Citizens can go now and listen to the Not School discussion of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's book Philosophy In The Flesh. The rest of you can listen to an excerpt as part of our PEL Not School Digest #3 Quasisode. The following is brought to you by the group leader and now-PEL-Not-School Guardian Evan Gould:
I want you to think about Time for a "moment."
How do you conceive of it? What analogies do you use to get a grasp of the essential nature of Time? You probably think of Time in terms of "greater" or "lesser" "expanses" within "spaces of possibilities" or something close to that. Time always seems to present itself in our conceptions as fluid and ever changing "potentials for action/direction" and concomitantly as "volumes of space" between oneself and any of those possible destinations.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Most any fish that you talk to will give you a similar picture of Time. Myself included. It seems pretty clear to us that this picture does in fact get to the heart of the nature of Time. But as philosophish, we have to question even our most automatic assumptions before trusting in our inferences concerning abstract concepts.
There is a field of inquiry referred to as Embodied Cognition which rejects the common sensical folk understanding of rationality; namely that it is Disembodied. Further (and harder to imagine) is the idea that there may not be such a thing as a Disembodied Rational basis to the universe (at least in the ways that we conceive of it) that we access through that Disembodied Rationality. One basic idea being that evolution, in delivering to us extremely complex neural circuits which enable us to fly in any direction we wish, at any speed we wish with proper activation of our tail fins, (and not only that, but also to "simulate" those movements in our imagination) has also had the side effect of providing us with a multitude of metaphorical concepts--deriving from that embodiment--with which we cogitate. If you think closely about the nature of your own thought life, you'll notice this embodiment active in almost every part: the "pictures" which provide movement of and relations between concepts are easily "grasped" by us because of our physicality and relationship to our environment.
Another interesting hint that our cognition is fundamentally embodied is an analysis of the categories which are instantly available to our thinking vs. categories that are not. As an example, you have a quick and ready "picture" for the concept "chair", but not for "furniture." That is to say, given that these concepts are hierarchical (viz., furniture--chair--rocking chair), there exists for us what has been termed a Basic-Level Category. This would be "the highest level at which a single mental image can represent the entire category..." and "the highest level at which a person uses similar motor actions for interacting with category members..." and "it is the level at which most of our knowledge is organized". How might our thinking about the world be shaped by the fact that our most salient concepts are deeply related to our mere physicality, rather than their being the most useful for employing in the philosophical task.
I find all this extremely interesting, because it seems to put into bold relief the sheer contingency of our mental toolbox, and causes me to wonder how faithfully our concepts actually map reality. Imagine what kinds of abstract concepts might present themselves to another, alien species, with a completely different repertoire of metaphorical basic-level categories. How might a human see "reality"?
Our Not School-of-Fish Philosophy of Mind group read most recently a book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson called Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. The book opens with the following claim(s):
The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.
These are three major findings of cognitive science. More than two millennia of a priori philosophical speculation about these aspects of reason are over. Because of these discoveries, philosophy can never be the same again.
That's a bold statement. Endeavoring to get to bottom of this, our group recently recorded a Skype chat to discuss this idea of Embodied Cognition. And to be quite truthful, we barely scratched the surface of the topic. Most of the discussion centered around whether cognitive science could ever add anything to the philosophical discipline at all. Check it out, won't you?
Wayne Schroeder says
Congratulations for heading up this philosophy of mind group. It was like everyone was partially examining their lives and then Michael showed up, fully examined, questioning the validity of cognitive science at all–summarized (poetic license) as, “I hated the Philosophy In The Flesh.” (Though he validated the phenomenological aspects.)
I could have sworn Michael was a philosophy professor summarizing E=MC2 regarding cognitive science, so pay close attention.
Can we even get at consciousness through cognitive science?
And if not, is cognitive science not a naive ignorance of philosophy and it’s entire effort to make sense of consciousness since Husserl?
Can we ever become informed of consciousness by cognitive science? Michael says, maybe not.
You have to listen to this one.
Wayne Schroeder says
Michael states that you can not do philosophy by importing the findings of science as the basis for philosophy. More specifically, you can not address the philosophy of consciousness by using the findings of neuroscience as a basis for your ontology.
You must must start with a valid ontology to qualify as valid philosophy (concept). Science is not a valid ontology (concept), just a conglomeration of findings (propositions). (See Deleuze’s “What is Philosophy” for explanation of concept versus proposition, philosophy versus science.)
Michael’s position left the science-minded participants with many questions. Doesn’t philosophy only begin when reality breaks down? Are there physiological correlates of consciousness? If we can duplicate consciousness, would that be sufficient? Is quantum physics a good metaphor for how science can get stuck by trying to break down the whole into excessive parts?
Michael was mystically disconnected from the conversation midway through the conversation, so his position became a dangling participle.
He stated that there is no physiological correlate of consciousness (perhaps undermining a raison detre of cognitive science). For a continuation of this argument, see Alva Noe’s “Out of Our Heads”, a colleague of John Searles, who does not deny that there are neurological contributors to consciousness, but that there is no neurological system which will ever explain consciousness.
That would be impossible based on Noe’s definition of consciousness based on Merleau Ponty’s phenomenological position (philosophically based, even though scientifically informed) that consciousness (mind) is founded on Brain-Body-World as a unit. It is impossible to find neurological correlates of the world in the mind, nor neurological correlates of the self in the brain (neurological correlate meaning a neuronal explanation of world or of mind/consciousness).
This also includes AI which came up in the discussion, if we could duplicate consciousness, would that prove the value of cognitive science? Well, then you would have a “virtual” consciousness rather than “actual” consciousness, so even duplication would not validate the neural correlates of consciousness, or get at the actual nature of consciousness.
Therefore the classic subject/object division is indivisible, and an illusion of Cartesian dualism.
Of course we can take our open-heads consciousness and close it down by holding a scientific reductionist closed-heads position.
P.S. Michael may or may not agree with my summary, of course.
I think even the new-mysterians are on board for a kind of extended-body/mind so embodiment writ large seems pretty well excepted as the state of the art, and the analytic folks can get a bit ruffled sometimes over metaphor talk as relates to concepts but the bigger question seems to be are we really much closer to understanding the dynamics between non-conceptual functions and metaphors/analogies and I think not. Lakoff’s recent pop-psychology-propaganda efforts are a real letdown (tho Johnson is doing some great solo work on embodiment and pragmatism), has anyone read:
Wayne Schroeder says
Here is an article by Lakoff that founds the Body-Mind problem in the Sensory-Motor System:
THE BRAIN’S CONCEPTS:
THE ROLE OF THE SENSORY-MOTOR SYSTEM
IN CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE.
The sensory motor system is phylogenetically an ancient system. It has multimodal capacities to receive input from other modalities (hearing, vision, and touch), which are then integrated with the original sensory and motor functions. Through a process of “neural exploitation,” sensory motor mechanisms have, during evolution, taken on new roles in imagining, concept construction, and language. This upsets the traditional view that concepts and language are abstract, symbolic, amodal and arbitrary. I’m afraid this foundational neuroscience is much more powerful, and has significant metaphysical and neuroscientific possiblities than have been thus far been developed, and is foundational to the notion of the brain as an analogy machine.
Alva Noe is in significant agreement with the above findings and metaphysics in his work, “Out of our Heads.” Science, Searl and pragmatism are just not going to help us out of this problem. Any short circuits of rationality result in reductionism.
WS, to date we know next to nothing about the actual “circuitry” of these kinds of functions,on a more general note it would be helpful (for me at least) if you could supply some page references with your really broad takes on texts/authors as the details more than matter in these fields of research, thanks.
ps Noë’s new book is almost entirely in keeping with Johnson’s later pragmatism (why bring Searle into this?), see:
Wayne Schroeder says
The content of my comments are easily verifiable in the texts to which I refer. I understand that comments like ” to date we know next to nothing about the actual “circuitry” of these kinds of functions” is unsupported. The overall flow of my comments (context) from Michael’s comments on cognitive science, and my inclusion of Noe’s book on “Out of our Heads” and reference to Jeff Hawkins book “On Intelligence” gives places to go for verification of my statements.
The comment about Searl as noted above is that Noe’s position (both colleagues at UCB) is opposed to Searl’s as you will see in his book.
My previous efforts to give you specific references to neuroscience have not been responded to. You denied the validity of mirror neurons in the field of neuroscience, asked for my referrences, and when I provided them with a thoughtful response you just moved on without responding. Wayne
Out of our Heads is something like 200pgs long no?
Noe is working against Searle and I was working with not against Noe and pointing to his overlap with current pragmatism so I remain puzzled about why you raised Searle when/where you did. That we are just at the beginning, and in some sense on the surface (often via computerized translation/visualizations) of brain-functions/neurophysiology is hardly controversial in the field, been a while since the motor-neurons chat but my memory, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that you gave dated info and little of it, if any, was actual studies. I’m not interested in verifying your comments but rather trying to track what it is that you are saying in relation to actual texts which I believe is what the PEL folks are up to in their podcasts, trying to read through books…
oops sorry mirror-neurons
“Despite the excitement generated by these findings, to date, no widely accepted neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation. There are neuroscientists such as Greg Hickok (UC Irvine) and Cecilia Heyes (Oxford) who caution that the claims being made for the role of mirror neurons are not supported by adequate research.””
Wayne Schroeder says
I’m afraid that wikipedia references do not contradict the overwhelming research in the field of neuroscience and their acceptance by almost every publishing neuroscientist in the field. Individual pockets of opinion do not contravene the major findings of a field in science. Hickok and Heyes are like anecdotal reports of denial rather than actual findings which have documented the presence of mirror neurons (all of which can be googled also, although google is not our new truth standard). The Wikipedia entry is only regarding Doubts aboutMirror Neurons. The rest of the article gets it right.
Wayne Schroeder says
referring to your comment above:
“That we are just at the beginning, and in some sense on the surface (often via computerized translation/visualizations) of brain-functions/neurophysiology is hardly controversial in the field” is absolutely true, just as it is true that we are just beginning to learn about quantum physics. That does not mean what has been learned is not valid, and that there is not a history of neuroscientific findings to respect.
My reference to science, Searl and pragmatism (of the Rorty kind) were comments regarding rationalistic reductionism. (I do not know that Johnson does this). Perhaps elaboration on your part regarding your meaning of pragmatism would be helpful.
Wayne Schroeder says
The brain as an analogy machine has been developed by Jeff Hawkins in “On Intelligence,” where he posits that the entire neocortex is all the same, and that memory is based on a massive encoding process (similar to analogy, at each increasing level of abstraction among columnar neurons) which is not based on multimodal localization of the brain, but on neural networking based on a brain-wide single processing system. This theory actually rivals, or is consanant with neuroplacticity. See: (http://ec.libsyn.com/p/d/b/8/db82a3087666961c/38-brainscience-Hawkins.pdf?d13a76d516d9dec20c3d276ce028ed5089ab1ce3dae902ea1d01cf8033d8ca5d0b8e&c_id=1521105)