various comments

[From J Francisco Arocha, 920426; 1810]

I said:

By perusing several journals I sense that cognitive

science, >has been gaining acceptance among psychologists.

Rick Marken (920423 13:30) replied:

I'd say it has been the dominant perspective in scientific

psychology >(in the US, at least) since the late 1960's.

I agree, but I was referring to the cognitive science
perspective (to differentiate it from cognitive psychology)
in terms of the building of very general, abstract models,
some of which have factual referents that are NOT specified
and that are supposed to be equally applied to man and
machine. Cognitive scientists frequently talk about
"mechanisms" that are not, strictly speaking, mechanisms,
because they are abstractions, not actual, real processes.
Mechanisms produce effects and the only way to produce
effects is through material means. This is related to a
recent post (by Bruce Nevin, I think) that mentioned a
researcher at xerox labs (I think) who developed a computer
program (a PhD dissertation) that could produce coherent
text without using a grammar (an abstraction). She concluded
that grammar rules are in the "heads" of linguists but not
in the speakers'. I would agree because grammars are
descriptions of regularities in language, not "mechanisms"
that produce language.

About "instantiations"

I think this is the case -- but I'm not quite sure what you

mean. >Not being much of a philosopher myself, I think I am
eminently >qualified to try to give an answer.

I meant it in the same sense of Plato in the allegory of the
cavern: that the material world is an instantiation of a
world of ideas. Although it may appear obvious that it isn't
to any person living in the 20th century, philosophers and
some cognitive scientists have found the way to say the same
thing in more "modern" terms, but still expressing the same
idea, for instance, in terms of the distinction between
software and hardware. As long as is kept in mind that this
is a metaphor, it is OK; but some philosophers/AIers take
this very seriously. For example, in a recent article in
Psychological Science two physiological psychologists argue
that psychology is the study of "pure function". They want
to discover the "abstract principles of thought". The
problem with this approach is that it rests on a semantic
confusion between "principles" understood as postulates of a
theory, and therefore abstract, with "principles" understood
as real processes that govern a natural phenomenon. It is
important to separate reality from our models about it.


PCT assumes >that this process is "instantiated" in the

nervous system as excitatory >and inhibitory connections
between neurons carrying signals in the >form of "neural
currents" (spikes/sec).

It could just be a matter of terminology, but I would say
"carried out" instead of "instantiated". The reason being
that instantiation is a conceptual operation that the
theorist carries out, not the nervous system (unless it is
the nervous system of the theorist). The only operations the
nervous system carries out are electrochemical not
conceptual (of course, conceptual operations are the result
of electrochemical activities of the nervous system). So, I
think that PCT is NOT about instantiated ideas at least in
the sense that I intended.



Martin Taylor 920423 17:15

I think cognitive >psychologY is neutral on the matter. As

I understand it, it is about >how we form perceptions of
more or less complex abstractions. As such, >it is about
the perceptual functions in the control hierarchy as much as

it is about the resulting actions. I think that once you

get to the category >level, you have to start worrying about
the kinds of things cognitive >psychologists worry about.

Does that mean that at higher levels the differences between
PCT and conventional cognitive psychology are not important?
What would differentiate it from a PCT approach?

And I do think PCT is about the instantiation of

abstractions. That's what >the neural current that is the
perceptual signal is. It represents the >abstraction
controlled by that ECS.

The neural current (?) represents the abstraction controlled
by THAT ECS? What does the THAT refers to? Could you


Bill Powers (920424.0900)

I look forward to reading >your thoughts on just where and

how the Skinnerian movement went off the >tracks. As Greg
Williams notes, Skinner did get as far as doing PC(T)-

compatible experiments, giving the animals control over

their own inputs >(reinforcers). But there was obviously
some deep-seated belief system that >kept him from seeing
autonomy in the behaving system, a belief system that >I
think is common to most of the life sciences. What do you
think on that >subject?

I agree with your assesment concerning the blindness of
Skinner (and his followers) to the autonomy of living
beings. I attributed that blindness to his view of science,
which was much influenced by his operationism and his
alleged atheoretical position. If you believe that science
concerns only observables you will never be able to
construct deep theories, because this would involve
developing (non-observable) theoretical constructs.


Gary Cziko 920424.1500

Could you give some key Bunge references that you think are

most >important?

Bunge is a remarkably prolific author and has written
several hundred books and articles. However, a synthesis of
his views are in his Treaty on Basic Philosophy published
between 1974 and 1988. This work is divided into five parts:
SEMANTICS, published in two volumes (Sense and reference and
Interpretation and truth); ONTOLOGY, also two volumes: The
furniture of the world and A world of systems; EPISTEMOLOGY
AND METHODOLOGY (Four volumes: Exploring the world,
Understanding the world, Epistemology of Formal Sciences and
of Physics, and Epistemology of Biology, Psychology, the
Social Sciences and Technology); The final part is one
volume: ETHICS. All books are published by D. Reidel of
Dordrecht, Holland and cost about $80 each. I think that
when reading the Treatise it is important to read the
Semantics and the Ontology first, because many of the ideas
developed in these books are used in the rest of the books.
Bunge's main work concerning specific disciplines has been
in the philosophy of physics (he is a theoretical physicist,
specialist in quantum physics). He is considered as a
"synthesizer" because of his Treatise. As far as I know he
is one of the few contemporary philosophers who has written
a philosophical system. Bunge has also written a book on the
philosophy of psychology and another on the philosophy of
linguistics. He has also written a book on the mind-body
problem. I don't have the references for these now, but I
could post them later.


           J Francisco AROCHA

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