Henry Plotkin, “Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge” (Harvard University
Press, 1994), pps. xiv-xv:
then, can we make that connection between adaptation and knowledge?
We do so through a two-track argument.
The first is that the human capacity to gain and impart knowledge
is itself an adaptation, or a set of adaptations.
To the scientifically literate this may not seem to be a startling
claim. But it does have
specific and interesting implications. We simply will not understand human rationality and
intelligence, or human communication and culture, until we understand how
these seemingly unnatural attributes are deeply rooted in human biology.
They are, I will argue, the special adaptations that make us
special. What is unarguable
is that they are the products of human evolution, whether adaptations or
not. There really are no
substantive alternative ways of understanding our extraordinary capacity
second track of the argument is the one that many find strange and
difficult, and one which has already been partially given in the Preface.
It is that adaptations are themselves knowledge, themselves forms
of ‘incorporation’ of the world into the structure and organization of
living things. Because this
seems to misappropriate a word, ‘knowledge’, with a widely accepted
meaning - knowledge usually just being something that only humans have
somewhere in their heads - it makes the argument easier if the statement
reads ‘adaptations are biological knowledge, and knowledge as we
commonly understand the word is a special case of biological