Synopses & Reviews
Bringing together evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophy, Henry Plotkin presents a new science of knowledge that traces an unbreakable link between instinct and our ability to know. Since our ability to know our world depends primarily on what we call intelligence, intelligence must be understood as an extension of instinct. The capacity for knowledge is deeply rooted in our biology and, in a special sense, is shared by all living things.
In his Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge, Plotkin does for evolutionary epistemology what Richard Dawkins did for gene selectionism in The Selfish Gene. As in the case of gene selectionist versions of evolutionary theory, most of the work in evolutionary epistemology is highly esoteric and extremely hard to follow. Plotkin decided that it was time to summarize the advances in ways that more general readers can comprehend and appreciate. He has simplified this large literature without distorting it. I read the book with enjoyment. Gerd Gigerenzer, University of Chicago
An outstanding example of a bold and thought-provoking struggle for a unified viewpoint on the nature of knowledge. Plotkin's intention is not just to show connections between various accounts of knowledge from evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and philosophers--he is going for more. He attempts to develop and unified point of view, based on Darwin and twentieth-century evolutionary epistemology. This book is extremely lucid, clear, and well-written. Choice
Plotkin is a psychologist and his book places most emphasis on learning or the acquisition of knowledge and the cultural transmission of that knowledge. It is an extended essay on 'evolutionary epistemology', a phrase coined by D. T. Campbell and rightly seen by Plotkin as a barrier to understanding. Indeed, one of this book's great virtues is that Plotkin writes incomparably more clearly than most others who have ventured into these fields. His exposition, even of complex issues, is beautifully lucid, his arguments well thought through and his illustrations apt. Nicholas Mackintosh
Plotkin makes evolutionary epistemology accessible to nonspecialists, developing a model in which sense-based knowledge anchors mind-based knowledge, coupling more tightly to individual intelligence than to the 'knowledge' constructs of cultures. Plotkin offers an extremely readable account and defense of evolutionary epistemology, a prominent, if controversial, position in contemporary philosophy of science. Nature
Plotkin ties together philosophy, evolutionary biology, and psychology to provide a new examination of the science of knowledge. The nature of learning and intelligence are seen as the extension of instincts that are deeply rooted in our biology...Plotkin is excellent at describing difficult and convoluted issues. Steven L. Goldman - Science, Technology and Society
Learn and survive. Behind this simple equation lies a revolution in the study of knowledge, which has left the halls of philosophy for the labs of science. This book offers a cogent account of what such a move does to our understanding of the nature of learning, rationality, and intelligence. Bringing together evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophy, Henry Plotkin presents a new science of knowledge, one that traces an unbreakable link between instinct and our ability to know. Contrary to the modern liberal idea that knowledge is something derived from experience, this science shows us that what we know is what our nature allows us to know, what our instincts tell us we must know. Since our ability to know our world depends primarily on what we call intelligence, intelligence must be understood as an extension of instinct. Drawing on contemporary evolutionary theory, especially notions of hierarchical structure and universal Darwinism, Plotkin tells us that the capacity for knowledge, which is what makes us human, is deeply rooted in our biology and, in a special sense, is shared by all living things. This leads to a discussion of animal and human intelligence as well as an appraisal of what an instinct-based capacity for knowledge might mean to our understanding of language, reasoning, emotion, and culture. The result is nothing less than a three-dimensional theory of our nature, in which all knowledge is adaptation and all adaptation is a specific form of knowledge.
About the Author
Henry Plotkin is Professor of Psychobiology and Head of the Department of Psychology at the University College in London.