Grice was an evolutionist.
Perhaps he not always was. He _evolved_ into
one. When? Well, more or less
by the time he delivered his lecture, "How
pirots carulise elatically".
He took his pirots from Carnap. For Grice, a
pirot is like a man (or a
parrot, only different). The study of pirots
Grice calls pirotology. Pirots
Pirots evolve to be rational.
This does not mean that there are some
irrational pirots out
Well, it may do to review how
Leda Cosmides got attracted to the Wason AD47
Pinker notes, the Wason AD47 selection task was devised by Peter Wason
1966 and published by Penguin, which is coincidentally the press that's
publishing Pinker "How the mind works". Pinker's précis of the Wason test
leaves quite a bit to be desired since Pinker formulates the 'if' utterance
the "rule", so miscalled, since rules are neither true nor false, whereas
'if' utterances are) in too specific terms, while Wason uses variables like
'vowel' and 'odd number' (cfr. Eco, "The Number Zero" -- implicature: Is
zero a number?)
Why did Wason do this? Well, he was a Londoner, and a
Karl Popper had postulated that
science is based on hypothetico-deductive
reasoning, in which the key step
is the search for counter-examples, that
is, for evidence contradicting a
As if Reichenbach utterered, "Eureka! All ravens are
black". And his next
conversational move be, "Let's look for a white raven
now, darling". (He is
speaking to his wife).
Wason wanted to
explore the possibility that learning in ordinary life is
really science in
embryo: the formation of hypotheses and the search for
The Wason AD47 selection test therefore evaluates Wason
to find facts that violate a hypothesis (formulated as an
specifically a conditional hypothesis of the form: if p,
q, or as Grice
prefers p ⊃ q.
In Wason's test, 4 "facts" are
presented in the form of cards.
Each card has one piece of information
on one side, and another piece of
information on the other side.
The "conditional hypothesis" to be evaluated has to do with some sort
relationship (not necessarily one of inferrability) between the
on the two sides of the cards.
The Wason subject is
shown the four cards with one side up and the other
AD47 card selection task is to decide which cards should be turned
evaluate the 'if' utterance.
For example: the hypothesis might be
"Assume cards have a letter on one side and a number on the other. If a
card has D on one side, it must have 3 on the other side."
thousands of replications over years, it's been shown that most of Wason
subjects are basically quite bad at this AD47 card selection task.
For unfamiliar relations -- like the first case -- less than a quarter
the Wason subjects consistently give the correct answer.
commonest responses are just the "p" card, or the "p" card combined
the "q" card.
Few Wason subjects see the relevance of the not "q" card.
By the way, this suggests that scientific reasoning is not much like
reasoning in everyday life: the basic mode of scientific reasoning seems
completely alien to most people.
However, for some versions of
Wason's task -- involving benefits -- people
are a lot better: up to 75%
What's the difference between the first case, where people are
at the task, and the second case, where people are pretty good
at the task?
Several different sorts of answers come to
Most of them were explored by psychologists over the couple of
since Wason first published.
The first problem is abstract,
and one that interests Grice, while the
second one is concrete, and one
that interests Griceians (as Elinor Ochs in
"The universality of
conversational implicature" -- she went to Madagascar to
The first problem is unfamiliar, except if you are Grice or a Griceian,
while the second is "familiar", even if you are not.
In her PhD
dissertation, Leda Cosmides suggests that neither of these --
v 'familiar' -- is the crucial difference (plus, Grice disliked
use of 'family'; he was a Sicilian at heart).
Rather, Cosmides argues,
the second allegedly 'familiar' case involves the
detection of "cheating"
with respect to a social contract alla Locke, since
McEvoy was mentioning.
Only Locke uses 'pact' and 'compact'.
Cosmides does a clever series of
experiments, as psychologists are
supposed to do, to test these hypotheses
(and several other hypotheses that she
found of interest, even Griceian
In one set of experiments, for instance, Cosmides compares
I) An "unfamiliar" situation presented as a "social
contract" alla Locke.
II) An equally unfamiliar situation presented
without the Lockeian
III) An abstract
"rule" of the type that fascinates Grice -- only he calls
them 'rule' just
to please Gentzen's natural deduction.
IV) a "familiar" situation
An instance of (I):
For instance, a
hypothesis about an 'unfamiliar; situation might be:
"If a man eats
cassava root, he has a tattoo on his face."
An instance of
The social-contract narrative about this situation is something
"Cassava root is a prized aphrodisiac.
Having a facial tattoo
means one is married.
Unmarried men are not permitted to eat cassava root
because it might lead
to licentious behaviour.
An instance of
An abstract hypothesis is one like the case given earlier,
letters and numbers -- like Wason's original test, drawing, one
can allege, on
Grice (or Strawson's Introduction to logical theory,
published in the 1950s,
by London's Methuen, and held to be 'the vademecum'
of logic for decades).
An instance of (IV):
hypothesis is one like
"If one goes from Cambridge to Boston, one takes
Orders of presentation and so on are counterbalanced across
subjects in the
Cosmides' results for this experiment
Percent P¬-Q 75% -- 21%
-- 25% -- 46%
Such results suggest that concreteness (vs. abstractness)
in itself is no
help, _pace_ Grice.
'Familiarity' (as Sicilians use
the term) is somewhat helpful.
But it is Lockeian social-contract
narratives, even when their content is
'unfamiliar' and even 'bizarre'
(Cosmides's use of this adjective might well
be influenced by Grice's use of
it in "Method in philosophical psychology:
from the banal to the bizarre"
that Ned Block was popularising) re a big
In fact, Cosmides
argues, the fact that a Lockeian social-contract
"reasoning" helps Wason
subjects to get the logically correct answer in this case
accidental (where here she is relying on the Greek
she would, wouldn't she?)
Wason subjects are not reasoning logically at
all, even if broadly we can
say that they are reasoning. Vide Grice on
Aspects of reason, on 'alethic
Rather Wason subjects
are looking for a balance between a cost and a
benefits in a social
("you give me X, I give you Y")
Or in the calculus of
("You're in social category X, so you're entitled to
Wason subjects especially sensitive to cheaters and
poseurs: those who take
a benefit without paying the appropriate cost, or
having the appropriate
Sometimes this sensitivity to social
cheating happens to correspond to
logical inference, but often it doesn't,
as Grice and Strawson should BOTH
agree (as they don't on the
interpretation of 'if', of much more philosophical
Wason selection experiments suggest this result.
One was done by
Gigerenzer and Hug, and depends on a shift in perspective.
given social-contract rules such as:
If an employee gets a pension, that
employee must have worked for the firm
for at least 10
However, some subjects were told a story in which they are the
while others are told a story in which they are the
In this case, what counts as cheating depends on one's
From the point of view of the employer, a pension is a
cost, while a decade
or more of work is a benefit.
Fom the point of
view of the employee, a pension is a benefit, while a
decade of work is a
Thus the same event
"The employee gets a pension"
can be viewed as a cost or a benefit, depending on the perspective taken
unlike in the event,
"Give us a kiss".
The definition of
cheating is taking a benefit without paying the cost,
But *applying* this definition (something philosophers
usually don't care
to do, and rightly so, else they would be mere
psychologists) depends on
what is a cost and what is a benefit.
an employer, cheating is when an employee gets a pension but has not
for at least a decade.
For an employee, cheating is when an employee has
worked for a decade but
does not get a pension.
The schema for the
experiment was as follows:
Example of a rule:
if an employee gets
a pension (p), that employee must have worked at least
pension no pension worked 12 years worked 8 years
P not P Q
Perspective: Percent P & not-Q Percent not-P
words, most Wason subjects are hypothesizing a sensible Lockeian
contract that is not at all the same as what is actually stated --
proposed "rule" in this case does not promise a pension to anyone, and
working to detect "cheating" based on the definition of costs and benefits
from the perspective they have been asked to take.
There is some
operation of logic, but it is small: about 10-15%, Cosmides
Cosmides argues that this kind of cheater-detection is
something that Wason
people -- like other Wason primates -- are very good
And that we are good at it because it is important to us, not only
individually but also collectively ('cooperatively', here Cosmides might
Griceian influence -- although she probably never heard of
lectures on Logic and conversation on conversational
conversational benevolence) and historically.
important because the EVOLUTION (and this is where Cosmides and Grice
only Grice calls evolution a methodological myth) of a stable
for altruism requires high-accuracy detection and punishment of
In a society in which individuals are free to choose different
about Griceian-type co-operation based on past experience,
ALWAYS co-operate will tend to be mercilessly
On the other Griceian hand, individuals who never cooperate will
tend to be
shunned (Grice's example in the Oxford lectures is a man who
never helps a
stranger to enter a room by helping keep the door
Those who pursue a "tit for tat" strategy will do better than
However, this requires telling tits from tats, or tats from tits,
Cosmides offers some psychological, not
philosophical or conceptual,
arguments that the "learning" involved here
has occured on an EVOLUTIONARY time
scale, rather than (or at least in
addition to) on the scale of each
individual "pirot"'s life.
has evolved here, if Cosmides if right, is not a hoof or a horn or an
eyeball, but a complex and abstract behavioural propensity.
Nevertheless, it has arguably been shaped by selective forces as
as physical characteristics of the phenotype have.
just harder to characterize, because we can only discover its
doing experiments, rather than by simple dissection of physical
The term "evolutionary psychology", as used by Cosmides, and
simpliciter as used by Grice and Griceians, refers to the
adaptions like "cheater detection".
Cognitive or behavioral
propensities rather than anatomical or
physiological ones are at
Of course all anatomical adaptations have cognitive and behavioral
correlates, and vice versa, as Darwin knew very well (cfr. the mammary
It is an odd and interesting fact, then, that the
cognitive and behavioural
side of evolution was increasingly neglected after
about 1900, especially
with respect to humans.
"evolutionary psychology" was used by Cosmides and her
the late 1980s, and has come into common use in parts of
During this same period, the outlook of some
neuro-scientists has also been changed, to take a more
The consequence is partly just to ask certain
What species characteristics might lie behind the way humans
What were/are the selective pressures, and
what cognitive and behavioural
structures did they operate on?
result of asking these questions may also be a different set of ideas
the phenomena to be explained -- about human nature itself.
research lead some psychologists to the conclusion that "The Wason
do not naturally think like scientists -- most people are really
simple logic. Perhaps this is because our minds work mainly by simple
association of positive instances."
People are naturally good at detecting cheaters,
because this is an
essential adaptation for the reciprocal altruism (of the
type Grice was
emphasising since his 1965 Oxford lectures on "Logic and
Conversation" focusing on
conversational benevolence and conversational
self-interest towards a
conceptual analysis of 'helpfulness') that is at
the foundation of hominid social
People are not
nearly as good at general hypothesis testing, because there
has never been
any similar selective urgency.
our ancestors did not compete for mates by
solving physics problem sets.
But there may well be other adaptations
for reasoning about other specific
sorts of things.
The study of the
human mind has recently been moved into the natural
biology, computer science, and allied disciplines, and the
result has been
the revelation of a wholly new and surprising picture of
Instead of the human mind being a blank slate governed by a few
purpose principles of reasoning and learning, it is full of
instincts" and "innate knowledge" (of the type Locke, but not
rejected) -- that is, it resembles a network of dedicated
specialized to solve a different type of problem, each
running under its own richly
coded, distinctly nonstandard ('deviant', as
Haack would calll it) logic.
The programs that comprise the human mind
or psychology (or brain) were
selected for not because of their generality,
but because of their specialised
success in solving the actual array of
problems that our ancestors faced
during their evolution, such as
navigating the social world, reasoning about
macro-scopic rigid objects as
tools, "computing" or perceiving beauty,
foraging, understanding the
biological world, and so on.
This is a good example of what is sometimes
called "mega-phone science,"
that is, scientific popularization by the
methods of politics.
As usual with political sloganeering, there is some
For example, it is misleading to call this
perspective a wholly new and
surprising picture of human nature.
computer metaphors are recent, because computers are recent.
metaphors are not specific to this viewpoint.
The idea that the mind has
been pre-programmed by past lives goes back at
least to Plato.
"blank slate" metaphor for human learning was introduced in the 17th
century by Oxford philosopher John Locke (after whom the John Locke
that Grice gave were instituted) precisely because the contrary
prevelent at the time.
19th century "faculty psychology",
including phrenology, proposed an
explicit and detailed picture of a set of
"reasoning instincts", along with
information about the location of each in
The idea of cognitive and behavioral adaptations, including
for humans, is
most explicit in Darwin and Fitzpatrick (vide "Philsophising
More recent related ideas include (human) ethology;
(who quotes Grice) and his "modularity of mind;"
Thus arguments on this issue have
gone back and forth in western thought fo
r more than two
As usual with effective politics, there is also a truth behind
In this case, the truth is that social science (and to a
psychology, philosophy and the humanities) have been dominated
during the 20th
century by various more or less extreme forms of the "blank
Even in neuroscience and the more biological end of
psychology, there has
been relatively little emphasis on an evolutionary
There will come a time when the subject matter of this
psychology will be well known. The reason for its current
position is that most
practitioners do not yet fully appreciate the
insights offered by an
In part, this has
to do with the very history of neuroscience and
fields have been dominated by a belief that associationism is how we
and remember and that most brains can learn anything.
The past 100 years
of research do not support this view.
To learn why, we must examine the
current cognitive neuroscience enterprise
from an evolutionary perspective.
What are brains for, why were they built the way they are, and, in a
mechanistic sense, how should we view the relation between neuro-scientific
We have shared these notes because they presents
the basic Darwinian,
genetic and ethological foundations, and a careful
survey of the range of human
cognitive and behavioral characteristics for
which an evolutionary analysis
should be enlightening.
Yet both the
basic ideas and the specific applications remain controversial
Admitedly, there is a growing consensus that the perspective
is a valuable
one and that its applications will prove to be valid and
As Cosmides has pointed out in more
measured and carefully reasoned work,
her viewpoint is strongly at variance
with the viewpoint of most respectable
20th-century social scientists, and
also most contemporary humanists.
She quote Emil Durkheim, writing in
"one would be strangely mistaken about our
thought if he drew the
conclusion that sociology, according to us, must, or
even can, make an abstraction
of man and his faculties. It is clear that
the general characteristics of
human nature participate in the work of
elaboration from which social life
results. But they are not the cause of
it, nor do they give it its special
form; they only make it possible.
Collective representations, emotions, and
tendencies are caused not by
certain states of the consciousness of
individuals but by the conditions in
which the social group, in its totality, is
placed. Such actions can, of
course, materialize only if the individual
natures are not resistant to
them; but these individual natures are merely the
that the social factor molds and transforms. Their
exclusively in very general attitudes, in vague and
predispositions which, by themselves, if other agents did
could not take on the definite and complex forms which
Cosmides refers to this as the "standard social science
model," and sketch
its logic as follows:
Rapid historical change
and spontaneous "cross-fostering experiments"
dispose of the racist notion
that inter-group behavioural differences are
everywhere have the same developmental potential.
Although infants are
everywhere the same, adults everywhere differ
profoundly in their
behavioural and mental organization.
Therefore, "human nature" (the
evolved structure of the human mind) cannot
be the cause of the mental
organization of adult humans, their social
systems, their culture,
Complexly organized adult behaviors are absent from infants.
Whatever "innate" (as Descartes and Chomksy in his "Cartesian
has it) equipment infants are born with must therefore be
viewed as highly
rudimentary -- an unorganized set of crude urges or
drives, along with a
general ability to learn.
acquire adult mental organization from some external source in
the course of
The external source is obvious.
This organization is
manifestly present in the behavior and the public
representations of other
members of the local group.
Cultural phenomena are in no respect
hereditary but are characteristically
and without exception
Undirected by culture patterns -- organized systems of
-- man's behavior would be virtually ungovernable, a
mere chaos of
pointless acts and exploding emotions, his experience
This establishes that the social world is the cause
of the mental
organization of adults.
The cultural and social
elements that mold the individual precede the
individual and are external
to the individual.
The mind did not create these elements; these
elements created the mind.
They are given, and the individual finds them
already current in the
community when he is born.
The causal flow is
overwhelmingly or entirely in one direction: the
individual is the acted
upon and the socio-cultural world is the actor.
Therefore, what complexly
organizes and richly shapes the substance of
human life -- what is
interesting and distinctive and worthy of study -- is the
variable pool of
stuff that is referred to as culture.
But what creates
Culture is not created by the biological properties of
-- human nature.
Rather, culture is created by
some set of emergent processes whose
determinants are realized at the group
The socio-cultural level is a distinct, autonomous and
Culture is a thing "sui generis" which can be
explained only in terms of
Omnis cultura ex
Alfred Kroeber noted that the only antecedents of historical
Emil Durkheim similarly noted
that the determining cause of a social fact
should be sought among the
social facts preceding it and not among the
states of individual
Geertz added that our ideas, our values, our acts, even
our emotions, are,
like our nervous system itself, cultural products --
indeed, out of tendencies, capacities, and
dispositions with which we were
born, but manufactured
Therefore, this denies that "human nature" -- the evolved
the human mind -- can play any notable role as a generator
organization in human life.
In so doing, it removes
from the concept of human nature all substantive
content, and relegates the
architecture of the human mind to the narrowly
delimited role of embodying
the capacity for culture.
As Cosmides points out, the first thing to say
is that arguments against
the racist anthropology of the late 19th century
-- or of the Nazis in the
20th -- seem not only ethically but also
During the 19th century, the nature and origins
of the world's cultures
were increasingly interesting to Europeans.
Most investigations assumed a linear conception of history progress,
human societies evolving from savagery through barbarism and finally
Many further assumed that different cultural
patterns at a given stage
reflected racial as well as environmental and
historical influences, and there
was a great deal of interest in national
The Darwinian concept of evolution, as well as Darwin's
empirical and generalising perspective, fit well with this
endeavor, and became
central to it as the century passed.
to caricature its practitioners as imperialist boors.
But in fact many of
them were intelligent, observant and sensitive as well
as adventurous, and
they often identified more strongly with the far-away
peoples they studied
than with their own societies.
Wilhelm von Humboldt and Sir Richard
Burton are good examples.
Nevertheless, some certainly were indeed
imperialist boors, and there is a
web of connections between this work and
Nazi pseudoscientific racism.
Many aspects of anthropology, developed
around 1990 in an explicit
opposition to this tradition.
Cosmides, in one way, is not really suggesting a totally new
Rather, she is turning the clock back to 1900 and taking
a different path.
In fact Cosmides puts it this way
After a century, it is time to reconsider this model in the
light of the
new knowledge and new understanding that has been achieved in
biology, development, and cognitive science since it was first
Cosmides identifies three major defects here:
Naive and erroneous theories of development (viz. teeth, breasts, which
not present at birth but are not purely ex cultura either). Faulty
of nature-nurture issues: the phenotype cannot be partitioned into
and environmental traits.
(b) The fact of cultural variation is
consistent with a genetic substrate.
(c) Wrong (and probably
nonsensical, impossible) psychology.
A psychological architecture that
consisted of nothing but equi-potential,
content-independent or content-free mechanisms could not
perform the tasks the human mind is known to perform or solve
problems humans evolved to solve." It cannot account for the
observed, and it is not a type of design that could have
Cosmides argues that characteristic practices of 20th-century
scientists are designed to reinforce the standard model by
means, and that this warps the empirical work of social
especially the modes of analysis based on
Whenever it is suggested that something is innate or biological, the
anthropologist or sociologist riffles through the ethnographic literature
find a report of a culture where the behaviour varies.
the moral appeal of anti-nativism, the process of discrediting
a universal human nature has been strongly motivated.
by each new claim of discovered variability, felt they
were expanding the
boundaries of their discipline (and, as they thought, of
itself) and liberating the social sciences from
accounts of how we are inflexibly constrained to live as we
has elevated particularism and the celebration of variability to
values inside of anthropology, strongly asserted and fiercely
The most scientifically damaging aspect of this dynamic has not
consequent rhetorical emphasis most anthropologists have placed on
As Bloch puts it, it is the professional malpractice of
exaggerate the exotic character of other
Nor is the most damaging aspect of this dynamic the
cultivated credulousness about claims of wonders in remote
parts of the world,
which has led anthropologists routinely to embrace,
perpetuate, and defend not
only gross errors but also obvious
The most scientifically damaging aspect of this value system has
it leads anthropologists to actively reject conceptual frameworks
identify meaningful dimensions of cross-cultural uniformity in favor
alternative vantage points from which cultures appear maximally
In general, there is no question that the intellectual
pendulum is swinging
towards some version of the evolutionary-psychology
point of view, with
large potential effects in the social sciences and the
One natural question to ask is what the political
implications will be.
This is not to say that all science is politics,
just that broad questions
about human nature and its relationship to
culture are likely to have a
For example, the
leaders in establishing the standard social science model
in the early 20th
century, such as Franz Boas, had a very clear idea that
conclusions were connected to their (liberal,
Does a return to a more biological view of
culture and cognition presage a
return to racist science, or to scientific
justifications for imperial
Noam Chomsky (who quotes Grice in his 1966 "Aspects of the theory of
syntax" and further in his own John Locke lectures -- dubbing him wrongly a
behaviourist, alas) in his review of Skinner's "Beyond Freedom and
he presents an interesting argument that Lockeian "tabula rasa"
the human mind might be used as justification for totalitarian
and suggests that scientific ideologies are sometimes a sort
blot onto which a wide variety of political viewpoints and
interests can be
In any case, the movement in the
direction of an evolutionary (and
therefore biological) approach to human
nature has so far not accumulated any
particular political baggage, unless
we are still somehow too close to it to see
Aspects of Reason
on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html