Evolutionary epistemologist

Another thing that came past me first thing in the morning on NPR’s Morning Edition on September 12: a KQED opinion segment by Jeremy Sherman, who was identified by the KQED announcer as “a Berkeley-based evolutionary epistemologist”. I wasn’t familiary with evolutionary epistemologist as a job title, so I checked it out.

From Sherman’s blog on the Psychology Today site:

Dr. Jeremy Sherman

I’m an evolutionary epistemologist, meaning a researcher and teacher focused on the ways we all generalize, drawing conclusions from inconclusive data, shopping among interpretations of evidence, theorizing and employing abstractions whether we know it or not. I look at how we do this stuff and how we could do it better. I have worked in businesses, non-profits and academics. My Ph.D. is in Evolutionary Epistemology [from Union University] and I also have a Masters in public policy [from UC Berkeley].  I’ve written several e-books including “Negotiate With Yourself and Win! Doubt Management for People who can hear themselves think,” and “Executive UFO: A Field Guide to Unidentified Flying Objectives in the Workplace.”  I have taught college-level psychology, sociology, Western History, theology, philosophy and English.  I’m currently a research collaborator with Berkeley professor Terrence Deacon in what’s called Emergence theory: How life emerges from non-life and how things change when it does. Spiritually, I’m a Taowinist, a cross between Tao and Darwin, meaning I think of life as a difficult open-ended tension between holding on and letting go. The path to living well isn’t through finding something eternal to hold on to or letting go of everything as some spiritualists suggest, but in managing and appreciating the tension, especially through the arts and sciences. Philosophically and interpersonally, I’m an Ambigamist:  Deeply romantic and deeply skeptical.

Ambigamy is a word I coined originally for romance but now extend to all of life. Ambigamists live with the tension between romance and cynicism, holding on and letting go, investment and divestment, an approach that is poignantly sweet and sour not blandly middlegroundish.  By abandoning hope for some easy both/and solution, or formula for always being in the middle ground (e.g. tough love), ambigamists corner themselves with the challenge of figuring out where to be to be tenacious vs. relaxed, yang vs. yin, etc.

[The Union University in question is presumably Union Graduate College (Schenectady NY) of Union University, not the Baptist institution in Tennessee.]

Sherman is fond of word invention, so we get the portmanteau Taowinist, plus the less transparent ambigamy / ambigamist, made up of the combining elements ambi- and -gamy. From Michael Quinion’s affixes site:

[ambi-On both sides; around.

[Latin ambo, both, or ambi-, on both sides, around.]

In the sense of both, this refers to an equivalence between two opposing ideas or forces, as in ambidextrous, of somebody who is able to use the right and left hands equally well, or the psychological term ambisexual for a person who is bisexual or androgynous. This has been extended to mean an indefinite small number in words such as ambiguous (Latin agere, to drive), a matter open to more than one interpretation, or ambivalent (Latin valere, be worth), having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. (link)

[-gamyMarriage, fertilization or reproduction.

[Greek gamos, marriage.]

Some common words in -gamy refer to human marriage customs, such as monogamy or bigamy. Others are terms from zoology or biology that relate to reproduction… The endings -gamous and -gamic form related adjectives (monogamous, cryptogamic). (link)

I get the ambi- part of ambigamy, but I’m not so sure about the -gamy part.

As for evolutionary epistemology, here’s what Michael Bradie and William Harms have to say in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Evolutionary Epistemology is a naturalistic approach to epistemology, which emphasizes the importance of natural selection in two primary roles. In the first role, selection is the generator and maintainer of the reliability of our senses and cognitive mechanisms, as well as the “fit” between those mechanisms and the world. In the second role, trial and error learning and the evolution of scientific theories are construed as selection processes.

Looks like Sherman’s on the practical and popularizing side of the second role of natural selection in epistemology.

[Some brief words on the structure of the terminology. Evolutionary epistemologist is a “bracketing paradox” composite, like transformational grammarian: for syntactic purposes, its parts are evolutionary and epistemologist, but semantically it’s evolutionary epistemology plus -ist. Evolutionary epistemology, in turn, has a non-predicating adjective, evolutionary, as its first element; evolutionary epistemology isn’t epistemology that is evolutionary, but epistemology based on evolution (so that the composite is understood by reference to the noun evolution).]


2 Responses to “Evolutionary epistemologist”

  1. h.s. gudnason Says:

    Oh, god! All I can say to this man’s bio is, “Gag me with a spork”!

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