Archive for ‘cognition’

January 3, 2013

Perception – discrimination

by Neil Rickert

Perceptual discrimination is the act of distinguishing between different items that are in the perceptual field.  In this post, part of my series on perception, I will look at barcode scanning to illustrate what discrimination is, and its role.  And I will use this example to further clarify the distinction between direct perception and indirect perception, at least as I use those terms.

These days, we see bar codes on many of the items that we purchase.  And the store clerk typically uses a scanner to read that bar code and identify which item we are purchasing.

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August 13, 2012

Symbols and categories

by Neil Rickert

In earlier posts, I have preferred the Shannon notion of information, according to which information is a sequence of symbols.  And I have emphasized that symbols are abstract objects.  The symbols are usually considered to be intentional objects, because it is only on account of our intentions that we consider them to be symbols.

In this post, I want to relate the idea of symbol with that of category.  I’ll start by assuming that the readers have at least an informal idea of what we mean by category.

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July 30, 2012

Intentionality

by Neil Rickert

Some of the readers of this blog are of a scientific inclination, and are probably confused, or even troubled, by my mention of “intentional objects” in my last post.  I am not a real philosopher (except in the broad sense that everybody is a philosopher), so I have some understanding of why readers might be troubled by the terminology of intentionality.

In this post, I will attempt to clear up some of the possible confusion.  That’s not all that easy to do, but I shall try.

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July 29, 2012

My alternative to materialism – an outline

by Neil Rickert

Since posting “Why I am not a materialist” some comments have suggested that I really am a materialist since I am not proposing anything supernatural nor any immaterial spiritual soul.  Well, fair enough, if that is all that materialism implies.  However, the reason that I deny that I am a materialist, is that I disagree with a lot of what materialists say.  It seems to me that for those who declare themselves materialists, their materialism dictates their approach on how to explain things.  And I don’t want my methodology to be dictated by metaphysical assumptions.

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May 5, 2012

A semantic conception of mind

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I remarked that philosophy, including philosophy of mind, appears to be a syntactic enterprise, whereas I tend to think of the mind as primarily semantic. In this post, I want to suggest a way of thinking about the mind that better fits with the idea that it is primarily semantic.

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May 1, 2012

Representationalism and computationalism

by Neil Rickert

A commenter to a recent post said, in part:

The consensus in science is that objective data (like photons, matter, etc.) interact with our body via the sensory system (nervous system, etc.) converting a truncated amount of incoming data (due to limitations on nervous system processing speed and resolution) into even further truncated streams of information (due to nervous system compression before & as a result of space limitations in the body/spinal cord), eventually leading to the brain where that truncated data is translated into what we perceive (perceptions).

That is a view known as “representationalism” and computationalism is the particular version of representationism that says that what the brain is mainly doing is computation.

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April 18, 2012

Mind, syntax, semantics

by Neil Rickert

While thinking about the implications of a recent post it occurred to me that philosophy is almost an entirely syntactic enterprise, and pays little more than lip service to semantics.  To me, this was a surprising realization.  No doubt it explains why my own ideas are very different from those expressed by philosophers.  For I have long considered semantics to be the primary concern.

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March 26, 2012

Information storage in the brain

by Neil Rickert

The problem of information storage is raised by Cornelius Hunter in a post at UD and at his own blog.  I’m not quite sure why Cornelius posted that.  He often posts arguments for ID or arguments critical of evolution.  But he fails to connect this particular post with his ideas on evolution and ID.  But never mind.  It’s something to comment on, because my response illustrates my disagreement with the conventional wisdom.

Cornelius poses the issue with: “The problem is that how the brain could store information long-term has been something of a mystery.”

My reaction – as best I can tell, the brain doesn’t store information at all.  So there is no mystery.

Suppose I hear a tornado alert on the radio.  I might react by becoming more alert to the weather conditions outside.  That can be thought of as reconfiguring things.  And that reconfiguration can be said to be a kind of memory.  But, as best I can tell, there would never be a need to actually store the received information (the alert).

The idea of storing information comes from the way that we use computers.  Perhaps it is implicit in the conventional view that knowledge is justified true belief.  I disagree with that view of knowledge, and I disagree with the information processing view of what the brain is doing.  My example of how we react to a tornado warning illustrates why I disagree.

March 9, 2012

Semantics and measurement

by Neil Rickert

There are many different conceptions of “information.”  The most important of those is that due to Claude Shannon, and often referred to as “Shannon Information“.  Shannon was particularly concerned with communication and with the problem of avoiding or minimizing loss of information due to transmission over an imperfect channel.

As used today, we typically think of Shannon information being transmitted as a sequence of symbols, often as a stream of binary digits. It is considered to be a theory of syntactic information, since the engineering considerations that motivated Shannon’s work are concerned with delivery of the symbols and questions of what those symbols mean is secondary and outside Shannon’s theory.

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March 4, 2012

The reliability of perception

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post about Plantinga’s argument against naturalism, John Wilkins quotes Plantinga as arguing:

If our cognitive faculties have originated as Dawkins thinks, then their ultimate purpose or function (if they have a purpose or function) will be something like survival (of individual, species, gene, or genotype); but then it seems initially doubtful that among their functions—ultimate, proximate, or otherwise—would be the production of true beliefs.

John Wilkins seems to think that this is an objection that deserves a response, arguing that selection for fitness will provide a perception that generates true beliefs.

I disagree.  Plantinga is quite right.  There is no basis for expecting that perception of an evolved organism will produce true beliefs.  However, that’s a rather  hollow “victory” for Plantinga.  For there is also no basis for expecting that perception will produce false beliefs.  Quite simply, truth or falsity is not a criterion for perception.  As Al Gore might have put it, there is no controlling authority.

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