, Mendelian genetics, and cognitive neuroscience known as neo-Darwinism.

“Neo-Darwinism is taken as axiomatic,” he wrote in “What Darwin Got Wrong,” co-written with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a cognitive scientist, and published in 2010. “It goes literally unquestioned. A view that looks to contradict it, either directly or by implication, is ipso facto rejected, however plausible it may otherwise seem.” Fodor thought that the neo-Darwinists had confused the loyalty oath of modernity—nature is without conscious design, species evolve over time, the emergence of Homo sapiens was without meaning or telos—with blind adherence to the fallacy known as “natural selection.” That species are a product of evolutionary descent was uncontroversial to Fodor, an avowed atheist; that the mechanism guiding the process was adaptation via a competition for survival—this, Fodor believed, had to be wrong.

Fodor attacked neo-Darwinism on a purely conceptual and scientific basis—its own turf, in other words. He thought that it suffered from a “free rider” problem: too many of our phenotypic traits have no discernible survival value, and therefore could not plausibly be interpreted as products of adaptation. “Selection theory cannot distinguish the trait upon which fitness is contingent from the trait that has no effect on fitness (and is merely a free rider),” he wrote. “Advertising to the contrary notwithstanding, natural selection can’t be a general mechanism that connects phenotypic variation with variation in fitness. So natural selection can’t be the mechanism of evolution.”

“What Darwin Got Wrong” was greeted with dismissive howls—and it is possible Fodor got the biology wrong. But he got the ideology exactly right. Fodor was interested in how the distinction between an adaptation and a free rider might apply to our own behavior. It seems obvious to us that the heart is for circulating blood and not for making thump-thump noises. (Fodor did not believe this for was defensible, either, but that is for another day.) Pumping is therefore an “adaptation,” the noise is a “free rider.” Is there really a bright sociobiological line dividing, say, the desire to mate for life from the urge to stray? The problem isn’t that drawing a line is hard; it’s that it’s too easy: you simply call the behavior you like an adaptation, the one you don’t like a free rider. Free to concoct a just-so story, you may now encode your own personal biases into something called “human nature.”

Read more here/Leia mais aqui: The New York Times 


Este blogger não viu este artigo do New York Times traduzido na Folha de São Paulo. Alguém viu? Por que será, hein??? Compreensível o silêncio da Folha de São Paulo - quando a questão é Darwin, a Grande Mídia adota o moto: Darwin locuta causa finita! Pobre jornalismo científico!!!