Living is a philosophical endeavor

Living is a philosophical endeavor

All of our acts and thoughts are based upon philosophical assumptions. Metaphysics is a fancy word for our concern about ‘what is real’. For example, whenever we think or speak about responsibility we are assuming causality. Without causality there is no responsibility. The nature and status of the self is another speculation, and an important one, in most decisions we make daily.

We rely on our unconscious to furnish the building blocks for comprehension of reality. If we examine the cognitive sciences and the human sciences we see a constant emphasis about the unconscious. It is through our conceptual systems, which are unconscious, that we make sense of our every day existence and our everyday metaphysics exists within our conceptual system.

It appears to me that cognitive science has two paradigms; symbolic manipulation, which is also called AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the second paradigm, is called ‘conceptual metaphor’.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) research began shortly after WWII. Alan Turing was one of the important figures who decided that their efforts would not be focused on building machines but in programming computers.

The new potential paradigm for cognitive science has given us evolution-based realism. This is also called embodied-realism because it has abandoned the mind/body dichotomy that characterizes other forms of realism and is convinced that natural selection is the process by which the human species has developed.

Cognitive science studies our conceptual systems. Cognitive science has, since the 1970s, amassed a great deal of empirical evidence to conclude that most of our conceptual activities fly below our conscious radar. Our unconscious, which contains our stealth conceptual system, has been ignored by our Western philosophical tradition, thereby leading us astray in matters of great importance.

The ‘cognitive’ in cognitive science is used “for any kind of mental operation or structure that can be studied in precise terms. Most of these structures and operations have been found to be unconscious.” Visual and auditory processing–memory and attention–all aspects of thought and language–mental imagery–emotions and conceptual aspects of motor operations–and neural modeling of cognitive operation; all of these are part of the science known as cognitive science.

“Most of what we [the new paradigm cognitive science] will be calling cognitive unconscious is thus for many philosophers not considered cognitive at all.” Cognitive for many philosophers’ means that which has truth-conditional meaning, “that is, meaning defined not internally in the mind or body, but by reference to things in the external world.”

This branch of cognitive science, “because our conceptual systems and our reason arise from our bodies, will also use the term cognitive for aspects of our sensorimotor system that contribute to our abilities to conceptualize and to reason. Since cognitive operations are largely unconscious, the term cognitive unconscious accurately describes all unconscious mental operations concerned with conceptual systems, meaning, inference, and language.”

The ‘bible’ for embodied-realism is “Philosophy in the Flesh” by Lakoff and Johnson. The paradigm of this cognitive science is ‘conceptual metaphor’. The fundamental findings from which all principles flow are:
• The mind is inherently embodied.
• Thought is mostly unconscious.
• Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.

Let us imagine how human reason might have been born. The question seeking an answer is: how can natural selection (evolution) account for human reason?

Somewhere back in time we must encounter the signs of reason within the capacity of our ancestors. What is the essence of reason? The necessary and sufficient conditions for reason are conceptual and inference ability. To conceptualize is to create neural structures that can be used to facilitate making if-then inferences.

Imagine an early water dwelling creature, which must survive utilizing only the ability to move in space and to discriminate light and shadow. The sense of a shadow can indicate a friend or foe and can indicate eat or not eat. Assume that this sensibility has a total range of two feet, i.e. a shadow within a radius of two feet of the creature can be detected.

A shadow comes within sensible range, the creature can ‘decide’ by the size of the shadow whether the shadow is friend or foe and as a possible lunch. If the shadow is large the creature must ‘run’ if it is small the creature might ‘decide’ to pursue.

It seems obvious to me this simple creature must have the ability to reason in order to survive. This creature must be capable of ascertaining friend/foe and eat/not eat. It must also determine how to move based upon that conceptual structure. It must be able to make inferences from these concepts, these neural structures of what is sensed, to survive. This creature must have the capacity to perceive, conceive, infer, and move correctly in space in order to survive.

Continuing my imaginary journey; I have a friend who is the project engineer on a program to design robots. I ask this friend if it is possible for the computer model of a robot in action can perform the essential operations required for reasoning. She says, “I think so, but I will ask my robot simulation to do the things that are considered to be reasoning”.

She performs this operation and tells me that it is within the capacity of the robot movement system to also do reasoning. I conclude that if the sensorimotor control system of a creature also has the ability to reason, then biology would not recreate such a capacity and thus this sensorimotor capacity is also a reasoning capacity that evolves into our human capacity to reason.

Does this imaginary journey compel you to shout with joy at discovering the source of human reason?

Much to think about here, Chuck.
My take on evolutionary psychology is a combination of scientific and philosophic paradigms.
First, I would agree with those who suggest that rational thought occurs in the prefrontal cortex. Rational thought cannot be separated from either emotion or more simpler motor activities. In its capacity as executive co-ordinator of motor, emotional and rational data, the brain operates on feedback information from genes, nerves and senses. The prefrontal cortex provides the space or rest between urge and response in which optional responses can be considered. This has been proved by the inability of persons who have been lobotomized to consider rational response options.

The senses include those that could be called proximal (taste and touch), those that are further extended and have been used for communication at a distance (smell) and those that are distal (sight and sound). Since the distal senses appear to provide more informational feedback than a brain can process, the brain condenses or compresses their information into symbols, from which the info. can be retrieved as the physics of retention (memory) allows. Empirical science began with extensions of the distal senses (microscope, telescope, photograph, phonograph).

Turing could not have imagined most of what neuroscience suggests; yet his test is still the best we have for giving a distinction between mechanical informational systems and neuronal informational systems. AI cannot duplicate an evolutionary history of organic informational processing. Neither can it combine motor, emotional and rational information in problem solving. How we think must include what we were, what we are now, and what we hope (project) to become. This is metaphysics being lived (experienced).


Cognitive science has developed empirical evidence to indicate that the ability to reason lay within the neurological systems that control our sensorimotor control system. We humans have evolved a sophisticated rational ability from the more rudimentary rational ability that rests with the neural system that makes perception and motion possible for all creatures that have the ability to move in space and to perceive.

It appears to me that CS has two paradigms, symbol manipulation (AI), and conceptual metaphor. When I speak of CS here I am speaking of the conceptual metaphor paradigm.

Cognitive science has radically attacked the traditional Western philosophical position that there is a dichotomy between perception and conception. This traditional view that perception is strictly a faculty of body and conception (the formation and use of concepts) is purely mental and wholly separate from and independent of our ability to perceive and move.

Cognitive science has introduced revolutionary theories that, if true, will change dramatically the views of Western philosophy. Advocates of the traditional view will, of course, “say that conceptual structure must have a neural realization in the brain, which just happens to reside in a body. But they deny that anything about the body is essential for characterizing what concepts are.”

The cognitive science claim is that ”the very properties of concepts are created as a result of the way the brain and body are structured and the way they function in interpersonal relations and in the physical world.”

The embodied-mind hypothesis therefore radically undercuts the perception/conception distinction. In an embodied mind, it is conceivable that the same neural system engaged in perception (or in bodily movements) plays a central role in conception. Indeed, in recent neural modeling research, models of perceptual mechanisms and motor schemas can actually do conception work in language learning and in reasoning.

A standard technique for checking out new ideas is to create computer models of the idea and subject that model to simulated conditions to determine if the model behaves as does the reality. Such modeling techniques are used constantly in projecting behavior of meteorological parameters.

Neural computer models have shown that the types of operations required to perceive and move in space require the very same type of capability associated with reasoning. That is, neural models capable of doing all of the things that a body must be able to do when perceiving and moving can also perform the same kinds of actions associated with reasoning, i.e. inferring, categorizing, and conceiving.

Our understanding of biology indicates that the body has a marvelous ability to do as any handyman does, i.e. make do with what is at hand. The body would, it seems logical to assume, take these abilities that exist in all creatures that move and survive in space and with such fundamental capabilities reshape it through evolution to become what we now know as our ability to reason. The first budding of the reasoning ability exists in all creatures that function as perceiving, moving, surviving, creatures.

Cognitive science has, it seems to me, connected our ability to reason with our bodies in such away as to make sense out of connecting reason with our biological evolution in ways that Western philosophy has not done, as far as I know.

It seems to me that Western philosophical tradition as always tried to separate mind from body and in so doing has never been able to show how mind, as was conceived by this tradition, could be part of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Cognitive science now provides us with a comprehensible model for grounding all that we are both bodily and mentally into a unified whole that makes sense without all of the attempts to make mind as some kind of transcendent, mystical, reality unassociated with biology.

Quotes from “Philosophy in the Flesh”

There is nothing here I can disagree with. Integrating science and philosophy must begin with denying Cartesian dualism. (Ryle does it well.). But, still, there are philosophers such as Hillary Putnam who believe science can say nothing pertinent about philosophy. There are probably scientists also who believe philosophy is literary or abstract nonsense. And, too, there is a lingering idea that phsychology is a pseudoscience (lamented by Carl jung in his last writings). It’s refreshing to see material such as you present here that debunks some of that mischief.