Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

The Induction Instinct: The Evolution and Poetic Application of a Cognitive Tool

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

The Induction Instinct: The Evolution and Poetic Application of a Cognitive Tool

Article excerpt

Literary theory arguing on the basis of biology and evolutionary theory has always been considered an outsider position. In recent years, a group of outsiders calling themselves "Literary Darwinists" has appeared before the Anglophone public, promising to elevate the humanities to the level of science. For innovations to gain a hearing in a media society, one has to make some noise--although this means courting refutations, for instance that the results by no means live up to the proclamations made. If one is willing to give Literary Darwinism a chance, two particular tendencies of its proponents should be critically addressed. The first one entails a fixation on content, (1) especially on the behavior of characters that ostensibly corresponds to Pleistocene conditions. In this way, literature quickly is reduced to a (little reliable) compilation of socio-biological examples (compare Eibl and Mellmann). Second, often authors fail to distinguish clearly between primary ("ultimate") adaptive functions of protoliterary phenomena and the functional diversity of those adaptations which have emerged under ever changing cultural conditions and now work "proximately." For the time being, Literary Darwinism is still missing out on two areas of investigation: the emotional impact of literature and the media (2) and the cognitive "schemata," "gestalts," "Anschauungsformen" (Kant's "forms of perception"), "categories," and so on, by which evolution has shaped our world perception and construction, and which are also responsible for the perception and construction of literary fictional worlds, of literary "forms" in the broadest sense. In the present paper I will focus on this second area of adaptive predisposition. It includes fundamental cognitive tools of environmental orientation such as causality, teleology, logic, and basic mental patterns ("gestalts"), and patterns of behavior such as reunion (compare Eibl, "Epische") and detection, or such tools as face recognition, recognition of emotional demonstrations, many types of anxieties, and so forth. (3) From this capacious adaptive toolbox (Gigerenzer and Selten; Gigerenzer and Todd) I will single out a particularly effective cognitive operation, which in the history of philosophy has been termed "induction."

1. INDUCTION AS AN EVOLVED COGNITIVE OPERATION

The epistemic procedure of induction is already described in Aristotle, but it was Francis Bacon who pioneered modern empirical science (or the self-image of many scientists) by proclaiming that induction was the only certain way to truth. The idea that knowledge is gained in a step-by-step ascent from the observation of particulars to concepts and principles of ever higher general validity is still the way most people conceive of empirical science. But from the strictly logical point of view, deriving a general rule from a particular observation or even from many particular observations is a pretty sloppy, and in fact, an impossible operation. In any case, this was what David Hume thought, thereby rocking the foundations of traditional European philosophy. Wolfgang Stegmuller, with reference to Hume, puts the problem in a nutshell: "Either an inference is correct, in which case it conserves truth but it is not ampliative. Or it is ampliative, in which case we have no guarantee that the conclusion is true, even if all of the premises are correct" (Problem 5). (4) In other words: Correct logic confers the truth of its premises upon the conclusion, but there is no increase in knowledge. Such a growth of information can only be gained by sacrificing logical necessity. For instance, from my own experience and the experience of others I can say that metal is harder than wood. But this inference would be correct only if our experience embraces all of the metal and wood in the universe. And even then the problem would remain that our observations have taken place in the past and are only valid for the future if we were to act on the hypothesis of a continuous uniformity of the world. …

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