The first version of this book was written 20 years ago, when I spent a summer reworking my bachelor's thesis on "evolutionary epistemology." In retrospect I can see that it is an odd thing for an otherwise healthy 20-year-old to spend the days of an unemployed summer cranking out a monograph on the ecological approach to the universe, but at the time it seemed as natural as breathing. With the ardor of youthful pretension I threw everything I had into this opus--the kitchen sink in this case being a chapter showing how the intuitionistic theory of sets ( Heyting's spreidungen) could resolve key problems in the theory of systematics, a chapter which I have yet to comprehend. I had all the confidence of someone who had just learned a new mathematical trick and who had never had to classify anything more involved than some common insects and their larvae.
I sent this 150-page monstrosity to my first teacher, Bill Mace at Trinity College, and turned my attention to graduate school. Bill managed to keep his laughter to himself, and responded graciously to what was good--or at least salvageable--in the manuscript. And he went so far as to encourage me to send the better parts of it to Jimmy Gibson at Cornell. I had just spent a year learning Gibson's theory--which meant unlearning everything I thought I had known about psychology--so this was an exhilarating prospect to my novice parturient mind, and naturally I sent him the whole bloody thing.
You could have knocked me down with a feather when I received not only a pleasant letter from Gibson but also my manuscript back, peppered with what I would later learn were Jimmy's typical comments (from "Oh God!" to "muddled" and "ha!"). Luckily, I had enough sense to read these comments with care. Jimmy had the ability to detect some small glimmer of potential in that primitive production. He also had the tact to write what was needed to get me to realize the kind of work it would take to put even one or two of my ideas to a real test and make something of that mishmash. The realization that I would have to learn a great deal of biology and psychology merely to be able to get clear about my questions was a great intellectual moment for me. Jimmy helped me realize that this job was worth doing and, therefore, that it was worth doing right. I have never once regretted taking Jimmy up on these comments, despite the two decades of hard labor to which they sentenced me.
After Bill Mace and Jimmy Gibson, I have been fortunate in having a series of inspiring teachers. Colwyn Trevarthen at Edinburgh forced me to think seriously about both the role of the brain in evolution and the role of social organization and culture