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The decoupled representation theory of the evolution of cognition - a critical assessment

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Document pages: 47 pages

Abstract: Sterelny’s Thought in a Hostile World (2003) presents a complex, systematically structured theory of the evolution of cognition centered on a concept of decoupled representation. Taking Godfrey-Smith’s (1996) analysis of the evolution of behavioral flexibility as a framework, the theory describes increasingly complex grades of representation beginning with simple detection and culminating with decoupled representation, said to be belief-like, and it characterizes selection forces that drive evolutionary transformations in these forms of representation. Sterelny’s ultimate explanatory target is the evolution of human agency. This paper develops a detailed analysis of the main cognitive aspects. It is argued that some of the major claims are not correct: decoupled representation as defined doesn’t capture belief-like representation, and, properly understood, decoupled representation turns out to be ubiquitous amongst multicellular animals. However some of the key ideas are right, or along the right lines, and suggestions are made for modifying and expanding the conceptual framework.

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