History and IntroductionThe experiences that led the author to regard scientific deception as much more common than is commonly reported in the scientific media. The conflicts between logic and power that are inherent in science, especially in the way science, as a social structure, obtains "valid" knowledge from observational data. The evolutionary nature of scientific logic and the way this leads to generalized, data based, theories of evolution and to bioepistemic evolution as a data based interpretation of human evolution. The ways in which bioepistemic evolution offers new interpretations of human nature.
Origins of Bioepistemic Evolution
The train of thought that led to this work had nothing whatever to do with sex - it actually began as an investigation into scientific philosophy and the foundations of knowledge. I spent spent many years working as a scientist but, during those years, I was very disappointed to find that professional colleagues were generally reluctant to engage in the kind of rational debate that is usually taken to characterize science. Put bluntly, my experience was that many, though by no means all, real scientists commonly engage in various forms of deception. Even quite extreme acts such as the theft of other workers' results, misrepresentation and lying are all common patterns of behavior. This site is not about that topic but interested readers can read more about the specific issues that led to my disenchantment with the scientific community at my other web site A Habit of Lies.
Nowadays I realize that such experiences are quite common and that studies into the history and sociology of science indicate that, in varying degrees and despite the contrary propaganda, disingenuous or deceitful debating tactics have always been widespread in science. In practice scientific debate does not seem like a real search for truth. Rather it seems like a multiplayer game in which, though formal rules are asserted to exist, those rules are never enforced. In science, the referees are never willing to blow their whistle and, as a result, many players just seek to win their game, whatever game they may perceive it to be, by any means, fair or foul.
In practice, that means that many scientists seem willing to do anything to add to their list of publications or avoid appearing to have made a mistake. By contrast, acceptance of error is intrinsic to scientific methodology, especially that described by Karl Popper - without error correction there is no progress - while lying is absolutely prohibited in logic and all serious scientific philosophy. Deception is also prohibited by the rhetoric declarations of scientific institutions but these institutions are the refereees that never blow their whistle. Scientific institutions vaunt their elevated standards but in fact are rarely, if ever, willing to concern themselves with actual breaches of those declared standards. And yet, scientific knowledge, much of it at any rate, does have real value. How can these things be reconciled?
I went into scientific philosophy in an attempt to understand how the facts of scientific behavior could be reconciled with the claims of scientific "knowledge" and scientific methodology. I wanted to understand how and why scientific knowledge could be so valuable and so reliable, given the actual milieu of deception and malpractice from which it so often emerges.
In terms of logic, I am obliged to follow Popper but many observers have argued that his hypothetico-deductive methodology is more of an ethic of science than a description of actual scientific practice. They are quite right but such comments are shallow and do not really address my concern or explain the systematic deceit that actually goes on in science. I wanted to understand the origins of knowledge within the reality of scientific practice; if scientists understand this logic, why do they refuse to do it? To cut a long story short, I finally decided that science, itself wasn't really the issue. I finally concluded that scientists were simply people and that their deceptive practices were the same as everyone else's. To address the problem, I decided that one should think about knowledge in general and about people in general.
I then started trying to "derive" scientific logic from scientific ideas, particularly from evolutionary theory. (Derive is not really the right word here but I know of no better one. One cannot derive anything from evolutionary theory but I wanted, in some way to make Popper's logic manifest within the context of evolutionary theory.) From that analysis I hoped to see how scientific results, method and deception could be related in a philosophy of scientific knowledge. I became, if you like, a social epistemologist and set out to develop a form of evolutionary theory that would enable me to understand the evolutionary origins of valid knowledge. As I said, I effectively did want to derive Popper's scientific methodology from evolutionary theory. That aim is not quite so silly as it sounds - the analogies between Popper's ideas on logic and evolutionary selection have often been noted.
One of the people who have noted that analogy is Plotkin and, following his earlier work, I developed a picture of evolution that is based on data being converted to knowledge rather than on genes or replicators. I followed Plotkin's approach because, that basis meant that it would automatically arrive at knowledge when I arrived scientific knowledge formation as an evolutionary process. Also, his approach was heirarchical and was therefore capable of dealing with other data sources besides DNA, such as the data content of cultures, which enters into social evolution.
My aim was to obtain a scientific ethic, method or philosophy that was compatible with evolutionary theory and, I am happy to say, I made progress, finally coming to a four level system of knowledge in an evolutionary hierarchy. The four levels of knowledge I arrived at were genetic knowledge, sensory knowledge, social knowledge and subcultural or professional knowledge. (In this approach, genes don't disappear but they do cease to be basic to evolution. Genes are regarded as containers for, or a formatting of, the data of the level1 knowledge produced by rank1 evolution. In my perspective, rank1 evolution is genetic evolution and other forms of knowledge are produced by other ranks of evolution, so that this evolutionary epistemology can be seen as a generalization of the evolutionary theory presented in books on genetics. (Here I am using my terminology rather than Plotkin's.))
I initially followed Plotkin in seeing the highest level of knowledge as scientific knowledge but I have since come to the opinion that this last level, level4 knowledge, should be viewed in terms of the evolution of ethics in general rather than just science and logic. The general process of knowledge formation, which I find to be applicable to each level, is that "data is interpreted into information which is selected from to produce knowledge." In bioepistemic evolution, each of four ranks of evolution produces a level of knowledge. The rank and level depend upon where, by what mechanism and by what criteria, the interpretation and selection are performed. From this evolutionary hierarchy I was able to gain insights into the nature of scientific knowledge and also into the reasons scientists are so reluctant to use logic in practice.
And if all that sounds rather abstract - yes it is but I didn't give up my day job to do these things. Actually, I doubted whether anybody would ever read my work but things changed. First, I became aware that the structure of evolution I had developed was materially different from anything that had gone before. Second, I realized that these differences were not mere abstractions but that they were capable of new and very interesting interpretations of very real observations. The first of those concerned human sexuality.
The major differences between my work and Plotkin's is that I separately identify sensory knowledge, that is level2 knowledge, and social or cultural knowledge, level3 knowledge; I also analyze the separate selective processes that produce them. Humans are not good at obtaining sensory knowledge - many animals have sharper senses than we do. However, when human beings talk about "knowledge" it is usually social knowledge they are talking about and humans have far more social knowledge, much larger cultures, than any other animal. It is clear that humans are profoundly affected by this aspect of knowledge - we are the social animals, the knowledge animals par excellence. Culture, one may say, is the most striking phenotype of the human species and I had developed a form of evolutionary theory in which culture could be separately analyzed, rather than merely being separately named. This seemed significant and, funnily enough, it is also that which led me to think about sex.
My epistemology, as summarized on this site, is an evolutionary epistemology and one of the things one learns about when studying evolutionary theory is sexual selection. Sexual selection is an elaboration of natural selection that was first suggested by Darwin in his book "The Descent of Man". Darwin suggested sexual selection because he believed that natural selection was incapable of explaining the origins of human beings, especially the quality of our brains. His ideas on sexual selection had little impact in his time but this mechanism of selection is now taken very seriously. Today, sexual selection is seen as a major mechanism of evolution among advanced animals and it is thought to be the mechanism through which the human brain developed. In other words, sexual selection is the underlying mechanism whereby animals, and humans, have developed the ability to handle non-genetic information - so I became very interested in the links between knowledge and sexuality.
All epistemologists read the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault - a very interesting man. His work raises a great many questions; in fact, he probably raises more questions than he answers but they are good questions and he was very struck by the relationships between knowledge, power and sex. No doubt his interest in sexuality arose because he was, himself, a homosexual and, as I looked at my hierarchy of evolution, developed for the quite different purpose of understanding scientific logic, I was struck by the idea that this system could actually be used to give an evolutionary account of the origins of homosexuality. The idea was, basically, that homosexuality came out of the genderless structure of the social, level3 knowledge that I had been analyzing as part of a scientific philosophy.
Put simply, the way it works is like this - the general mechanism of sexual selection means that, in any particular species, one gender is sexually attracted by a phenotype in the other gender. The classic example is the peacock's tail. Peahens, the females, are sexually attracted to males with long tails and choose to mate with the male with the longest tail. Hence, only males with long tails reproduce and peacocks gradually develop very long tails. Attraction to long tails is part of the peahens sexuality. She is, if you like, a tailophile. The most evident human phenotype is culture, therefore, as a sexually selected species, we would immediately argue that humans will display sexualities that are directed toward culture in the same way that peahens display a sexuality directed towards the peacock's tail.
However, the peacock's tail and human culture are very different things. The tail is defined by data within genes, which are transmitted from generation to generation by means of heterosexual mating. The tails phenotype derives from a gendered data set. However, human culture consists largely of a genderless data set, it is based on a body of social data that can be "inherited" not just through male-female communication but also through male - male and female - female communication. Hence sexual selection directed toward a human cultural phenotype would be expected to produce not just heterosexual sexulities but also genderless sexualities, which would be homosexualities.
My initial reaction to this idea was to find it quite extraordinary or even bizarre. I had always felt that homosexual behaviors were biologically inexplicable, even though I had heard of the results indicating that homosexuality was genetically controlled. Suddenly, I was staring at an explanation of my own making and getting results that contradicted all my presuppositions but which seemed to interpret the facts rather well.
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made and I began to pursue the implications of this picture for the evolution of sexuality in general. Humans are, sexually, very unusual animals and the first thing one needs to explain is heterosexuality which is, in fact, quite unique among the animals. It is generally agreed that these uniquely human heterosexual traits emerge from social knowledge - that is from the evolution of culture. The bioepistemic interpretation of heterosexuality agrees but adds little, my work essentially just rephrases the conventional interpretation of human heterosexual traits. My new idea was that homosexuality, and other sexual deviations, could also came from social knowledge and, therefore, that they were biologically significant and arose from the same changes that made human heterosexuality unusual.
As I say, previously, I had seen my work as, essentially, a piece of scientific philosophy. It was important to me but I did not expect it to attract a wide interest. Suddenly, and by accident, it had also become an analysis of human sexuality and seemed capable of producing results of much greater importance and wider interest than I had ever expected. I came to feel that these ideas were important in their own right and I began to take it very seriously. For this, I did give up my day job and began to write full time. The book, "The Architecture of Thought" is the result. It suggests that human sexualities do indeed arise from sexual selection, with culture as the phenotypic target of that selection. The sexualities we see in humans today are those that have led, by the mechanism of sexual selection, to the evolution of the human brain and human culture.
It was while I was writing the book that I came across something else that was quite as unexpected as the interpretation of sexuality; I found that the picture of evolution I had developed was also capable of interpreting humor. Hence, The Architecture of Thought includes a chapter about the evolutionary origins and social functions of humor. The work on humor has moved on a lot since the book but I am very pleased with this interpretation of humor. As I say, it is something that came to me as I was writing the book and its inclusion slowed down the writing. Still, I like the theory of humor for a number of reasons -
- The theory of humor seems to me conceptually very elegant.
- As I have got into the field, I have begun to realize that this theory is also very original.
- I think it is correct and I find it personally gratifying to be able to interpret a phenomenon of such ubiquity and importance that has, until now, largely defied evolutionary interpretation.
- I find it very encouraging that the same theoretical development proves to be capable of interpreting such diverse aspects of human nature as sexuality and humor.
I have presented the humor work at the BERA conference in Edinbugh (September 2003) and at the ISS03 workshop on humor research, also in Edinburgh. The humor page, as presented on this site, is developed from those presentations and is, in fact, much developed from the book itself.
All in all then, the book The Architecture of Thought addresses a number of significant and intertwining themes.
- The development of evolutionary theory in a general form based on knowledge rather than genes.
- Social structure and its evolution.
- Ethics, particularly scientific ethics and methodology.
The ability to interpret phenomena such as humor suggests that evolutionary epistemology, as a generalization of evolutionary theory, is of more than passing interest. In a number of significant respects, this generalization is better able to interpret actual human behavior than is standard genetics. Perhaps that is not surprising since humans are knowledge animals and a generalization that correctly conceptualizes knowledge should be able to interpret human nature better than can genetics. This is a very strong reason for wanting to pursue this type of work.
At bottom, the logic of science addresses the question, "How does one go from data, experimental results, to knowledge, valid theories?" Many people argue that the answer to that question is, essentially, an evolutionary one, a selection of fit theories. The fact is that one can reasonably phrase biology in terms of a similar question, "How does one go from data, on DNA, to a fit and successful organism?" To generalize evolutionary theory, one wants to give a common answer to both these evolutionary questions. Oddly, the biggest obstacle to giving that common answer is the feature of evolution that is usually taken to be the most basic, namely the gene. There are no genes in data, though there is data in genes. Hence, a data-based generalization of evolutionary cannot include a reference to genes - these must be left in biology.
Once one makes this step, one can construct common answers to these evolutionary questions, answers that are applicable to either data source. Moreover, one can look at other areas to which evolutionary ideas is applied and to which one would like to incorporate this generalization - for example, brain function, social science and political science.
The hierarchical evolutionary epistemology, as described by Plotkin and developed here as bioepistemic evolution, is a generalization of evolutionary theory because it does allow these various evolutionary processes, with different data sources, to operate in parallel. It is compatible with biology, because because the hierarchy contains natural selection and biological evolution at its base, along with such elaborations as sexual selection. This biological evolution leads to genetic knowledge. Thus the hierarchical epistemology and bioepistemic evolution are able to interpret all observations interpretable by conventional genetics. In the evolutionary hierarchy, biological evolution is simply the first rank, rank1, and leads to level1, genetic knowledge. Rank1 evolution uses genetic data to produce level1 knowledge.
Each rank in the evolutionary hierarchy takes in its own form of data, interprets it into information and then selects from the information to produce knowledge. Rank1 evolution uses data in DNA and interprets it into organisms which are selected from to produce knowledge in DNA. The product knowledge then becomes the data for the next generation of evolution. Higher ranks of evolution occur with other forms of data interpretation and information selection. Rank2 evolution produces sensory, level2 knowledge which is interpreted and selected within the brain of the perceiver. Rank3 evolution produces social knowledge and is distinguished by selection occurring in the brain of the transmitter during social communication. The level3 knowledge produced by rank3 evolution is cultural knowledge and of particular significance because, like level1 knowledge, it is inherited, so that genes and culture coevolve. This is often called gene-culture coevolution, but I prefer the less clumsy term bioepistemic evolution which is more widely applicable and more tightly defined.
Rank4 evolution produces level4 knowledge with interpretation and selection being mandated by social or ethical codes. Professional methodologies, such as Popper's logic, are examples of the social codes that select knowledge at level4.
© Dr. John A Hewitt. This is the "History" page from sexandphilosophy.co.uk, which is copyright to the author,
Updated 22 November 2005