Down with Epistemology

Don’t take the title of this page too seriously but I want to situate epistemology in an evolutionary context. This note is a weak shadow of the anthology “Evolutionary Epistemology” but I want to record here what I think is an important point.

As we evolved we necessarily adapted to patterns we found in the environment. Gradually it came to pass that life began to exploit patterns that changed during the lifetime of a single cell organism. Much later neural collections within an organism dealt with patterns, at first recognizing instances of patterns defined in their DNA and much later discovering new pattens in the lifetime of an individual.

At this stage one might say that epistemology was thereby born wherein the individual carried a world model which incorporated information that might be organized as assertions about the world that might sometimes be said to be ‘true’. There are several weasel words in the forgoing sentence because there is much latitude in mapping modern notions of epistemology onto the biology of those Cambrian creatures. A more important reason for the weasel words is that the ‘truth’ of these parts of the model is not necessary for their utility to the organism. Only gradually during subsequent evolution does the map and metaphor of truth become less strained. The discrepancy between the logician’s notions of truth and the nature of our world still plague us. Epistemology helped us get to the Moon and our machines to Mars and that is damned impressive. We are doing something right. We should not be surprised, however, when Quantum mechanics or math strain our logical processes; our brains didn’t evolve for those sorts of things. I no longer wonder so much whether some physics theories are ‘true’.

If utility trumps truth then how is it that the concept ‘truth’ is so damned useful? Even if truth is illusory I claim that the notion of truth is critical to our civilization. Epistemology has lowly roots but it has come a long way.

Similar note

Epistemology bears on belief.