From Knowing How To Knowing That: Acquiring Categories By Word of Mouth (presented at Kaziemierz Naturalized Epistemology Workshop (KNEW), Kaziemierz, Poland, 2 September 2007).
In, Kazimierz Workshop on Naturalised Epistemology, University of Southern , Odense, Denmark,
01 - 05 Sep 2007.
Nature is only interested in know-how, not "know-that": Foraging, feeding, fleeing, fledging, etc. So if know-how were all we had, then naturalizing epistemology would be easy (but neither epistemology, nor even language would have fledged). So is it enough just to add that knowing facts and formulas is part of the cognitive competence subserving our know-how? The answer may be a bit subtler than that, because the evolution of sociality and language have themselves "commodified" knowledge, so that acquiring a fact can be as much of an adaptive imperative as acquiring a fruit. But there is a bootstrapping problem, getting here from there: Acquiring facts cannot become like acquiring fruit until we have language. So it's down to the origins and adaptive value of language. Here is a hypothesis: Categorization is, at bottom, know-how: It's knowing what's the right thing to do with the right kind of thing (what to feed, flee or fledge, and what not) in order to survive, reproduce, and beat the competition. But if categories are based on our practical know-how, then the ones we already have can also be named (another case of know-how). And if categories can be named, then still other categories (that you have but I haven't, yet) can be described, even defined (for me, by you), by stringing those names into propositions with truth values. This is the capacity that sets our own species apart from all others: Every species that can learn can acquire categories by trial and error from direct sensorimotor experience, detecting the invariant sensorimotor features and rules that reliably distinguish the category members from the nonmembers. But only our species can also acquire categories from hearsay. And that not only opens up a vast wealth of potential categories, all the way from the practical to the platonic: more important, making all those invariant features and rules explicit and communicable saves us a lot of time, effort and risk in acquiring our adaptive know-how -- enough to have radically altered the brains of our ancestors at least 100,000 years ago, and turned them into us. It also made possible that form of distributed, collaborative, collective cognition we call culture.
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