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Turing and the fragility and insubstantiality of evolutionary explanations: a puzzle about the unity of Alan Turing's work with some larger implications

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As is well known, Alan Turing drew a line, embodied in the "Turing test," between intellectual and physical abilities, and hence between cognitive and natural sciences. Less familiarly, he proposed that one way to produce a "passer" would be to educate a "child machine," equating the experimenter's improvements in the initial structure of the child machine with genetic mutations, while supposing that the experimenter might achieve improvements more expeditiously than natural selection. On the other hand, in his foundational "On the chemical basis of morphogenesis," Turing insisted that biological explanation clearly confine itself to purely physical and chemical means, eschewing vitalist and teleological talk entirely and hewing to D'Arcy Thompson's line that "evolutionary 'explanations,'" are historical and narrative in character, employing the same intentional and teleological vocabulary we use in doing human history, and hence, while perhaps on occasion of heuristic value, are not part of biology as a natural science. To apply Turing's program to recent issues, the attempt to give foundations to the social and cognitive sciences in the "real science" of evolutionary biology (as opposed to Turing's biology) is neither to give foundations, nor to achieve the unification of the social/cognitive sciences and the natural sciences.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Philosophy Department, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77004, USA

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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