Cognitive and Evolutionary Foundations of Science

Science is practiced by ordinary people, who share with the rest of humanity a core endowment of senses, motor skills, and cognitive capacities. How, then, are these average apes able to generate reliable, cumulative knowledge about reality? How can they see to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, manipulate individual atoms, and weave rich mathematical structures from building blocks as simple as 1,2,3?

In this project, we ask how the amazing capacities of modern science and technology to generate long-lived, highly transformative ideas, are built up from the cognitive and physical capacities that are our shared evolutionary heritage. We draw on historical, anthropological, psychological, and philosophical literatures to identify some of the core capacities that are cobbled together by the institution of science to enable the remarkable individual and collective achievements of scientists. These achievements are made possible both by training individual scientists (e.g., turning the capacity to count into the capacity to do calculus) and by embedding them in a dense network of people, devices, disciplines, and debate, making powerful situated cognition possible.