Our sense data and knowledge of ourselves and the world are at one remove from “things in themselves.” The apparent inextricability of perception and knowledge construction invite several nagging questions. Synthetic knowledge can be expressed in symbolic language as “knowing that.” Is “knowing that” analogous to “seeing as”?
How do proprio-reception, the feeling of embodiment and actual performance skills inform “knowing how”? Is “knowing how” disjoint with “knowing that”?
We are predisposed to find meaning and weigh the general significance of things.
We do not enter the world a blank slate. Our genetic endowment includes an array of emotions and a staggeringly complex brain already primed for sense perception, reason and imagination, language acquisition, plasticity of behavior and a lifetime of learning.
Andrew Brown (1996) Madonna and Child. Oil on canvas.
Andrew Brown (2004) Figure. Charcoal, ink, and oil pastel on paper.
Searching for points of interest and discovering patterns play a prominent role in the way we perceive the world. We derive general rules from particular instances. Is the construction of universals, stereotypes and models an inevitable consequence of this inductive thinking? What are the losses and gains when using stereotypes? Notwithstanding shrill political correctness, what must be kept in mind when resorting to stereotypes? Why must we generalize? Could we think or speak or reason at all without universals?
Intelligence and plasticity of thinking are evolutionary adaptations to unpredictable and shifting environments. Does the evolution of the brain to deliver flexibility and intelligence have a certain inevitability? Will tantalizing evidence for a general theory of cognition be obtained by improved brain imaging techniques?
To what extent are the defined principles of logic, including the law of identity, the law of excluded middle and the law of contradiction, literally the laws of thought? Are essentials of propositional logic such as “and,” “or ” and “not” also the stuff of stimulation threshold and inhibition of binary firing synapses in the brain? What other explanations are possible?
We are driven by a restless curiosity. We have an inborn need to categorize, determine the relative significance of things and generally make meaning out of our experiences . Much of thinking seems to involve the active generation and evaluation of virtual conjectures. We select those projections that, in a self-evident way, most correspond to a useful and coherent picture of the world.
We discern both the particular and the general. An innate proclivity for abstraction and universals is embedded inextricably in language and seemingly in the undersurface machinations of cognition. We bring virtual order out of real world disorder, by naming and describing the items that pique our interest.
Our simplifications, stereotypes and models of understanding are tentative and hypothetical. They are fictional guideposts. Their function is to explain aspects of the world. They should not be reified and somehow confused, or merged, with the real phenomena that they pretend to describe.