1.5: Cognitive Science- Pre-paradigmatic
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In the short story The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges (1962) envisioned the universe as the Library, an infinite set of hexagonal rooms linked together by a spiral staircase. Each room held exactly the same number of books, each book being exactly 410 pages long, all printed in an identical format. The librarians hypothesize that the Library holds all possible books, that is, all possible arrangements of a finite set of orthographic symbols. They believe that “the Library is total and that its shelves register . . . all that is given to express, in all languages” (p. 54).
Borges’ librarians spend their lives sorting through mostly unintelligible volumes, seeking those books that explain “humanity’s basic mysteries” (Borges, 1962, p. 55). Central to this search is the faith that there exists a language in which to express these answers. “It is verisimilar that these grave mysteries could be explained in words: if the language of philosophers is not sufficient, the multiform Library will have produced the unprecedented language required, with its vocabularies and grammars” (p. 55).
The fictional quest of Borges’ librarians mirrors an actual search for ancient texts. Scholasticism was dedicated to reviving ancient wisdom. It was spawned in the tenth century when Greek texts preserved and translated by Islamic scholars made their way to Europe and led to the creation of European universities. It reached its peak in the thirteenth century with Albertus Magnus’ and Thomas Aquinas’ works on Aristotelian philosophy. A second wave of scholasticism in the fifteenth century was fuelled by new discoveries of ancient texts (Debus, 1978). “The search for new classical texts was intense in the fifteenth century, and each new discovery was hailed as a major achievement” (Debus, 1978, p. 4). These discoveries included Ptolemy’s Geography and the only copy of Lucretius’ De rerum natura, which later revived interest in atomism.
Borges’ (1962) emphasis on language is also mirrored in the scholastic search for the wisdom of the ancients. The continued discovery of ancient texts led to the Greek revival in the fifteenth century (Debus, 1978), which enabled this treasure trove of texts to be translated into Latin. In the development of modern science, Borges’ “unprecedented language” was first Greek and then Latin.
The departure from Latin as the language of science was a turbulent development during the scientific revolution. Paracelsus was attacked by the medical establishment for presenting medical lectures in his native Swiss German in 1527 (Debus, 1978). Galileo published his 1612 Discourse on Bodies in Water in Italian, an act that enraged his fellow philosophers of the Florentine Academy (Sobel, 1999). For a long period, scholars who wrote in their vernacular tongue had to preface their writings with apologies and explanations of why this did not represent a challenge to the universities of the day (Debus, 1978).
Galileo wrote in Italian because “I must have everyone able to read it” (Sobel, 1999, p. 47). However, from some perspectives, writing in the vernacular actually produced a communication breakdown, because Galileo was not disseminating knowledge in the scholarly lingua franca, Latin. Galileo’s writings were examined as part of his trial. It was concluded that “he writes in Italian, certainly not to extend the hand to foreigners or other learned men” (Sobel, 1999, p. 256).
A different sort of communication breakdown is a common theme in modern philosophy of science. It has been argued that some scientific theories are incommensurable with others (Feyerabend, 1975; Kuhn, 1970). Incommensurable scientific theories are theories that are impossible to compare because there is no logical or meaningful relation between some or all of the theories’ terms. Kuhn argued that this situation would occur if, within a science, different researchers operated under different paradigms. “Within the new paradigm, old terms, concepts, and experiments fall into new relationships one with the other. The inevitable result is what we must call, though the term is not quite right, a misunderstanding between the two schools” (Kuhn, 1970, p. 149). Kuhn saw holders of different paradigms as being members of different language communities—even if they wrote in the same vernacular tongue! Differences in paradigms caused communication breakdowns.
The modern fragmentation of cognitive science might be an example of communication breakdowns produced by the existence of incommensurable theories. For instance, it is not uncommon to see connectionist cognitive science described as a Kuhnian paradigm shift away from classical cognitive science (Horgan & Tienson, 1996; Schneider, 1987). When embodied cognitive science is discussed in Chapter 5, we see that it too might be described as a new paradigm.
To view the fragmentation of cognitive science as resulting from competing, incommensurable paradigms is also to assume that cognitive science is paradigmatic. Given that cognitive science as a discipline is less than sixty years old (Boden, 2006; Gardner, 1984; Miller, 2003), it is not impossible that it is actually pre-paradigmatic. Indeed, one discipline to which cognitive science is frequently compared—experimental psychology—may also be pre-paradigmatic (Buss, 1978; Leahey, 1992).
Pre-paradigmatic sciences exist in a state of disarray and fragmentation because data are collected and interpreted in the absence of a unifying body of belief. “In the early stages of the development of any science different men confronting the same range of phenomena, but not usually all the same particular phenomena, describe and interpret them in different ways” (Kuhn, 1970, p. 17). My suspicion is that cognitive science has achieved some general agreement about the kinds of phenomena that it believes it should be explaining. However, it is pre-paradigmatic with respect to the kinds of technical details that it believes are necessary to provide the desired explanations.
In an earlier book, I argued that the assumption that cognition is information processing provided a framework for a “language” of cognitive science that made interdisciplinary conversations possible (Dawson, 1998). I demonstrated that when this framework was applied, there were more similarities than differences between classical and connectionist cognitive science. The source of these similarities was the fact that both classical and connectionist cognitive science adopted the information processing hypothesis. As a result, both schools of thought can be examined and compared using Marr’s (1982) different levels of analysis. It can be shown that classical and connectionist cognitive sciences are highly related at the computational and algorithmic levels of analysis (Dawson, 1998, 2009).
In my view, the differences between classical and cognitive science concern the nature of the architecture, the primitive set of abilities or processes that are available for information processing (Dawson, 2009). The notion of an architecture is detailed in Chapter 2. One of the themes of the current book is that debates between different schools of thought in cognitive science are pre-paradigmatic discussions about the possible nature of the cognitive architecture.
These debates are enlivened by the modern rise of embodied cognitive science. One reason that classical and connectionist cognitive science can be easily compared is that both are representational (Clark, 1997; Dawson, 1998, 2004). However, some schools of thought in embodied cognitive science are explicitly anti-representational (Brooks, 1999; Chemero, 2009; Noë, 2004). As a result, it is not clear that the information processing hypothesis is applicable to embodied cognitive science. One of the goals of the current book is to examine embodied cognitive science from an information processing perspective, in order to use some of its key departures from both classical and connectionist cognitive science to inform the debate about the architecture.
The search for truth in the Library of Babel had dire consequences. Its librarians “disputed in the narrow corridors, proffered dark curses, strangled each other on the divine stairways, flung the deceptive books into the air shafts, met their death cast down in a similar fashion by the inhabitants of remote regions. Others went mad” (Borges, 1962, p. 55). The optimistic view of the current book is that a careful examination of the three different schools of cognitive science can provide a fruitful, unifying position on the nature of the cognitive architecture.