Seeking the Source of Reason

Seeking the Source of Reason

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?

what is essential for reason to exist? consciousness, memory, awareness of a varied set of actions, imagination, language…

why do you…? because…

fill in the particulars. now, wheter or not your reasoning can be considered valid is something learned through experiance.

what makes me think that gravity will accelerate my progress towards the ground when i jump out of a plane? experiance.

i see that a rock , when thrown into the air, eventually approaches the ground. a rock has weight, i have weight, so i should behave in a similar way when travelling through the air.

now, what is the source of consciousness, memory, imagination, language?

a bit of hume, what makes us believe that objects which have similar charectoristics will react in similar ways to similar stimuli?

Reasoning requires the ability to conceptualize and the ability to infer. It appears to me that any creature that moves in space must have the neural structure necessary to conceptualize and infer in order to survive, i.e. such creatures have the capacity to reason. It is this capacity that is the source of the human capacity to reason.

Just as a fish fin does not resemble the human hand but is in fact the source of the human hand, so too is the reasoning ability of the creature I depict the source of human reason.

All living creatures categorize. All creatures, as a minimum, separate eat from no eat and friend from foe. As neural creatures tadpole and wo/man categorize. There are trillions of synaptic connections taking place in the least sophisticated of creatures and this multiple synapses must be organized in some way to facilitate passage through a small number of interconnections and thus categorization takes place. Great numbers of different synapses take place in an experience and these are subsumed in some fashion to provide the category eat or foe perhaps.

Our categories are what we consider to be real in the world: tree, rock, animal…Our concepts are what we use to structure our reasoning about these categories. Concepts are neural structures that are the fundamental means by which we reason about categories.

Humans and I suspect all creatures navigate in space through spatial-relations concepts. These concepts are the essence of our ability to function in space. These are not concepts that we can sense but they are the forms and inference patterns for our movement in space that we utilize unconsciously. We automatically ‘perceive’ an entity as being on, in front of, behind, etc. another entity.

The container schema is a fundamental spatial-relations concept that allows us to draw important inferences. This natural container format is the source for our logical inferences that are so obvious to us when we view Venn diagrams. If container A is in container B and B is in container C, then A is in C.

A container schema is a gestalt figure with an interior, an exterior, and a boundary—the parts make sense only as part of the whole. Container schemas are cross-modal—“we can impose a conceptual container schema on a visual scene…on something we hear, as when we conceptually separate out one part of a piece of music from another.”

“Image schemas have a special cognitive function: They are both perceptual and conceptual in nature. As such, they provide a bridge between language and reasoning on the one hand and vision on the other.”

Quotes from “Philosophy in the Flesh” and “Where Mathematics Comes From” Lakoff is coauthor of both.

From an evolutionary POV, plant and animal sensitivites evolved as far as they could in oder to produce viable (capable of adaptation) organisms. Those organisms with brains soon had the advantage over those without brains. Brains also evolved; and with them the symbolisms found in the minds they produced. Cut out my prefrontal cortex (a late evolutionary development among mammals), and I won’t be rational anymore.
Paul MacLean’s theory of a truine brain (See Sagan’s “The Dragons of Eden”.) is that a primitive reptillian brain was our first brain. To this brain were added the mammalian brain and the cortexial enlargements. MacLean thinks that, if you lie down on the psychiatrists couch, you could get ideas from any or all of the three brains. His theory finds correspondence in the Genesis creation story of snake, Eve, and Adam, which was reiterated by Freud’s trinity of the psyche.
Not many in science or philosophy seem to agree with the evolution of consciousness as dependent on the evolution of brains. One person whose ideas did agree (Julian Jaynes in “The Breakdown of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind”. is still considered weird by mainline philosophers. In a 1990 article in “Science” a neuroscientist blasts MacLean for dredging up Haekel’s theory of recapitulationism.
As for an intelligent robot, I don’t see that happening anytime soon because of the problem of holographic information in living organisms. It has been argued that a thermostadt is conscious because it reacts to environmental stimuli. No cell in the soma of the machine is referential., i.e., provides vital information as to what the machine is and needs to do. The thermostadt has no concept of what it is. Neither does my computer. I can bash in my computer with a hammer and it would never ask, “Why?”

Consider this fantasy. A preverbial cave man stubs his toe on a rock and screams “Ouch!” When a second cave man approches the rock, the first tries to warn him with “Ouch”. But the second person has no idea of what that sound means until he has stubbed his toe on the rock. Once the two agree on the meaning of the sound, communication is underway and reason is its byproduct.

And thus is born the first word.

I just noticed that in my fantasy the first cave man was reasoning by his attempt to warn the second before he could get agreement, which may indicate that reason is prior to communication. What do you think? I also believe writing came from pictorial descriptions of animals on cave walls (30,000 BCE) and from observing animal tracks in mud or clay. Cunieform (5,000 BCE) really does resemble bird tracks. In any event, in drawing and writing there are only two geometric forms, the line and the arc (partial circle). These forms correspond with the DNA activities of individuation (straight line) and protective enclosure (circle), which have become symbols in myths and religions.

Indeed, and as they sat together and rubbed their big toes they wondered why. That was the first “why?” Sometime later one of their ancestors experienced a psychological distress and asked the last “why?”, and we humans have been trying to ease the distress with language ever since.

Right on!!!

Whining over a hurt toe ? The source of reason ? Come on…

From an evolutionary perspective, I guess it is standard to assume that the ability to perform multiple and more complex cerebral activities developed as a capacity to cope better with the conditions of living. Being relatively physically handicapped, compared to, say, most other animals, the Homo Toolus called upon its wit to augment the efforts of food providing. Thus began the odyssey of semi-opposable thumbs in pursuit of the perfect sharp edge.

I reckon the first “why” jumped the band-wagon a lot later.

To ask “why ?” is to question about what produced a certain effect. This requires a well groomed habit of causality, the silent certainty that things are connected through invisible forces that act between them – a lesson that does not teach itself. This occurred probably much after man had mastered the handy-craft of tool making, through analogy. Your great-grandfather figured that most likely, he is not the sole agent around toying with the materials at hand. You can exercise a dog in running off scared when you pull out your sling-shot, but you can’t make it wonder when it watches lightning strike a tree. By doing stuff yourself, you start thinking about who or what does the other stuff. Maybe you could learn something.

I suspect reasoning came before communication. I think that the ability to conceive and infer was necessary for survival.

I always enjoy reading your posts, but this one seems sketchy to me, no offense sir.

First, one of the greatest parts of the human scenario you describe, is a function of mirror neurons. Still a great deal is unknown about them, and the entirety of the scope of their use in the brain, or if they are an earlier/latter development with hominids.

Secondly, the robot example, is greatly deficient, as with the programmer of it’s instruction set, having pre-formed knowledge of the requirements, and discovery, along with self-awareness with respect to environment, are functions not available to a robot.

The very nature of what I am trying to do is going to be sketchy. I suspect the first time biology was looking for the fore runner for the human hand that the attempts were sketchy. There was no thumb present in early creatures that would signal this is the begining.

I think that it is important to keep in mind what I am trying to find. I am trying to find that cusp where instinct begins to give way to reason. This is a necessary search for those who accept Darwin’s theory. Somewhere in the past we need to locate the point that must be there as long as we believe Darwin is correct.

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.

Lakoff says that the neural modeling proved that the ability to infer and to conceptualize was inherent in the sensorimotor neural system and that a logical conclusion is that biology would not duplicate such an ability when it already existed.


Categorization, the first level of abstraction from “Reality” is our first level of conceptualization and thus of knowing. Seeing is a process that includes categorization, we see something as an interaction between the seer and what is seen. “Seeing typically involves categorization.”

Our categories are what we consider to be real in the world: tree, rock, animal…Our concepts are what we use to structure our reasoning about these categories. Concepts are neural structures that are the fundamental means by which we reason about categories.

Quotes and ideas from “Philosophy in the Flesh” by Lakoff and Johnson


As far as computer models, again, I find issues with them, because although they can accurately depict motor function, the programs are biased because of the programmer.

Again, I say discovery is unique to instance, and the modelling I have seen does not seem to take this into account. The prejudice of formed knowledge does not seem to be accounted for in models, it seems to be overlooked, in my opinion.

Conceptualization and categorisation are directly linked to the activity of the mirror neurons. They give us our coordinates in space and motion, and “remember” previous activities with high accuracy to inform us of placement and correction, with respect to previous instance.

Basically, it would come down to creating a model that learned, of it’s own volition, not because of unannounced prejudices and preconceptions of the programmer … which I am not entirely certain is possible in actual function.

Reason for humans began with radical cortexial development in the human brain. (Estimated at 40 million years ago). The fantasy I gave earlier is only about what might be the consequences of such development. It is no more silly than the thermostadt conciousness theory (See Chalmers’ online works on consciousness) or Nagel’s stupid “What It’s Like to Be a Bat”, which was brilliantly refuted in Wilson’s’ “Consilience” and in Rorty’s essays.
Cognitive science is on the right track in describing the physical underpinnings of our mental symbolizations. (See Cosimides {sp.} and Tooby). Also, mechanical intelligence is not self-referent. There is much to be discussed here. I agree with Coberst that “sketchy” does not imply vague supposition; it implies a vast arena for creative thought.

I completely disagree with that statement Irrellus.

Although there may be a useful outcome, this is all vageries. No one has even the remotest idea when the development started, and “40 million years ago” … well it may give a warm fuzzy to put a number on it, but there is zero certifiable proof that the number holds any accuracy.

It is best to remain objective about the fact that it is all suppositionary, and not make a leap from vague to certainty. Not only fallacious and non-empirical, it becomes an act of faith.

References–Putnam, McGinn, Carruthers, Fodor, Searle, Nagel, Chalmers,
Pinker, Dennett, Humphrey, Wilson, Dawkins, Piaget, Jaynes, Popper, Watson, Crick, Chomsky, Cosimedes and Tooby, Dewey, Nietzsche, Wittsgenstein, etc., etc., etc.
I seldom espouse unresearched opinion. Please counter my arguments with the same consideration.

Exactly my point, bolding by me. Asserted assumption based upon the asserted assumption of another.

There are no absolutes, ergo, certainty, especially in instances such as this, is a vagery, at best.

Empiricism is based upon eliminating variables with a cerfiable control, to give the most certain outcome attainable. Variables with “time” are far too numerous for certainty, let alone for a controlled instance of variable selection.

Whether you espouse these opinions or not, it is less valuable to assert opinion as fact, as opposed to correctly applying the assertion as possibility or plausibility.

Whoever accepts no authority but himself must be solipsistic, narcissistic or nihilistic.
While I agree that there is no absolute, I cannot agree that agreement between persons is invalid or that there are no authorities, by virtue of extensive research, who give opinions that cannot affect one’s own. Since we have minds, opinions may be all we have to use in our search for meaning and value. In that case its better for them to be corroberated. To deny all contemporary philosophical ideas in order to maintain one’s own opinion smacks of sheer stupidity.

You completely misunderstand in your attempt denegrate.

“All facts are just opinions that have been adopted by an authority on whose opinion we rely.”

This gentleman, in a most innocuous manner, taught me something that I can likely never replace. Thank you yopele, if you haven’t been properly thanked.

Stupidity is the inability to use reason. My reasoning isn’t my own in this case, it belongs to two individuals, who were responsible for teaching me about empiricism - both dual PhD.'s.