Treatise on Basic Philosophy vol. 5 – Parte 1

1. introduction 

<descriptive epistemology> there are at least four kinds of truth (or four kinds of proposition to which a truth value can be assigned): logical, mathematical, factual, and philosophical. (2) 

<normative epistemology> Bacon swore by induction and Descartes by conceptual analysis and deduction from indubitable first principles. Leibniz dreamed not only of a logical algorithm (characteristica universalis) but aslo of an ars inveniendi leading securely to first priciples. (4) 


3. Epistemology and biology 

all cognitive activities … are biological functions- as well as social ones in the case of social animals. They are all aspects of their activity in altering their enviroments to suit their needs. Hence… the cognitive sciences are, or ought to be, based on biology. (7) 

the thesis is this: “our cognitive apparatus is a result of evolution. The subjetive cognitive structures are adapted to the world because they have evolved, in the course of evolution, in adaptation to the world. And they match (partially) the real structures because only such matching has made such survival possible” (Vollmer) (8) 


4. Epistemology and psychology 

according to materialism (and physiological psychology) every cognitive process is a string of events in some central nervous sistem. (9) 

materialism happens to be the ontology of modern science, which, far from countenancing disembodied or ghostly entities, assumes that all existents are lawfully changing concrete (or material) things, though not necessarily of the same kind (9) 

social circumstances condition our mode of perceiving, and evaluating, so that cognition and knowledge cannot be adequately understood except in their social context … knowledge and sociality are coextensive: neither exists without the other. (14) 




The distinction between a cognitive process <knowing>- in particular an inquiry- and its result <knowledge> at a given moment is an instance of the process-state distinction. (21) 

We ask indeed Who (or what) can know what, and how? 

1.      The knowing subject1.1. The cognitive organ 

our initial assumption is that every cognite act is a process in some nervous sistem….To put it negatively: there is no knowledge in itself, i.e. separate from cognitive processes. (23) 

there are not ideas in themselves but, instead, ideating brains. To be sure we may feign that there are ideas in themselves….(23) 

all mental processes are cognitive operations but the converse is false (23) 

learning cosists in a change in the connectivity of some neuronal system… to put it negatively: if a behavior is unchanging (stereotyped, genetically programmed), then it is controlled by some system composed of nuerons the interconnections of which do not change quickly over time…only plastic (or modifiable, or self-organizable, or uncommitted) neuronal systems are capable of learning anything. We call any such system a psychon (24)                                                                                                                           all psychons of an animal are coupled to one another forming a supersystem. (24) 

we decide to call learned any neural function involving a psychon that has acquired a regular connectivity. (24) 

<use-disuse hypothesis> new neuronal systems can be formed during the lifetime of any animal endowed with plastic neurons; and some such systems may be consolidated by use whereas other can be weakened by disuse (25) 

the psychones … need not have a fixed spatial location but may be itinerant, so that every mental act, even a repetitive one, may consist in the formation of a fresh psychon (25) 

basic tenets of cognitivism (or functionalism, or computational, philosophy of mind):

 ·        Cognition is computation, and as such it is not a prerogative of brains: it can also be performed by computers·        Computation takes place in the mind, which is a kind of computer.·        Any suitable theory of cognition is basically a theory of Turing machines·        Knowledge of the brain is irrelevant to undestanding cognition and, in general, matter dos not matter to mind.·        A.I. is the proper fundation for cognitive psychology, not the other way round(27) 



1.2.  Brain states and processes 

The nervous system, far from being a mushy thing, is a highly organized biosystem composed of subsystems each of which discharges certain peculiar functions in addition to the functions common to all living systems (such as metabolism and protein synthesis) (28)

The brain… performs both the analysis and synthesis of incoming stimuli, and also that it acts as a shock absorver for most of them, particularly the repetitive signals (28) 

Every property is lawfully related to at least one other property of the same thing: i.e. there are no stray properties… for this reason we should always consider cluster of properties and, in principle, all the properties of a thing…Every state is a list of properties, and every change of state of a thing is called an event occurring in the thing. The sequence or list of all the changes undergone by the thing during a time interval is called the process ocuurring in the thing over thet interval. (there are no events or processes in themselves: every change is a change in some thing) (29) 

Every sensory system is a subsystem of its corresponding sensory-motor system… there is no perceptual learning without motor activity. In other words perceptual learning is not just a matter of receiving passively sensory inputs, but of combining a selection of such inputs with motor outputs (32) 

<mapping the brain> consider: the plastic part of an individual human brain is composed of at least 1.000 million neurons. If each psychon has between 100 and 10.000 neurons, the total number of psychons is at least one million- and many times this figure if psychons are itinerant rather then fixed. Moreover it is well known that there are considerable differences among individual brains, so that the precise location of a particular cognitive function in one person is at most a very rough indication for its location in the next person. (32) 

many workers speak of information processing where we speak of brain processes. That mode of speech is justified insofar as the nervous system does possess components capable of detecting, absorving, transducing, or propagating signals througout the system. However, it does not folow that the statistical theory of information is actually used to advantage to describe or explain such processes…neuroscience and psychology are interested in specific biophysical, biochemical and biological processes occurring in the nervous system. (34) 

the brain is not just a processor of incoming stimuli; it also generates signals… the brain of higher vertebrate has a constant autonomous activity (34) 

information is not out there for grabs: the organism absorbs most of the stimuli impinging upon it, transforms a few of them into processes of other kind (i.e. transduces them), and generates its own, part of it which it transmits to other animals. (35) 


 2.      Cognitive functions2.1. Perceiving, thinking and all that 

we get to know about the world and ourselves through perception and ideation, two distinct but intimately related neural processes. Perception is the last stage of a process that normally starts as mere detection or sensation in some neurosensor (or neurodetector)… senstion is the specific activity of sensory systems… neuroreceptors are quite unlike physical or chemical receptors, in that they are under the constant “downstream” action of the central nervous system. Consequently the state of a sensory system depends on the state and history of the brain as well as on the nature and intensity of the stimulation (35) 

the response is a function of both stimulus and internal state of the organism (35) 

in the higher vertebrates sensation is processed in the sensory cortical “area”, which is divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary “areas”. The primary “area” is a component of the corresponding sensory system, and apparently it is particularly malleable during early stages of development… perception is the activity together with the specific activity of the plastic neuronal system directly attached to it (35) 

far from being isolated from other neural activities, perception is linked with a number of them, including ideation and behavior. The links account for the fact that perception can occour in the presence of fragmented stimuli, on the basis of minimal cues, and even in the absence of sensory stimulation. It also acounts for the various constancies (distances and shapes) as well as for spontaneous perceptual processes such as hallucinations and those involved in dreams. (36) 

perceiving is never a passive effect of the thing perceived: it is not copying but constructing, and therefore it is midway between sensing and thinking. When perceiving something we construct a percept of it with sensations, memories, and expectations. (36) 

the stimuli coming from the perceived object elicit changes in the ongoing activity of the nervous system rather than causing the latter. (this is why we assume that an animal perceives an external object as the symmetric difference between the activity of the corresponding process in the presence of the object, and in the absebce of it) (37) 

strictly speaking we do not perceive things but events (changes) occurring in things. Thus we cannot see an object unless it emits or reflects photons of a certain energy. Moreover some such events, to be perceptible, must trigger processes ending up in some neurosensor or another. Unless the two conditions are jointly satisfied the object remains invisible. And the way the animal perceives the events occurring in its neurosensors is by mapping them into events in some of its perceptual systems. Admittedly this mapping is partial (not everything gets represented) as well as distorted. Nevertheless it is a genuine map, i.e. a representation of certain sets (of events) into another set (of events). The first set (or domain of the function) es a collection of events in the environment or the periphery of the animal, the second set (or codomain) is a collection of events in the perceptual system of the animal. In every case the map or function depends not only upon the sensed stimuli but also upon the state of the animal. Maps or internal representations of this kind allow the animal to “navigate” in its environment. (37/8) 

like perceiving, memomirizin is creative- i.e. not just storing and retrieving but reconstructing … hypothesis: “remembering consists in the fresh production or reconstruction of an item, not in the re-activation of some permanent representation of the item as such, and what item is remembered- the response production- is the pexgo (psychon) selectively activated at the time of rememering” (Bindra) 

<thought = forming concepts, transforming and interrelating them to construct propositions, questions and directions> 

one of the chacarteristics of the formation of concepts, as well as of the production of the corresponding verbal expression, is that they may occur in the absence of external stimulation: they can be purely internal processes…and, when elicited by external stimuli, concept formation…may involve lack of discrimination…such psychons are generalists rather than specialists…an alternative account of concept formation is this. Every time an animal perceives a tree, several millions neurons are excited, perhaps a different set every time. Bt there may be a thousand neurons common to all those different excitations. These will become organized into a neuron assembly, for neurons that fire together tend to stay together. The activity of this neuron assemble is (identical with) the general idea of a tree. (39) 

association is explained as the interconnection of psychons, and originality as the formation of radically new psychons… interconnection because the whole brain is a system, so that anything happening in one of its components influences some other components…and orininality is not mysterious because of the remarkable spontaneity and plasticity of the cortical neurons. (41) 

there are not isolated cogitive acts, but any cognitive act may be associated with some other cognitive act… a cognitive act is original with subject i if, and only if, it belongs in S but not in the cognitive space of any other animal up to the given time. (42)



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