Grounds for Cognition: How Goal-Guided Behavior Shapes the Mind

Grounds for Cognition: How Goal-Guided Behavior Shapes the Mind

Grounds for Cognition: How Goal-Guided Behavior Shapes the Mind

Grounds for Cognition: How Goal-Guided Behavior Shapes the Mind


Q: Why do organisms need cognition?

A: To get information about their environments.

Q: Why such information?

A: Because organisms need to guide their behaviors to goals.

Q: Why guidance?

A: Because it leads to goal satisfaction.

Q: Why goals?

Cognition is a naturally selected response by genetic programs to the evolutionary pressure of guiding behaviors to goals. Organisms are material systems that maintain and replicate themselves by engaging their world in goal-directed ways. This is how guidance of behavior to goal grounds and explains cognition and the main forms in which it manages information. Guidance to goal also makes a difference to the understanding of human cognition. Simpler forms of cognition evolve to handle fixed informational transactions with the world, whereas human cognition evolves the abilities to script flexible goal situations that fit specific contexts of behavior.

This teleoevolutionary approach has important implications for cognitive science, two of which are programmatic. One is that information that guides to goal is not exclusively cognitive; guidance is also affected by ecological facts and regularities as well as by design assumptions about them. The other implication is that the functional analyses dominant in cognitive science and philosophy of mind are incomplete and weak. They are incomplete in that they focus only on the explicitly encoded cognitive information and its behavioral consequences, thus ignoring the larger guidance arrangements; and weak because causal and functional relations implement but underdetermine goal-directed and goal-guided procesess.

A work dealing expressly with the foundations of cognitive science, this book addresses basic but seldom-asked questions about the evolutionary rationale of cognition and the way this rationale has shaped the major types of cognition. It also provides a teleological answer to these basic questions in terms of goal directedness and particularly guidance of behavior to goal. In so doing, the work defends the scientific respectability and the explanatory necessity of teleology by showing that goal directedness characterizes the work of genetic programs.


Why do organisms cognize? That is, why do they process and store data, form concepts, or solve problems? To obtain behaviorally relevant information about their environments. Why would they need such information? Because organisms must guide themselves to their goals. Why guidance to goal? Because goals must be satisfied, and for that, organisms must locate and identify their goals. But why would organisms have goals in the first place? Because they are material systems or complexities that are genetically programmed to maintain and replicate themselves by engaging their worlds in goal-directed ways. That is the trick of life. These, essentially, are the questions this book asks, and the answers it proposes, as prerequisites for understanding what cognition is and how it works. The order of the questions suggests the order of grounding and explanation. Goal-directedness grounds and explains guidance to goal, and the latter in turn grounds and explains the design and operation of cognition.

Methodological Stance

This construal of cognition relies on a certain methodological stance. We are not viewing the cognitive mind merely as a complex physical system reacting mechanically to stimuli. Life and cognition are not solely particles or molecules bouncing around under causal pressures. Life and cognition also . . .

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