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avampirist

The Crow Epistemology

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I have a fairly simple question for anyone who's familiar with Objectivist Epistemology. Please correct if I'm wrong.

From what I understand, the Objectivist view is that man can only hold "4 or 5" units in his attention at once. Does that mean that he may hold 5 units, but never 6, or 8, or 9? Also, how did Rand reach the conclusion that the number is "4 or 5" ?

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There can probably be some variation here depending on the person. Some people's minds are much better able to grasp different concepts at the same time. I think the main point she made there was that there is a clear limit and that it is not much. Some people may be able to hold 6 at once, but never a hundred or a thousand. That is what she derives her argument from, I think.

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From what I understand, the Objectivist view is that man can only hold "4 or 5" units in his attention at once.

[...] we will discover that the range of man's perceptual ability may be greater, but not much greater, than that of the crow: we may grasp and hold five or six units at most.

Wow! I have to add this, even though it is a bit of topic, but it deals with crow epistemology in a literary context.

The principle of unit-economy—or the "crow-epistemology," as Ayn Rand called the principle informally—has many further applications. As one more illustration, consider the issue of literary style. Some styles are praised as economical; the writer communicates a complex content by means of relatively few words. Other writers are prolix, weighing our consciousness down with more units than the content requires. At the evil extreme of this continuum is the writer who deliberately flouts the crow-epistemology; he seeks to subvert the reader's consciousness by loading it methodically with more units than it can hold. For example, he gives you a seemingly endless sentence, with a jungle of qualifications, subordinate clauses, and parenthetical remarks erupting in the middle, all of which you must plow through and try to retain while you are still holding the subject of the main clause and waiting for the verb. After a few pages of such prose, the reader's mind simply closes, and the words turn into meaningless verbiage. That is the crow-epistemology asserting itself. When the number of units on his mental screen becomes excessive, then, like the crow, man becomes helpless.

Logically enough, the world master of the anti-economy style is, in regard to the content of his ideas, the world's greatest subverter of the conceptual faculty. For evidence of both points, consult the Critique of Pure Reason.

:) I don't remember reading that before! (now that I check my initial reaction to it, it really isn't laughable...)

Edited by intellectualammo

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From what I understand, the Objectivist view is that man can only hold "4 or 5" units in his attention at once. Does that mean that he may hold 5 units, but never 6, or 8, or 9? Also, how did Rand reach the conclusion that the number is "4 or 5" ?
This is actually a bit of general scientific knowledge, not a fact about Objectivism. The basic idea is that you can have [A B] in youe mind and clearly have separate A and B, also [A B C] end so on, but you cannot hold [A B C D E F G H I J K] in your mind and have each be separate entities. It might be a blurred list which you would re-crete in the form "A" (and the rest), "B" (and the rest) and so on. Or, you can subgroup, perhaps [A B (C D E F) G (H I J K)]. She says "five or six". The official answer is seven, plus or minus two.
William O likes this

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As David said, this is a general finding in psychology, used outside Objectivism too.

For instance, system analysts sometimes draw diagrams that show the components of a system, and then the subcomponents under each component, and so on... in something that looks like an organizational chart (or the outline for a paper). Traditionally, the seven plus/minus two rule has been used as a guideline that each level in an outline should not be broken down into more than seven sub-points.

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I have a fairly simple question for anyone who's familiar with Objectivist Epistemology. Please correct if I'm wrong.

From what I understand, the Objectivist view is that man can only hold "4 or 5" units in his attention at once. Does that mean that he may hold 5 units, but never 6, or 8, or 9? Also, how did Rand reach the conclusion that the number is "4 or 5" ?

See http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/

Bob Kolker

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Just an interesting aside. From a 1896 copyright by the Macmillin Company, in a book entitled: The Number Concept: It's Origin and Development, written by Levi Leonard Conant, attributed by the author to a paper written by Sir John Lubbock, may be a contender for the origin of the crow story.

This is a public domain book available on Project Gutenberg for anyone interested.

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Resurrecting the thread to share an interesting article about tribal peoples whose ability to remember quantities is limited by the absence of numbers in their languages.

https://theconversation.com/anumeric-people-what-happens-when-a-language-has-no-words-for-numbers-75828

It seems the number may be four-ish. Perhaps, the seven-ish number requires easy and distinct labels for the items remembered, and our natural ability to perceive numbers is no better than a crow's.

dream_weaver likes this

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13 hours ago, Jake said:

Resurrecting the thread to share an interesting article about tribal peoples whose ability to remember quantities is limited by the absence of numbers in their languages.

https://theconversation.com/anumeric-people-what-happens-when-a-language-has-no-words-for-numbers-75828

It seems the number may be four-ish. Perhaps, the seven-ish number requires easy and distinct labels for the items remembered, and our natural ability to perceive numbers is no better than a crow's.

I've heard that it goes down to about three under stress. The military organizes their soldiers into sets of three so that each level of commander only has to deal with three units (three soldiers, three squads, three battalions, etc.).

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Posted (edited)

The ability to immediately grasp a small number of like things is called Subitizing, and is not unique to humans.  A related mechanism is called Chunking.  In the image below, it is easy to subitize the number of stars (differentiated by color).  In addition we can, through chunking, see four "sets" of stars.

These types of cognitive limits are "not bugs, they are features."  From the standpoint of energy consumption and time there is very little evolutionary benefit to "knowing" that there are 42 crows as opposed to 38.  There is an economical trade-off between knowing too much and too little.

220px-Subitizing.svg.png

Edited by New Buddha

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19 hours ago, Jake said:

It seems the number may be four-ish. Perhaps, the seven-ish number requires easy and distinct labels for the items remembered, and our natural ability to perceive numbers is no better than a crow's.

It's also partly that they have no need for quantities, so thinking about numbers is complex to them. But, there are clear difficulties in teaching math from this. The interesting thing is that while people may fail at tests that measure ability to remember, individuation is natural to all people. Also, there's a difference between holding individuals in mind (individuation) and recognizing quantities as a whole (ennumeration). 4 is about the normal amount an adult is able to individuate. The 5 plus or minus two is not that same mental process. Remembering 7 items of a list, like days of the week or colors of the rainbow, isn't so bad. If you tried to think about 7 balls with a different color each, you'd do poorly. You'd do poorly at thinking of the balls as individuals. 

It seems that the focusing is limited to 4 perceived items in working memory at a time. Maybe up to 6 with extensive and intense training (think professional gamers).

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

It seems that the focusing is limited to 4 perceived items in working memory at a time. Maybe up to 6 with extensive and intense training (think professional gamers).

I would think the size of the crow is dictated by the nature of the particular individual. Perhaps with some focus, it could be expanded some, but I think that the 'professional gamers', just have a 'larger crow' in their area of competence to begin with.

Edited by dream_weaver

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