Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the stimulus-response vs. reasoning explanation of what we do...

I don't really have a dog in that fight. I leave it to the neuroscientist. I imagine a lot of this depends on what level of cognition we're talking about. Certainly sitting around and reasoning to yourself involves stimuli and responses in your brain - neurons firing, activating other neurons, awakening recognitions that call other thoughts to the fore.

Or something like that.

That sentence probably made actual neuroscientists cringe.

But the point is this seems like a semantic question in a lot of ways. I don't see why there has to be an inherent difference. If you want to highlight certain elements of the problem, perhaps you're interested in drawing a demarcation somewhere.

The point is that "reason" or "logic" is just the word we use to talk about cognitive processes that follow the rules of specific word-games that we pre-establish because when our cognitive processes abide (or even just remain semi-faithful to! first order approximations are great!) by those rules we get good results. "Reasoning" (I don't think) isn't different on a neurological level than other sorts of brain activity.

I think Current has it exactly right when he writes: "It may be true that a human and some other creature both respond in fundamentally mechanical ways to inputs, but come to different conclusions. That doesn't affect types of reason or logic that apply to a problem regardless of the actor. "Logic" (or "Reason" or whatever) is an aspect of a proposed solution to a carefully formed problem, it's nothing to do with that solver. It doesn't require believing anything incredible about existing lifeforms."

11 comments:

  1. A dog thinks like a dog, a cat like a cat, and so on. I do agree with this reasoning. However, I don't know for sure that there is a universal logic amongst the same species. I think, for the most part, there is a dominant logic, one that resembles those of the past (or built upon them), but are also quite different depending upon environment (epigenetics), heredity, and culture.

    In the grand scheme, it is merely humans thinking like humans, and the dominant logic is most prevailing. Certainly the people 10 centuries from now will not think or reason exactly as we do today, and much of what we think is correct today will be proven (or thought) incorrect tomorrow (the figurative tomorrow). There is no measure but what measure we determine to be the measure today.

    There are certainly innate qualities to a species at any given time, but time moves on ... eventually.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree - and this is a very hard point for a strict rationalist to accept, I think.

      We all have somewhat different logics. This nebulous word "logic" is just the word we use to describe the substantial overlap in approach that allows us to talk to each other about it. But it is a lot more fast and loose than some discussions of logic imply. The point is, we have good selection mechanisms to select the good logics out and those good logics seem to be largely consistent with each other.

      That logic is empiricism and utility. Does it help us to get around in the world? If we ask "does it help us to get around in the world" we all converge on similar sorts of reasoning - which is encouraging. It says that the world seems relatively ordered and we all seem to be experiencing the world relatively similarly.

      Delete
    2. Daniel, have you ever looked at your past reasoning and cringed? I have. This tells me that while our institutions are built up upon a certain structure of logic, and that it is generally consistent, it is also an evolving thing over time. IOW, if this is true of an individual or many individuals, then it certainly must hold true for a collection of individuals.

      Did I just commit the fallacy of composition? Yes I did. But then, if you accept what I said as a fallacy, then the whole of genetics is fallacious. Hmm? Quandary.

      Delete
    3. re: "Daniel, have you ever looked at your past reasoning and cringed? I have."

      Hey - don't be a jerk!

      jk - I know what you mean :)

      Delete
    4. Oh, and on the "empiricism and utility" thing, I do agree that testing to see what works plays a large role, but I must add that one's own thoughts on the matter, without such "stimulus" as quoted, can also be very important. Obviously, all experience and enjoyment must be understood and deduced by the mind in a way that only an individual can truly understand (or think). And thank goodness for this, because that is how we come up with new ways of thinking about the world around us.

      Delete
  2. "I know what you mean"

    I'm glad that you did, because on second reading I realized that I unintentionally laid the smackdown. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    2. If only I had put an "own" between "your" and "past" ...

      Delete
  3. The Stimulus -> Response theory of operant conditioning gave way to Stimulus -> Organism -> Response theory 30 to 40 years ago. What you want to call the processing by the organism is largely a question of definition.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is all completely beyond me, but looking at people talking about "reasoning" and "stimulus/response" as these different things strikes me as being "largely a question of definition", so I am inclined to trust your point here too.

      One can insert whatever definitional intermediaries they want, but as long as they are in at least some way attached to a materialist view, it's going to boil down to "stimulus/response" on some level. And for those who are not attached to a materialist view - my sense is they're just kicking the can a little bit further down the road. But it's the same can.

      Delete
    2. Well, it is clear that nervous responses that do not make it to the brain are reflexes. :) But what is going on when a rat comes to the fork in a T-maze, stops, and looks right and left? Even the behaviorists called that vicarious trial and error. We know a lot about human cognitive errors, but how do we, being human know that they are cognitive errors?

      I used to have a book, translated from the Russian, and written during the early Communist era there, called, "Reflexes of the Brain." That sounds funny, but maybe it fits with dialectical materialism.

      As long as you can construct chains of efficient causation, you can label things as stimulus and response, I suppose. But these days you get people who reply, "Quantum mechanics! Gotcha!" ;) As though irreducible possibility implies intelligence.

      Delete

All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.