I've been reading and reflecting upon the recent exchanges about
abduction, etc., and will not here apologize at either the beginning of
this message or its conclusion for "too many words" or "fanciful notions".
What is offered here is, I trust, in keeping with the exploratory spirit
and intent of Peirce /et al/.
It is also my hope that what is offered here may be somewhat helpful for
some of our list members' deliberations and reflections.
Allow me to start as follows: upon what bases do any of us make any
determination that we are "on the right track", that we are "moving
forward", that we "get it", that we are "beginning to understand"
whatever confronts us, that things are "becoming increasingly clear"
with regard to taking on what we see as good questions or challenges?
Or, if we are moved to think in a somewhat different manner, that we are
"the authority" ... ?
That is, how do we know these things?
Alternatively, when and how do we know that little or none of the
aforementioned is taking place -- that is, how do we know when we might
usefully suspend judgment and revisit and reconsider what we have begun
to think or assume, or decide to seek additional evidence and clues, or
to learn what such additional evidence and clues might consist of -- or,
to develop alternative tentative explanations, or take (at least one)
"sober second look"?
This assumes, of course, that we have the luxuries of time, space and
other resources, to do these things -- that nobody is bearing down on
us, /right now, /and aims to have us for dinner.
So -- when and how do we develop plausible inferences? When and how do
we tentatively deduce one thing or another to be more likely than
another and (from what we can tell) will likely be more or less
consistently so, for the time being -- or, to frame "n" hypotheses that
we can attempt to test, perhaps in parallel or in seriatim or in
iterative loops, with better and better instruments, and aim to disprove?
Assuming, of course, that we have the above-mentioned luxuries to do
these things? That we aren't under such pressure that we are quite
literally sprinting for our lives, with the hot breath of a predator on
When and how do we dig as deeply as we can to review the evidence before
us, to explore and reflect upon not only our suppositions but what we
think we can reliably identify as the vague shapes of our presuppositons
-- and from this, if we ever get to such a vantage point, what we might
learn about how they came to be formed in the first place, and
established so as to be reasonably reliable, knowable, and useful?
If, indeed, they are?
And, if it turns out that we aren't crashing through the undergrowth,
desperately trying to save our skins, it seems we also work -- and work
quite diligently and with incomparable applications of energy -- to
establish reliable and testable and (what we claim to be) reliable ways
From what we hope is a reasonably trustworthy foundation of reliable
knowing and reasoning, it seems our common assumption is: we learn, we
continue to learn, we are critical of self and others about such
learning, and we do our best to carry out learning in any field of
endeavour in the most reliable and trustworthy and secure ways we can
muster, test, re-test, share and know.
So it seems we have learned, more or less, how to work together to
accomplish these things. To do the best we possibly can with regard to
our learning for the betterment of the human endeavour, we collaborate
in what we tentatively agree are adaptive learning organizations of our
From the bushes around us and the trees overhead, our fellows scream
loudly in agreement, encouragement, and alarm -- and by virtue of their
voices and actions, most work to both advance and preserve the group,
and divert the attacker.
They, like you, know how to instantly assess the chances of life and
death, of success and failure, and primarily through subliminal means,
the instant relativity and case-by-case balancing of both.
We repeatedly test and implement what we think is the reliability of our
ways of seeing, understanding and doing these things.
We establish what we test and re-test and tentatively claim (for lack of
a better way of putting it) is a "reliable reliability" of these ways of
both individually and collectively thinking, learning and acting.
And so, to keep the predators at a safe distance and provide ourselves
and our fellows with adaptive advantages, it seems we have learned that
these essential elements must be successfully blended. We have
discovered that our mutual survival depends on the success of such
blends. And our individual lives, and the successes and longevity of our
communities, depend on them.
We tend to agree that abduction -- reasoning to the best explanation
(CSP) -- is one of the better ways we have of both developing and
reliably implementing a "reliable reliability" of thinking, learning,
adapting and acting in such circumstances.
Abduction may be one the best ways of achieving "reliable reliability"
that we have come up with so far. And, if this is so -- a question appears.
How did our ancient ancestors develop the ability to abduct, and then
successfully pass that ability on to later generations -- in other
words, to develop that "reliable reliability" and, presumably, some
capacity to improve it?
I recall very briefly reading a story a while ago -- perhaps 24 months
ago now; it could be longer (I must apologize profusely for not having
set things up at the time to be able to cite this properly).
The story was about of the discovery of the skull of one of our
progenitors on what was to eventually be the African Savannah, and is
today some millions of years old.
That little skull which presumably contained the "neural network stuff"
that had not only allowed that individual to survive into adulthood, but
had perhaps allowed reproduction before being placed onto a dinner
platter, featured puncture holes that lined up perfectly with the sharp
fossilized canines of the nearby skull and jaws of a large predatory
cat, now also long gone, presumed to have preyed upon our progenitors --
and, in particular, this unfortunate individual.
What a lovely evocative story about plausible life, survival and death
-- it appears to appear from the world of what we take to be reliable
So, we can ask: what timely consequences of that "neural network stuff"
(that eventually found its way into either the predatory cat's digestive
tract, or the clean-up bacteria of the time, and most likely both)
allowed adaptive capacities to be passed on to us?
The plausible dinner scenario can suggest an answer: reproduction to
create, and perhaps have quite a literal a hand in raising younger
individuals, offspring who might be sufficiently lucky and well-endowed
(from the perspective of meta-adaptive mental capacities) and communally
supported well enough to /not/ make the same mistake of being yet
another dinner -- and to be able to successfully pass those capabilities
(and the metacapacity for the improvement and development of later ones)
on to later, and then later, generations.
An interesting scenario. The benefactors would include us -- as in:
you, and me. All of us.
True that this didn't happen yesterday, but: also very much the case
that -- here we are.
Unbroken chains and all that. And most probably, all of us are the
result of countless numbers of such chains.
So: what was the most valuable, the most significant constellation of
capabilities passed on from one generation to the next?
Could thinking about this question illuminate the "core" of what we have
(relatively recently) come to denote as "abduction"?
E.g., figuring out how to make the best decisions under /any/
circumstances, whether the most secure and pleasant and safe, or the
most urgent and threatening and pressing -- and pass that successful
"figuring" on to fellows and to later generations who could live to see
another day? And improve that figuring for the ones after that? And
then, after that, to do perhaps even better?
Critics might leap upon this little speculative story with spectacular
verve and energy comparable to that of the cat that sunk its razor-sharp
fangs into the skull of our presumed ancestor, crushing the last sparks
of life from that hapless individual.
But, in all seriousness, how do /you/ think it might be that we humans
came to be, more or less, successfully abductive -- under what pathways
and flows of conditions did we, collectively, come to reason, somewhat
reliably (it seems), to the best explanation?
And, how did we usefully come to explore this thing we now hold up
before us, that we turn and examine from side to side in the gleaming
light, and that we claim is something that could help us understand our
own "reliable reliability" of learning and knowing?
Could this help explain how we have come to engage in what we claim to
know of as "design"?
Just some late night thoughts ...
Best wishes to all,
Bob Este, Ph.D
Owner and CEO
Cochrane, Alberta, Canada
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