Monday, April 7, 2008

What is Philosophy?

As noted before, on the surface we are doing psychology, not philosophy, because we seem to be concerned with cause not reasons or justification. This is wrong because we are concerned ultimately with the consequences, the meaning, the significance of what we now know to be the cognitive psychology of human agents. We are concerned with the implications of this psychology, not of the specific content. If you ignore human psychology, human capacities and limitations then you are doing something other than human philosophy. There may be a more generic philosophy of agents, but we can’t do it yet.

Human philosophy is exhausted by the possibilities of human cognitive psychology. If there is no ghost in the machine then we are left with only the mechanics of the machine and that is the end of it. Once you reject the ghost you must acknowledge the limits. This has not yet been done, it is what we are trying to do. We cannot escape with the normative escalation because this is still subject to the theory of limits. The desirable must include or is limited by the possible. Similarly the theory of philosophy as meaning, as referents of universal terms, of conceptual analysis, all must be based on what are cognitive capabilities really are.

The dogmas of meaning are probably especially important to consider here. The idea that meaning is essential to language, that meaning is what is important, what is to be analyzed or discovered ignore the fact that meaning is a theoretical term that has no known experimental referent in cognitive psychology. Meaning is what we say its all about, what it is really, however, is process. Meaning has become the cover term, the mask, the mystery for and about our cognitive functions, the modern philosophical equivalent of coloricfluid or the physicist’s ether.

What is the case, what ought to be the case. The universe of possible discourse outside the area of purely formal systems like logic or mathematics is pretty well exhausted by these two possibilities.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Advancing the Theory of Driving Functions

How is it possible to answer a question like “Do you hear anything?’ We can imagine a test in which a screen flashes this question to a subject wearing headphones who is suppose to press a button, yes or no. This audiologist test does not require that the sound be identified, only that the subject knows that there is a detectible sound. His responses then are not being determined by a recognition network but by some network capable of determining the level of activity in the auditory cortex, let us assume. We can imagine other minimal level of stimulus tests for the other sensory modalities as well. How is a driving function generated in situations like this?

Consider also responses determined by quantitative variations in the stimulus. How do we know, which is to say : How can we say…that the amplitude of a stimulus has changed even if the stimulus has no name, does not trigger a particular recognition network? Perhaps this reflects some pattern of activity in the sensory organs, something is switched on or off as the quantity of stimulus changes. But we can probably judge variations. Values along a continuum as well, so on/off theories are problematic. We imagine we can do this for stimuli which are not dangerous or painful so that protection mechanisms are not triggered.

There is no reason to think a priori that only specific stimuli or memories can serve as driving functions. We note here that driving functions are convenient abstractions or simplifications, macroscopic summations on microscopic events, somewhat analogous to Newtonian forces. Consider a pressure or impact force in Newtonian mechanics, they are summations of the large numbers of electro-magnetic the point(s) of contact. Newtonian forces are somewhat of a fiction. Driving functions are more real.

Epistemic Processes

In what sense, to what degree can our cognitive processes be said to differ from the fundamental information processing operations in the brain. Finally, after all, this is what is driving the response networks, these operations are the source of the driving functions. Is cognition nothing more than reduction and summation? Is this confusing the media with the message, the process with the product? Are these anything more than modes of transmission, principles of conduction?

Finally, we need a theory of cognitive affect. The affect for the subject effect, i.e., cognitive behavior. These would have to be sensory states, states of the sensory processing systems and other states of the CNS not currently known. Certainly our emotional states are elements here. We also need a theory of a” truth value” state. What is it that determines whether or not I regard a proposition as true? Is this anything more than an emotional tag associated with the content of the proposition? Positive for true, negative for false? How do they acquire these tags? I believe 2 + 2 = 4 but I’m not emotionally involved with the issue. But I’m upset if someone denies it, generally- maybe this is the clue.

Terms like “knowing”, “ understanding”,” believing” also have driving functions which are difficult to discern but which must finally come down to some system operation, perhaps not currently identifiable. Here’s what’s going on: We have at some output stage, say the premotor cortex, a network, an engram which if activated, driven by the appropriate sort of neurological activity will generate a particular element of behavior. I deny, agree, say “I don’t know”, whatever. The question is: What can I use to drive this response network, and what difference does it make?