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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, August 30, 2013


I'll have to put off further analysis of modern critics for now, but want to touch on Chapter 12 of Kauffman's book, in which Kauffman engages with the concepts of cognitive science.

Given Kauffman's opposition to reductionist paradigms, it's a given that he opposes the paradigm of cognitive science, though not without admitting that it has had some successes in the experimental realm.  In my few meditations on the paradigm, I've also admitted that cognitive science-- the science that investigates the human brain on the model of a "problem-solving computer"-- has had some limited applicability.  In LURKERS ON THE THRESHOLDS I said:

Ideological critics, by their nature, must depend on the narrow reductionism of Marxist aesthetics or of so-called "cognitive science." These tools are not without proper use within the total sphere of literary criticism, but they are useful only in limited sociohistorical circumstances, and are useless for understanding what Jung called the constructive or amplificative abilities of the human mind.

My distrust for cognitive science comes down to a simple philosophical disagreement rather than from an experimental stance.  To me, though there may be limited insights that may be gained from the brain-as-computer model, one cannot get around the fact that the brain is not a computer.  Any attempt to treat this paradigm as reality rather than as a limited model are based in the ideology surrounding materialism/positivism.

As one might expect, Kauffman's objections to cognitive science are more technically complex than this.  Again, I must admit that I do not have the expertise to accept or reject Kauffman's arguments, but I'll record some of them here for future comparison.

According to Kauffman, there are two "strands" of cognitive theory that have developed since Alan Turing's invention of the "Turing machine" in 1936.  One strand involves "attempts to understand symbol processing by the human mind" in terms of algorithms, while the second-- distantly derived from the 19th-century movement "associationism"-- is called "connectionism" and deals with the idea the "trajectories of states that flow through one another in sequence"-- that is, the progression of information along the body's neural paths-- are governed by "basins of attraction and attractors."  Kauffman then asserts that while both of these hypotheses are vital to cognitive science, they do not mesh:

The symbol-processing first strand... does not readily carry out the pattern recognition... that is natural to the connectionist view.  Conversely, the connectionist picture of basins of attraction and attractors has a difficult time accomodating the symbolc processing properties of the first computational strand.
It's possible that these competing paradigms are, as the saying goes, just different parts of the same elephant, whose entirety is difficult to descry through the dark glasses of reductionism.  In any case Kauffman's main purpose is to defend the complexity of the human mind, less in the terms of Jung-- whom I invoke above-- than of Wittgenstein. 

The end of this chapter looks forward to a new schema meant to incorporate quantum theory, as opposed to a schema based in the reductionist physics of Galileo and Company:

But must conscious mind be classical [i.e., "related only to classical physics"], rather than quantum or a mixture of classical and quantum?

When I finish the book, it may be interesting to mount a comparison between Kauffman's two models, "classical" and "quantum," and Kant's two species of imagination, "productive" and "reproductive." We-- or maybe just I-- shall see.

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