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Post 40

Monday, August 28, 2006 - 11:35amSanction this postReply
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Robert,

Okay, I see what you're saying. You're saying that some Objectivists treat Rand's words as revealed truth, which by virtue of the fact that they come from her means they can't be wrong. Gotcha! Of course, they would never acknowledge such an attitude, because it is held subconsciously. You also write,
If percepts are error-free, what's going on when a duck mistakes a decoy for another duck? How did the duck perform its misidentification? According to Objectivist epistemology, the only cognitive resources available for identifying things must be either perceptual or conceptual--yet, according to Rand, the duck can't form any concepts.

Right here, I would argue, is sufficient reason to reject part of Rand's epistemology. There is no need to wait for future discoveries in psychology or neuroscience.
You say that, "according to Objectivist epistemology, the only cognitive resources available for identifying things must be either perceptual or conceptual." But remember that, for Rand, a percept, by itself, is not an identification; it is simply the awareness of something that exists. As such, it cannot be mistaken. Identification refers to the process of grasping a thing's identity -- of grasping what it is -- which does involve the possibility of error -- the possibility of mis-identifying it. But is identification necessarily conceptual? Not according to Rand, for she writes:
The (implicit) concept "existent" undergoes three stages of development in man's mind. The first stage is a child's awareness of objects, of things -- which represents the (implicit) concept "entity." The second and closely allied stage is the awareness of specific, particular things which he can recognize and distinguish from the rest of his perceptual field -- which represents the (implicit) concept "identity."

The third stage consists of grasping relationships among entities by grasping the similarities and differences of their identities. This requires the transformation of the (implicit) concept "entity" into the (implicit) concept "unit."

When a child observes that two objects (which he will later learn to designate as "tables") resemble each other, but are different from four other objects ("chairs"), his mind is focusing on a particular attribute of the objects (their shape), then isolating them according to their differences, and integrating them as units into separate groups according to their similarities.

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. (Intro. to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 6)
So, according to Rand, the lower animals are able to reach the second stage, representing the implicit concept "identity", in which they are aware of particular things that they can recognize and distinguish from the rest of their perceptual field. It is this process of (preconceptual) "identification" that is capable of error.

Kelley refers to this process as follows: 
Children learn to recognize an object, when it reappears after being hidden, long before they begin to acquire language. More important, there is preconceptual awareness of qualitative recurrence, in adults as well as children. H.H. Price illustrated the point with the shape of a blackberry bush. One can recognize the shape immediately, even though he has no concept for that particular shape, could not begin to describe it in words, and cannot think of it determinately in its absence." (The Evidence of the Senses, p. 219)
But the first stage of awareness, to which Rand refers, the one representing the implicit concept "entity", is incapable of error, because it is one in which the observer is simply aware of objects without having identified them. Since they have not been identified, they cannot be mis-identified.

Thus, for Objectivism, there is more to cognition than simply percepts and concepts. A percept, according to Rand, is simply "a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism." (ITOE, p. 5) It cannot be in error and does not involve identification, although identification requires perception. Similarly, identification does not require conceptual awareness, although conceptual awareness requires identification. Therefore, a child who has yet to reach the level of conceptual awareness -- the stage of regarding entities as units -- is still, according to Rand, operating on the "perceptual level," even though he or she is capable of preconceptual recognition or identification. A child at that stage of development, as well as a lower animal, can make mistakes in identification. Conceptualization is not required.

- Bill




Post 41

Monday, August 28, 2006 - 2:35pmSanction this postReply
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It, I believe was also what Adler called "perceptual abstractions" in his book, The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes.....



Post 42

Monday, August 28, 2006 - 6:11pmSanction this postReply
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Robert M,

While there is plenty of good stuff in Mortimer Adler's book (despite its undertow of doubt about human cognitive capabilities being products of evolution), Adler's epistemology isn't the same as Rand's. Will "perceptual astractions" fit Rand's framework?

Robert Campbell



Post 43

Monday, August 28, 2006 - 6:29pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

You need to be careful about appeals to implicit concepts.

When Rand says that human babies or children have implicit concepts, she fully expects those concepts to become explicit, during the normal course of human development.

How, then, can a duck have any implicit concepts? According to Rand, normal duck development will never lead to the acquisition of explicit concepts.

See the section on Implicit Concepts in the workshop excerpts that were added to the second edition of ITOE.

Rand says, for instance, on p. 159 that "The 'implicit' is that which is available to your consciousness but which you have not conceptualized." When the participants seem to be having trouble with the definition, she repeats it, with a slight alteration to "not yet conceptualized." (p. 161)

I discussed the problems posed by Rand's attempted definition in my 2002 article on Goals, Values, and the Implicit. See

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/goalsvalues.pdf

On Rand's view, the duck never will explicitly conceptualize anything. What, then, could it mean to say that judgments of identity or qualitative recurrence function as implicit concepts for the duck? In what way are they "available" to the duck's consciousness?

Robert Campbell



Post 44

Monday, August 28, 2006 - 11:40pmSanction this postReply
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Robert Campbell wrote,
Bill,

You need to be careful about appeals to implicit concepts.

When Rand says that human babies or children have implicit concepts, she fully expects those concepts to become explicit, during the normal course of human development.

How, then, can a duck have any implicit concepts? According to Rand, normal duck development will never lead to the acquisition of explicit concepts.
Obviously, Rand is speaking about human cognition in ITOE, but her theory can easily be adapted to explain animal cognition. In applying it to animals, one can simply omit the reference to implicit concepts: Viz., an animal's cognition develops in two stages: The first stage is the animal's awareness of objects, of things. The second and closely allied stage is the awareness of specific, particular things, which the animal can recognize and distinguish from the rest of its perceptual field. It is through this second stage of awareness that the animal can be mistaken --can mis-identify objects --like the duck's mistaking the decoy for a real duck.
On Rand's view, the duck never will explicitly conceptualize anything. What, then, could it mean to say that judgments of identity or qualitative recurrence function as implicit concepts for the duck? In what way are they "available" to the duck's consciousness?
There is no need to attribute implicit concepts to the duck, just because human beings have them. The important point of comparison between an animal and a human being in this context is not the possession of implicit concepts but the fact that both a human being and an animal can engage in a process of non-conceptual identification which can be mistaken -- that cognitive error does not require conceptual awareness.

- Bill



Post 45

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 8:11pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

In Rand's theory, wouldn't the duck's ability to discriminate between other ducks and fish, frogs, eagles, rocks, etc. etc. consist in forming percepts?

Notice in Chapter 1 of ITOE how Rand contrasts sensations and percepts:

A sensation is a sensation of *something,* as opposed to the *nothing* of the preceding and succeeding moments. A sensation does not tell man *what* exists, but only *that* it exists. (2nd edition, p. 6)

Robert Campbell







Post 46

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 - 12:09amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

In Rand's theory, wouldn't the duck's ability to discriminate between other ducks and fish, frogs, eagles, rocks, etc. etc. consist in forming percepts?
It wouldn't consist in forming percepts, although it would certainly depend on their formation. Before the duck can identify other ducks and distinguish them from fish, frogs, etc., it must first have a perceptual awareness of these animals, after which it can learn to recognize them and tell them apart.
Notice in Chapter 1 of ITOE how Rand contrasts sensations and percepts:

A sensation is a sensation of *something,* as opposed to the *nothing* of the preceding and succeeding moments. A sensation does not tell man *what* exists, but only *that* it exists. (2nd edition, p. 6)
She's not contrasting them in this particular statement. She's making a qualified comparison. She writes, "[The concept of an "existent"] is implicit in every percept (to perceive a thing is to perceive that it exists) and man grasps it implicitly on the perceptual level -- i.e., he grasps the constituents of the concept 'existent,' the data which are later to be integrated by that concept. It is this implicit knowledge that permits his consciousness to develop further."

She then adds the following qualification: "(It may be supposed that the concept 'existent' is implicit even on the level of sensations -- if and to the extent that a consciousness is able to discriminate on that level. (Emphasis added) A sensation is a sensation of something, as distinguished from the nothing of the preceding and succeeding moments. A sensation does not tell man what exists, but only that it exists.)" (p. 6) Of course, it's also true that, by itself, a percept does not tell man what exists but only that it exists. A further act of identification is needed in order for him to tell what it is.

The contrast between percepts and sensations occurs in the paragraphs preceding the above quoted statement: "When we speak of 'direct perception' or 'direct awareness,' we mean the perceptual level. Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident. The knowledge of sensations as components of percepts is not direct, it is acquired by man much later: it is a scientific, conceptual discovery." (p. 5)

- Bill





Post 47

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 - 8:48amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

You said of Rand's comments on percepts vs. sensations:

*****

She then adds the following qualification: "(It may be supposed that the concept 'existent' is implicit even on the level of sensations -- if and to the extent that a consciousness is able to discriminate on that level. (Emphasis added) A sensation is a sensation of something, as distinguished from the nothing of the preceding and succeeding moments. A sensation does not tell man what exists, but only that it exists.)" ([ITOE], p. 6) Of course, it's also true that, by itself, a percept does not tell man what exists but only that it exists. A further act of identification is needed in order for him to tell what it is.

*****

Wasn't it part of Rand's point that a percept tells us *what* exists?

*****

I still don't understand how Rand's epistemology permits a distinction between percepts (which cannot be in error) and *perceptual* identification (which can be).

Note the opening of David Kelley's Chapter 7, on "Perceptual Judgments":

"The realist theory of perception does not require that the judgment serve as a kind of epistemological glue, binding sensations together or putting us in touch with reality. We are *free to distinguish the judgment from the percept* and to consider the former on its own terms.

"The perceptual judgment is *the conceptual identification of what is perceived*." (p. 208, my emphasis)

Robert Campbell




Post 48

Saturday, September 2, 2006 - 1:10pmSanction this postReply
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I quoted Rand as follows --
(It may be supposed that the concept 'existent' is implicit even on the level of sensations -- if and to the extent that a consciousness is able to discriminate on that level. (Emphasis added) A sensation is a sensation of something, as distinguished from the nothing of the preceding and succeeding moments. A sensation does not tell man what exists, but only that it exists.)" ([ITOE], p. 6)
-- and added: "Of course, it's also true that, by itself, a percept does not tell man what exists but only that it exists. A further act of identification is needed in order for him to tell what it is."

Bob Campbell replied,
Wasn't it part of Rand's point that a percept tells us *what* exists?
Not qua percept. To grasp what something is, one must identify it; one must grasp its identity. But one can perceive that something is without grasping what it is - without recognizing or identifying it. A percept, by itself, is simply an automatic process of awareness; it is what you're given, what you start with; it is the foundation or base of your knowledge, which is why it cannot be mistaken.
I still don't understand how Rand's epistemology permits a distinction between percepts (which cannot be in error) and *perceptual* identification (which can be).

Note the opening of David Kelley's Chapter 7, on "Perceptual Judgments":

"The realist theory of perception does not require that the judgment serve as a kind of epistemological glue, binding sensations together or putting us in touch with reality. We are *free to distinguish the judgment from the percept* and to consider the former on its own terms.

"The perceptual judgment is *the conceptual identification of what is perceived*." (p. 208, my emphasis)
Right, but observe that by "perceptual judgment," Kelley is referring to conceptual awareness -- which Rand refers to as the third stage, the ability to regard entities as units. Kelley distinguishes this kind of identification from the perceptual kind. Recall the passage I quoted (in Post 40), which appears later in the same chapter:
Children learn to recognize an object, when it reappears after being hidden, long before they begin to acquire language. More important, there is preconceptual awareness of qualitative recurrence, in adults as well as children. H.H. Price illustrated the point with the shape of a blackberry bush. One can recognize the shape immediately, even though he has no concept for that particular shape, could not begin to describe it in words, and cannot think of it determinately in its absence." (Kelley, The Evidence of the Senses, p. 219)
Again, this is Rand's second-stage process in which one is aware of specific, particular things that one can recognize and distinguish from the rest of one's perceptual field and which represents the implicit concept "identity."

What Kelley refers to as "perceptual judgment" is conceptual or propositional in nature and is distinguished from the type of recognition that Rand refers to as representing the implicit concept "identity." Kelley apparently reserves the term "identification" for conceptual cognition, whereas I've been using the term in reference to preconceptual recognition. But it doesn't really matter what term one uses. The important point here is that the capacity for preconceptual recognition or identification entails the capacity for cognitive error, which exists both in animals and in preconceptual children.

- Bill



Post 49

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 11:41amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Here's another passage that seems relevant.

It comes from ITOE, Appendix to the 2nd edition:

"Prof. E: In the case of extrospective knowledge, we are fallible, we can make errors. But we know that we can, in principle, arrive at the correct answer to any question given two facts: the use of a rational method combined with certain incontestable data on which we base all of our reasoning--the direct evidence of the senses, about which we can't be wrong, as apart from errors in conceptualizing or reasoning about it."

"AR: Right." (p. 228)

It may matter in this context that Professor E is Leonard Peikoff.

Dr. Peikoff may be skipping the "identity" stage for simplicity here. But what he says in the workshop transcript is very similar to what he was saying in his lectures during the 1970s.

Robert Campbell



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Post 50

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 3:57pmSanction this postReply
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Bob,

Yeah, interesting. Apart from Rand's discussion of the identity stage and similar observations by Kelley, we don't see anything about non-conceptual error in the Objectivist literature. Years ago, I had a disagreement with George Smith about the possibility of error in animals. He was denying that they could be in error, because they couldn't conceptualize. Even when I brought up the example of the duck and decoy, he still wouldn't grant that the duck was truly mistaken.

I was watching a Wild Kingdom segment on TV yesterday in which an isolated male baboon was seeking to join a troupe of baboons for protection. He watched from afar, calculating his best move, before approaching the group. His strategy, apparently, was to attach himself to a single female baboon with a young infant whose mate had abandoned her. She needed him for protection and he needed her for acceptance into the group. His plan worked, because after they bonded, he was accepted by the troupe and sanctioned by the alpha male, the king. Here one could say that the outsider made "the right" decision in his strategy to gain acceptance.

But he later got into a conflict with the king and in order to protect himself, grabbed the infant away from the mother, on the apparent assumption that the king wouldn't attack him with the infant in his arms. The mother screamed bloody murder out of fear for the safety of her child, and the commentator noted that the outsider's decision to grab the infant for protection was a big mistake -- an error in judgment -- because the king wouldn't tolerate such behavior. The commentator was right, for once the interloper laid down the infant, the king attacked him with a vengeance and inflicted a serious wound.

So the baboon made the right decision in how he approached the group for acceptance, but a mistaken one in grabbing the infant for protection against the alpha male.

Animals make mistakes, just like human beings, but the mistakes aren't conceptual, as Objectivism understands the process of concept formation, which is the ability to regard entities as units -- as separate members of a group of two or more similar members.

- Bill

P.S. I see mistakes as inevitable, not something that one can theoretically avoid, if only one is careful enough. The fact that neither man nor animal is infallible means that he lacks the ability to ensure against error under all circumstances. He can certainly minimize it; he can certainly avoid it to some extent, but even with the greatest diligence, he cannot guarantee that he will never make a mistake -- that he will never discover he is in error -- because he is not omniscient. That doesn't mean that he can never claim certainty, however, because "certainty" is simply another name for knowledge, and unless there is evidence that your ideas are flawed or dubious, you have every right to claim them as true -- as constituting knowledge. Indeed, the recognition that they are mistaken is itself a claim to knowledge. If you can't claim knowledge, then you can't claim that you're mistaken. Knowledge is what you begin with as well as what you arrive at whenever you correct your mistakes.
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/03, 4:28pm)




Post 51

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 7:43amSanction this postReply
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Bill: "Animals make mistakes, just like human beings, but the mistakes aren't conceptual, as Objectivism understands the process of concept formation, which is the ability to regard entities as units -- as separate members of a group of two or more similar members."

Bingo. Saying that the duck has made a "mistake" in the same way that a human makes conceptual errors is seriously misguided. Like all lower animals, a duck's actions are necessarily governed by instinct, not logic. The fact that a duck will follow a person around in the absence of a mother duck hardly proves a contradiction in Objectivism. All it proves is that certain species have certain biological needs that must be met, and they instinctually accept a substitute in the absence of the real thing.



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Post 52

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 8:03amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

I appreciate your postscript about the inevitability of error.

This is an issue that too many Objecivist writings dance around, instead of facing squarely.

Robert Campbell



Post 53

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 8:10pmSanction this postReply
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Gentlemen,

There are 4 kinds of perceptual powers of awareness in life forms:

1) sense-perception
2) memory
3) imagination
4) crude (read: non-logical) association

... all wielded by lower animals. The hardest "power of perceptual awareness" to characterize (and understand) is the crude association. It is this very association that led Pavlov's dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. And it is also this very association that admits of "perceptual" error.

When ducks "fall for" decoys, they are using crude association -- ie. they are not mis-perceiving, in the sense-perception sense of #1 above. They are associating very similar perceptions (fake ducks) with previous perceptions (of real ducks).

Piekoff got some mileage off of this when he mentioned the professor-who-wasn't (ie. the imposter impersonating your professor). A crude association does not require unit-formation (like concepts do) -- and it is this very dynamic that Rand took pains to explain when explaining the anti-conceptual mentality.

She said that, for the immediate moment, the "anti-conceptuals" could mean what they say -- but, she added that, for them, out-of-sight meant out-of-mind (ie. deep issues could be agreed upon in discussion, but would be forgotten as soon as attention was diverted).

What she meant was that associations can be made -- on the fly, per se -- but that all associations ought, eventually, to be checked for contradictions. This is the reason that ducks can, repeatedly, be wrong (about decoys). They don't double-check their associations for contradictions.

But man does -- hence the "difference of man."

Ed



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Post 54

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 9:03amSanction this postReply
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This is an issue that too many Objecivist writings dance around, instead of facing squarely.
They could square dance with it.




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Post 55

Wednesday, September 6, 2006 - 12:27pmSanction this postReply
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Chris,

LOLOLOL... That was quick.

I have seen a lot of slam dancing, myself.

Michael




Post 56

Wednesday, September 6, 2006 - 10:55pmSanction this postReply
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Ed, what is recognition in your scheme of four powers?




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Post 57

Thursday, September 7, 2006 - 12:37pmSanction this postReply
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Hi, Ted. This is Ed Thompson. (I am being channeled by my best girl, Erica.)
I take it that you mean recognition as in "something remembered." In this respect, recognition falls squarely under memory. If, by recognition, you mean the recognition mentioned by J.J. Gibson, as in "seeing a solid, flat surface and recognizing that it is 'walk-on-able' ", then perhaps the answer is of evolutionary origin, as natural selection would have provided for expectations that lead to survival in reality.


Hi, Ted. This is Erica Schulz. I am not actually channeling Ed...because that would be MYSTICAL and WRONG!   :-)
He is not near a computer right now, but I am, so I am merely dictating his words as he tells them to me.




Post 58

Thursday, September 7, 2006 - 12:51pmSanction this postReply
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I'm Ed Thompson and I approve of this message.

;-)

p.s. Thanks for doing that, Erica. You're the goods, Babe.

Ed
[got to a computer before I thought I could]




Post 59

Thursday, September 7, 2006 - 1:01pmSanction this postReply
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Ed 'n' Erica,

By recognition I meant two phenomena, an animal's recognition of a known entity, like a dog to his master, and second, recognition as in, "that's a skunk, better stay away." I think both involve what would be a perceptual judgement, although not as such in verbal form. The second case might be vague-association per your terms. But I prefer to use that term for the thinking processes of humans who give up trying to conceptualized at around the second grade, and who resort to rote memorization. Vague association as applied to animals seems to be smuggling in a moral implication, as if the vagueness were due to a lack of focus.

My impression of the higher animals is that they do form implicit 1st (and, especially in the case of that famous grey parrot) 2nd level concepts. Because they do not have words, they cannot tag the pre-concepts, but there seems little reason to deny that some animals do reach this level. Has anyone read about the recent discovery that Dolphins develop unique identificatory calls that purportedly serve as "names?" I do not belive that dolphins have been shown to address other dolphins by the addressee's call, I believe it has only been shown that they each use their own self-identifying call when seeking another's attention.

And Erica, if you actually were channeling Ed it wood not be mystical or wrong, it would be an astonishing fact. O'ism is supposed to describe reality, not prescribe it.

Ted
(Edited by Ted Keer
on 9/07, 1:03pm)




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