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ITOE, Ch. 1: thinking in 'units' and in 'concepts'

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AndrewSternberg
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While it important to investigate man’s philosophical nature directly, without bringing non-man into the discussion, I find it useful to occasionally do so for the purposes of providing contrast and therefore clarity to the actual object of study. For example in a discussion of sensations and perception, using simple animals with simple nervous systems can help concretize these concepts. With that said…

From the fifth paragraph on page 6 in ITOE:

This is the key, the entrance to the conceptual level of man’s consciousness.  The ability to regard entities as units is man’s distinctive method of cognition, which other living species are unable to follow.

I have said elsewhere how volition is indispensable in man’s ability to regard entities as units. And I also have no problem accepting that animals have a non-conceptual type consciousness (primarily because they do not use language). However, is there a level between being able to regard entities as units and being able to use concepts?

For example, can a monkey (the most ‘intelligent’ non-man I can think of) temporarily treat entities as similar members of a group, i.e. as units? If it lacks the faculty of measurement omission specifically, would this not keep it on a concrete bound level, never being able to integrate any set of units into a new mental entity?

The above implies that the ‘unit-regarding’ faculty and the ‘measurement-omitting’ faculty are separate. They are discussed in ITOE separately, as distinct steps, but perhaps they are simply the same process looked at from two different perspectives. Time to put my extra-large thinking cap on.

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The following was mentioned in another thread but is in my opinion more relevent to this topic. I am importing them for the purposes of restricting all comments on them to the confines of this thread and thereby leaving the other thread 'un-infected' by tangential 'bru-ha-ha' (don't ask me what this word means because I will only bombard you with more gibberish)

Ummmm, so yeah, the following:

...

Planaria have the simplest state: sensations.  They discovered this because they respond automatically to stimulus but don't change their response based on the source.  They don't respond to much in the way of stimulus, either: temperature and light and electric shocks.

Next level up you get things like rats: they can definitely recognize perceptual entities.  I remember helping my mother train rats to push a lever to get water.  They then changed the conditions, so that when the rat pushed the one lever it got a shock, but when it pushed a different lever it got water and graphed how quickly they learned this change; it would be impossible if the rats weren't capable of integrating "this lever" and "this other lever".

Conceptualization is found in some higher mammals; apes, especially.  You can teach sign language to a gorilla, which means that on some level they must be able to perform the necessary measurement-ommision.  However, I was TOLD (I'm not sure how accurate this is) that the gorillas won't invent NEW signs.  They'll cheerful USE the signs, and even teach them to other gorillas.

...

(I cut portions from the beginning and end of your post that were too specific to the other thread topic)

AisA responded:

Jennifer, forgive me for going a bit off-topic, but I have a question. Is learning sign language really evidence of conceptualization on the part of an ape?  Or is it mere association of signs with subsequent actions? For instance, the ape learns that making the sign for "give" followed by "me" followed by "eat" results in a tasy treat.

But what is the evidence that the ape grasps that the words represented by the signs are concepts?

While I have heard of the monkey sign-language, I was skeptical about it. I view it as a more complex form of perceptual association directed by pleasure and pain. But going back to my original question, is this complex enough to be more than mere perceptual association, yet not complex enough to be conceptual.

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The reason that I used sign language as a basis for (some) conceptual capability is that, in one study (on chimpanzees, I believe) they showed that apes are actually capable of using grammar; they are not fooled by nonsense-sentences.

Some other anomalies: some parrots and certainly dolphins and orcas are also highly intelligent.

I think a test for conceptualizing would be that you could, say, teach an ape (or parrot or dolphin) the representational symbol for "truck" based on, perhaps, a toy truck, then introduce them to a real truck and see if they are capable of the measurement-omission; recognizing that this new thing is also a truck because it resembles the toy truck in an essential way.

I once had a discussion with my father about this topic, and he explained to me that the difference between apes and humans on a functional level was something he referred to as "meta-cognition", i.e. thinking about thinking. The evidence of this is that apes are not capable of what he called "multiple levels of deceit".

The experimental demonstration of this was giving a special treat (a banana, if you want to be specific) to a not-hungry non-dominant male in a group of apes that were being studied. If he attempted to hang onto the banana for later the dominant male would come and take it away, so usually he would attempt to hide it.

The first few tries usually resulted in the dominant male going and finding it, but the younger male clued into the fact that he had to wait until the dominant was looking somewhere else (i.e. the means the dominant was using to locate the banana) before he hid the banana. This is a the simple level of deceit: recognizing that someone else perceives and acting to circumvent it.

However, the younger male still lost his banana because he would keep looking at where it was hidden. In multiple tests the researchers never observed the apes grasping the second, more subtle level of deceit that would have been indicated by intentionally looking somewhere else.

I know I'm not explaining this very well; I'm not a psychologist and I'm relying entirely on memory, but I think that apes (and possibly dolphins, but probably not parrots) are capable of limited implicit conceptualization (i.e. recognizing some essential similarities) but they don't create explicit concepts represented by symbols the way humans can. In OPAR I think Dr. Peikoff even mentions that some animals may be capable of this halfway conceptualization, which is why man is not the "conceptual" animal but the "rational" one . . . animals may conceptualize but they don't reason.

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Perhaps these seemingly intelligent chimps are limited by an inability to form abstractions of other abstractions, i.e. restricted to "first-level" concepts.

Jennifer (or do you go by Jen?), what do you mean when you distinguish between the faculty of conceptualization and the faculty of reason. What is the dividing line?

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Perhaps these seemingly intelligent chimps are limited by an inability to form abstractions of other abstractions, i.e. restricted to "first-level" concepts.

Jennifer (or do you go by Jen?), what do you mean when you distinguish between the faculty of conceptualization and the faculty of reason.  What is the dividing line?

I don't care what you call me but from now on I'm calling you TangentMan. :)

No, seriously, I think I simply retain far too psychological a view of epistemology; most of what I had to say on the matter really isn't that important.

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Perhaps these seemingly intelligent chimps are limited by an inability to form abstractions of other abstractions, i.e. restricted to "first-level" concepts.

...

what do you mean when you distinguish between the faculty of conceptualization and the faculty of reason.  What is the dividing line?

I did some more digging and I think your first statement here is correct. My statement that sparked your second question was flawed; reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates sensory data; if there is a difference betwean reasoning and conceptualizing I am currently unable to split that hair.

Long-term exposure to my parents psychological studies has led me to think that there's no immense gap between humans and the next level down. Apparently that last one-tenth of one percent or whatever it is was a doozy.

I remember reading somewhere that we humans are actually making ourselves more intelligent as we go along, but I don't remember the particular research.

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I did some more digging and I think your first statement here is correct.  My statement that sparked your second question was flawed; reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates sensory data; if there is a difference betwean reasoning and conceptualizing I am currently unable to split that hair.

I'm glad you agree here, i.e. TangentMan prevails. Whenever I do go off on a tangent, there is usually a reason. And I try to get back to the main topic as quick as possible assuming that I am able to close the book on the tangential one. And aren't tangents conducive to integrating seemingly disparate ideas? It’s just a tangential thought I had in defense of my tangent mongering.

Long-term exposure to my parents psychological studies has led me to think that there's no immense gap between humans and the next level down.  Apparently that last one-tenth of one percent or whatever it is was a doozy.
I'm not sure what you are saying here? Is the statement that "there is no immense gap between humans and the next level down" your current opinion or one of the past of which you have now discarded for a more enlightened perspective.

Last one-tenth of one percent of what? Are you saying that one small jump from the pre-conceptual to conceptual level is "a doozy" in terms of the power it grants the wielder. I agree if this is what you are saying, but is it?

I remember reading somewhere that we humans are actually making ourselves more intelligent as we go along, but I don't remember the particular research.

It depends on what you mean by intelligent. Are you using 'intelligence' to refer to a capacity/potential that one is born with as opposed to the knowledge one acquires after birth? I tend to think of 'intelligence' as referring to the former, and 'ability' to the latter.

I think our concepts have advanced "as we go along", just as our technology has. But both phenomena are caused by ideas building off of other ideas (i.e. the hierarchical nature of concepts), and not by any increasing intelligence that later generations are born with. I have no proof that the latter is the case, and given the extent of my scientific knowledge on the matter it would be arbitrary for me to assert or accept such a claim. Feel free to provide any evidence if you think you have some.

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The reason that I used sign language as a basis for (some) conceptual capability is that, in one study (on chimpanzees, I believe) they showed that apes are actually capable of using grammar; they are not fooled by nonsense-sentences.

don't reason.

Now that this access problem is fixed, I can briefly weigh in on this topic; when you want to get into the details, I'll be happy to elaborate. No apes are capable of using grammar, nor is there any evidence that they can form concepts or, for that matter, use sign language. Even planaria can react to classes of stimuli that are "similar" to some degree, because they can distinguish one sensation from another (and a given sensation might be caused by a range of different but similar physical causes). This gives a superficial resemblance to "concepts", but superficial is the watchword.

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Now that this access problem is fixed, I can briefly weigh in on this topic; when you want to get into the details, I'll be happy to elaborate. No apes are capable of using grammar, nor is there any evidence that they can form concepts or, for that matter, use sign language. Even planaria can react to classes of stimuli that are "similar" to some degree, because they can distinguish one sensation from another (and a given sensation might be caused by a range of different but similar physical causes). This gives a superficial resemblance to "concepts", but superficial is the watchword.

Did you find a study you can link to? I haven't had time to do much searching, but I do have a good memory . . . details!

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Did you find a study you can link to?  I haven't had time to do much searching, but I do have a good memory . . . details!

The classical piece, at least that I know of, on this issue is the review article by Seidenberg & Petitto (1979: "Signing behavior in apes: A critical review", Cognition7, 177-215), and studies from Herb Terrace's lab. Laura Petitto has a number of papers on the topic. Her paper in Science with Terrace, Sanders & Bever is online, but I do recommend the Cognition paper because it isn't gussied up and trimmed back for the semi-popular sci press.

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