Monday, March 20, 2006

A second opinion ...

... regarding Lewis Wolpert's Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast from John Carey writing in the Sunday Times: Our leaps of faith. This strikes me as a very good review. But I wondered about this: "We exceed all other animals in our capacity to believe things for which there is no rational evidence ..." How do we know that? In fact, so far as I know, we don't know what, if anything, any other animals believe. Also the connection between belief and tool-making, while ingenious, is also purely speculative. It is called pre-history because it is prior to any historical record. Suppositions, however ingenious or imaginative, are not evidence. And evidence, I thought, is what science is about. St. Michel de Montaigne, pray for us.


  1. You are basically right, Frank, in your intuition. There is a science of "animal cognition" and its practitioners do try to address these questions you so rightly raise. But it is a nascent science and some way off from being able even to define a framework for testing. I know one practitioner is a person called Mark Bekoff, he has written at least one book on the topic as well as doing basic research, but I can't recall his position on it all.

    There is also quite an extensive literature on tool use, mainly by other primates (other than ourselves, that is). But again, from what I have read, we can't conclude a whole heap from this as yet. One person whose research in this area I think is very good is Bill McGrew (W. C. McGrew) at the University of Oxford, Alabamha.

    The scientific endeavour has a long way to go as yet in so many areas. Keeps everyone in business, I guess!

  2. It is probably beginning to emerge on this blog, Maxine, that outside a very carefully circumscribed area of belief, I am a very skeptical fellow. As I think I've said before, there is very little that we can be certain of. Thanks for the information. I will see what I can find about Mssrs Bekoff and McGrew.