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Eiuol

Notes on a conceptual development book: "The Origin of Concepts"

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I’m reading a book on conceptual development. I’m posting the notes I’ll be taking because it concerns many points about epistemology, especially for Objectivism. To be sure, the science of conceptual development won’t determine the philosophy one ought to hold about concepts, but it does give some particular and narrow observations that show if philosophical theories do in fact correspond to reality. Rand had plenty to say about conceptual development, and I find much of what she said to be easily confirmed (without contradiction, at least) and put into detail with science. I figure many of you here would like to see that Rand’s theories about concepts hold up in reality and aren’t just esoteric assumptions via introspection (as some people have criticized her of doing with all her ideas).

The book is “The Origin of Concepts” by Susan Carey, 2009. She’s a psychology professor at MIT last I looked.  Remember, though, all definitions I mention here are Carey’s. I’ll periodically post chapter notes, feel free to post in between.

1. Some Preliminaries
The book offers an account of the human capacity for conceptual development. Cognitive science seeks a precise, explanatory origin of concepts in general.

Three major theses:
1) Two types of concepts
            a) embedded in systems of core cognition
            b ) embedded in systems of explicit knowledge
2) Representational resources emerge in development that transcends core cognition
3) Bootstrapping underlies the construction of new representational resources

Concepts and Mental Representations
Concepts are:
-units of thought (constituents of beliefs and theories) at the grain of single lexical items (e.g. words)
-mental representations (which refer to concrete or abstract entities)

The psychologists William James and Piaget, and the philosopher Quine believed that a distinction can be made on a continuum between sensory/perceptual representations and conceptual representations. Is  “sensory representation” a very clear or obvious distinction? Compare sensing features of the world to the concepts of those features. The concept “square” isn’t necessarily a sensory/perceptual representation.

Perceptual: iconic or analog; here and now
Conceptual: discrete, language-like symbols; integrated with others

Thesis 1: Core Cognition
Developmental foundation of conceptual understanding
Entities are identified by modular innate perceptual-input devices
Need not be veridical and therefore need not be knowledge

At Stake, A Picture of Conceptual Development
Innate representations are those that are not the output of learning processes.
Innate is often maturational and need not be present at birth

Learning processes build representations of the world on the basis of computations on representational input.
Domain-general, or domain-specific?
Domain-general would be like saying there is a sensing-general sense organ.

Indigo Buntings: Learn to follow the North Star by observing a rotating sky, but so specific that all buntings can learn it, or even be tricked if raised in a planetarium. (Emlen, 1975)
Newborn chicks: Huddle close to overall bird-shapes, i.e. eyes and beak on a neck, on a body, instead of other objects (Johnson, Bolhuis, & Horn, 1985)

Thesis 2: Discontinuities
Discontinuity – new representational resources are qualitatively different from the representations they are built from
Continuity – all representational structures are either present throughout development or arise through maturation (Fodor, Chomsky)

How can representations by truly new? Counter: “Pi” seems like it’s totally and qualitatively different than “Two”.

Thesis 3: Quinian Bootstrapping
A learning mechanism that specifies how a new representational capacity can come about.

Intuitive Theories – Explicit Conceptual Representations
Two types of conceptual representations
            a) Those that articulate core cognition
            b ) Those that articulate linguistically encoded knowledge structures, e.g.
                       Intuitive theories
                       -its entities are not identified by innate input analyzers; not iconic
                       -deepest ontological commitments and most general explanatory principles

Given a beginning state of perceptual representations and core cognition, how does theory-embedded conceptual knowledge originate and develop?

Edited by Eiuol

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I think you misunderstand what innateness means in this context. "Innate" doesn't need to be a scary word. It doesn't mean innate ideas. Core cognition refers to innate capacities that don't need to be learned by associations. It does NOT mean an idea that exists innately. Nor does it mean a priori knowledge as Kant would have it. That isn't to say she has zero rationalist influence, but you aren't correctly characterizing Carey by what her book says.

 

The ability to perceive and individuate objects is innate, but that isn't the same as an innate "idea" of objects. Compare that to how Rand doesn't really say anything about where the ability to individuate objects comes from, and she certainly doesn't say a child *learns* to individuate. It's pre-conceptual. 

 

To be sure, I don't agree with all of Carey's terms. I wouldn't call it core cognition, I prefer to call it a core capacity.

Edited by Eiuol

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Louie said:

 

 

Core cognition refers to innate capacities that don't need to be learned by associations. It does NOT mean an idea that exists innately. Nor does it mean a priori knowledge as Kant would have it. That isn't to say she has zero rationalist influence, but you aren't correctly characterizing Carey by what her book says.

 

Or you do not understand what Carey actually says in the book:







 

Carey said:

 

The core cognition hypothesis provides part of the solution to our quest for the origin of human concepts, for it consists of systems of innate conceptual primitives. But it also provides a challenge, for later- developing conceptual knowledge differs so radically from it.  [...]  Chapter 2 presented arguments that object representations satisfy the first two properties of core cognition: they are conceptual and they are treated by innate input analyzers. l will return to both of these features of core cognition in this chapter as well:

 

The origin of Concepts pg. 69

 

And the SEP said:

 

The ‘Core Cognition’ hypothesis. Many developmentalists in this camp share a commitment to the ‘Core Cognition’ (sometimes called ‘Core Knowledge’) hypothesis. According to this hypothesis (Carey 2009; Carey& Spelke 1996; Spelke et al. 1992; Spelke 1998, 2000, 2003), evolution has equipped our species (and other species too) with an innate repertoire of conceptual representations, that is, representations that cannot be reduced to the perceptual primitives favored by the Empiricists or the sensory-motor primitives favored by Piagetians. Rather, evolution has shaped our perceptual input analyzers to detect certain types of entities in the world, and to think about them in a certain way. These different types of entities are few in number. To date, proponents of this hypothesis have claimed that the innately specified core domains include physical objects, number, and minds.

 

from Innateness and Contemporary Theories of Cognition

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/innateness-cognition/

 

louie said:



 

 

Compare that to how Rand doesn't really say anything about where the ability to individuate objects comes from, and she certainly doesn't say a child *learns* to individuate. It's pre-conceptual. 

 

We have been here before:

 

http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=28101&page=4

 

Dr. Peikoff answers the very question that you claim Oism hasn't answered in his response to Kants "incredible construct" about Kant's "fantastic process" of integrating objects into wholes, on the Modern Philosophy lectures at about  lecture 4 117:00. 

 

The answer is that it "is an automatic physiological process determined and performed by the nature of the human brain. A process that occurs on the neurological-physiological level. Its simply a fact that the human brain is so constructed that after a variety of sensations the brain automatically, physiologically, retains and integrates them into percepts of wholes. [ ....] on any theory of human perception you have to take certain facts about human capacities as the given as far as epistemology is concerned [....] as far as epistemology is concerned you cannot have an infinite regress. You have to take certain capacities, certain cognitive capacities on the part of man as the given.[...] if you must start somewhere, why not start with what is known to be given, namely a brain of a certain kind with the ability to integrate sensations into percepts?[...] I think the whole theory is an answer to a nonexistent problem."

 

 

No Objectivist who understands what philosophy is, and Oist philosophy in particular, should be looking to cognitive science for philosophical answers. It is a rank hierarchy inversion to do so. Likewise, no cognitive scientist should be trying to answer philosophical questions like "the origin of concepts" with special science means. "The science of conceptual development" is epistemology.

 

Edit:

 

Man doesn't "individuate" objects-entities anyway. The sensory-perceptual organs integrate sensations but human perception is caused by an individual entity that is mind independent. The organs of perception do not cause or construct individuality whatever. 

Edited by Plasmatic

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Carey doesn't mean conceptual as you or I do, and it does reflect some rationalism for her use that term, but what she describes and refers to as one type of concept is more like a pre-conceptual identification. With regards to what Carey says, though, is different. Note that Carey says there are two kinds of concepts. I didn't post chapter 2 yet, nor did I mention where she specifies to a precise extent what she refers to. Have you read the whole book?

I read your quotes. The only problem there is what conceptual refers to. It doesn't refer to what you refer to. It's more like an implicit concept.

Your Peikoff quote agrees that the details I'm talking about in no way contradicts the scientific claims of Carey (if I'm mistaken, please point out the contradictions instead of just showing me quotes).

" "The science of conceptual development" is epistemology."

Are you saying there is no such thing as the science of conceptual development? That it's really just epistemology? I mean, I think it's science, and I posted in this sub-forum because I think the book is of particular interest to those who like epistemology.

By the way, if by "man doesn't individuate" you mean "not volitionally", I agree. Reality isn't "constructed" as a representation (if anything is neo-Kantian about Carey, it's regarding saying representation so often).

Edited by Eiuol

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Brackets are my comments. I might only do 3 and 4 after this, the first several chapters seem most interesting and most philosophically related.

 

2. The Initial Representational Repertoire: The Empiricist Picture

The empiricist hypothesis is that the initial state is limited to sensory representations. This is false.

 

The Empiricist Picture

Locke

–all concepts are grounded in primitive representations.

-if perceptual representations are limited to what currently experienced entities look like, feel like, taste like, and move like, objects cannot be represented as individuals that persist through time, independently of the observer.

-complex concepts are defined in terms of primitive concepts.

-concepts are acquired by a set of innate primitives and associative mechanisms

 

Right on two points: 1) there are innate sensory representations, 2) whose content is ensured by sense organs

 

The Rationalist/Empiricist Debate About Perception

Sensory representations

     Proximal – pattern of stimulation, i.e. pin prick

     Distal – constancies, i.e. object size regardless of distance

 

Example: Depth

Berkeley and Hume tried to show how depth can be learned by associative mechanisms operating on sensory primitives.

 

Descartes believed innate inferential mechanisms that instantiate constraints derived from geometry take input and transform it to a veridical representation of depth (Nativist claim)

 

Newborn animals avoid visual cliffs (Gibson & Walk, 1960)

 

The Initial State: Perceptual/Sensori-motor primitives

Piaget

-infants start only with representations that subserve innate sensori-motor reflexes

-all mental life is constructed from the initial representational repertoire

 

Quine

-The infant’s initial representational resources are limited to an innate perceptual vocabulary, which is called a“prelinguistic quality space”and which is conceptualized as an innate perceptual similarity space.

 

If perceptual representations are limited to what currently experienced entities look like, feel like, taste like, and move like, objects cannot be represented as individuals that persist through time, independently of the observer.

[i take this to be like in-the-moment awareness as opposed to perception understood as persisting through time]

 

Intermodal Representations

Empiricists believed intermodal correspondences between sensed properties of objects is the way representations of objects are built (e.g look of a shape is just correlated with how its texture feels)

 

Wrong because:

-representations still do not go beyond sensory vocabulary

-evidence exists that intermodal representations aren’t learned with associative mechanisms         

 

Criteria for Individuation and Numerical Identity of Objects

By 2 months old, infants represent objects as spatio-temporally continuous. This is shown by violation-of-expectancy looking-time experiments. Infants look longer at unexpected outcomes, such as one object remaining yet two are expected, compared to two remaining. The data is reliable and replicable. See addition/subtraction experiments (Wynn, 1992b).

 

Why Do Infants Fail on Search Tasks?

1) many different capacities are required, i.e. Piagetian tasks require means-ends planning

2) representations are graded in robustness or strength, i.e. not all-or-nothing

 

Frontal cortex maturation is a factor. Infants under 1 year old fail at the A-not-B task, just as monkeys fail at delayed response tasks when their prefrontal cortex is damaged or underdeveloped. (Diamond and Goldman-Rakic, 1989)

 

Dynamic systems are another possibility. The error could arise from complex interactions among multifaceted processes that enter into motor planning. Some say also that “having” object representations doesn’t make sense because representations are always manifested in behavior and thus expression is subject to dynamic interactions. [Carey disagrees on the first part, but isn’t clear about why some say object representations don’t make sense.]

 

Are Object Representations Innate?

Could the capacity to represent and quantify over objects be built between birth and 2 months old?

 

If the visible ends of an occluder move together, 4-monthold infants establish a representation of a single object, as shown by the fact that upon removal of the barrier, they look longer if a broken rod is revealed than if a continuous rod is revealed (Kellman and Spelke, 1983). Newborns show an opposite pattern (Slater, Morrison, Somers, Mattock, & Brown, 1990).

 

Why the nativist view, then?

1) ancillary capacities might await development

Two month olds are less likely to complete the rod when there’s a wider barrier (Condry, Smith, & Spelke, 2001)

2) evidence for a capacity

Neonates do better when only endpoints are shown. (Valenza, Gava, Leo & Simeon, 2004)

3) existence proof is possible

            Neonate chickens prefer to huddle by completed shapes (Regolin & Vollortigara, 1995)

 

 

Infants as young as 2 months old are able to form object representations under the conditions of the cylinder solidity studies, their representations are constrained to reflect boundedness and spatio-temporal continuity in complex ways. (Hespos & Baillargeon, 2001)

 

What happens to representational capacities in the course of development? How are they built upon and how are they transformed?

Edited by Eiuol

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I'm working on this again now to focus more of my studies onto concepts, epistemology, and conceptual development science. It's part of wider stuff I want to write on volition and mental content.

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