Monday, October 25, 2004

Some "Big Picture" thoughts from cognitive science, EP, and related fields I've been tossing around lately. The notes in parens mean something specific to me and my bookshelves and all those little piles all over floor, but I haven't included the formal cites here.

1. The human mind is probably both computational and a symbol processor (Marcus, Algebraic Brain). It seems to have adapted selectively not just to drive behavior (Sociobiology) or produce discrete computational devices (Cosmides and Tooby) but also (and particularly in human beings) to process information efficiently (Churchland and Critics). One important possibility is that the human brain became adapted to exploit semantics for highly selective computational purposes (Baum).

2. Much human perception and concept formation relies on prototypes (Lakoff, Johnson). At least for perception, this may have a computational basis in ""neural networks"" (Churchland). There appear to be functionally distinct domains of prototypes (ontological domains) (Atran).

3. The more perception and concepts rely on prototypes rather than ""classical categories,"" the less a pure objectivist framework applies and the more framing and metaphor are needed to help apply reasoning from mental categories to real situations.

4. Much abstract reasoning relies on metaphor. This makes abstract reasoning pluralistic but not arbitrary. (George Lakoff, Mark Johnson)

5. The more that reasoning relies on metaphor, the more it is bound to particular systems of metaphor and particular traditions of interpretation and argumentation. (bridging from Mark Johnson to Macintyre)

6. Normative reasoning is abstract thinking which relies heavily on systems of metaphor and is generally bound to a particular tradition of interpretation and argumentation. (bridging from Johnson to Macintyre)

7. Political thinking and moral thinking are linked because of their normative aspect: both are bound to systems of metaphor regarding human nature and the human mind and traditions of interpretation and argumentation. (Lakoff, Johnson, Sowell, Macintyre)------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
8. The less that abstract reasoning depends on metaphor, the less it is bound to particular systems of metaphor and particular traditions of interpretation and argumentation.
9. The modern tradition of liberal democracy reflects a particular attempt to minimize our reliance on other traditions and seek universal moral and political principles and reasoning. (Johnson, Macintyre)

10. Scientific reasoning is based on a particular evolving tradition of interpretation and argumentation (epistemic values, naturalism) and uses particular systems of metaphors to help construct new theories (e.g. mechanical metaphors for physics, intentional metaphors for psychology), but attempts to find a universal description, and to reduce dependence upon metaphor for description. (Atran)

Of possible value:

In What Is Thought? Eric Baum proposes a computational explanation of thought. Just as Erwin Schr?ger in his classic 1944 work What Is Life? argued ten years before the discovery of DNA that life must be explainable at a fundamental level by physics and chemistry, Baum contends that the present-day inability of computer science to explain thought and meaning is no reason to doubt there can be such an explanation.

Baum argues that the complexity of mind is the outcome of evolution, which has built thought processes that act unlike the standard algorithms of computer science and that to understand the mind we need to understand these thought processes and the evolutionary process that produced them in computational terms.

Baum proposes that underlying mind is a complex but compact program that corresponds to the underlying structure of the world. He argues further that the mind is essentially programmed by DNA. We learn more rapidly than computer scientists have so far been able to explain because the DNA code has programmed the mind to deal only with meaningful possibilities.

Thus the mind understands by exploiting semantics, or meaning, for the purposes of computation; constraints are built in so that although there are myriad possibilities, only a few make sense. Evolution discovered corresponding subroutines or shortcuts to speed up its processes and to construct creatures whose survival depends on making the right choice quickly. Baum argues that the structure and nature of thought, meaning, sensation, and consciousness therefore arise naturally from the evolution of programs that exploit the compact structure of the world.

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