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Unread May 29th, 2006, 01:01 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 174
Default intellect and architecture

Hi Margaret,

I missed Bill Calvin, but saw Bill Gates. I think Calvin would have been more interesting for me, but my business depends more on Gates. The closest I got to Calvin was the University book store, unfortunately.

Food note: The Seattle area has wonderful seafood which often goes into inexpensive sushi, but from the several places I visited it seemed to suffer somewhat from differences in the rice mixture compared to what I'm used to in the East.


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setting aside any differences we may have over the meaning of core . . .
In saying that the limbic system is not the core of the brain, I mean:

a. architecturally -- it depends upon phylogenetically earlier and functionally more primitive or more atomic functions, hence

b. chronologically and

c. functionally

In the same sense that neural function depends on more "core" cellular ionic chemistry, cognitive function and limbic function both depend on more "core" neurology. If Paul Maclean's triune model is at least roughly accurate as an "architecture," and I think it is as good a starting place as any, then primate neurology depends to a great degree on an earlier mammalian neurology, which in turn depends to a great degree on what is going on in much earlier animal adaptations. Especially since it seems that so many of the good tricks exploited by very early animals are still being exploited by more current ones.

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Am I wrong in my understanding that the limbic system is where decision choices are made in all mammals (except perhaps in humans if you and JB are right)?
I guess I am finding it hard to think of "limbic system" as a coherent system for influencing behavior, it seems more like a layer of loosely related brain regions that served to differentiate early mammals from their predecessors. Mammals live a different kind of lifestyle than reptiles, and seem to have exploited a number of new tricks, but a lot of their behavior still depends on the same kind of tricks exploited by their predecessors.

My only disagreement with your idea is where I think it seems to imply that mammalian brain structures somehow took over the job from everything that came before, and I don't see that being likely. Similarly, taking it a step further, I don't see the expanded frontal cortex taking over decision making in primates, just adding new tricks suited to a further distinguished lifestyle.

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Doesn't your assertion imply that evolution would have somehow had to come up with a significantly different decision mechanism for humans alone among mammals?
Like most people, I'm very interested in what humans might do differently than other animals (and each other). Aside from more elaborate planning and sequencing at various time scales, and speciallizations like syntax that are possibly built on fine sequencing ability, and enhanced primate speciallizations like visual imagination, I'm not sure what else really distinguishes humans completely from close primates "architecturally." Our social behavior is similar to but far more elaborate than close primate relatives, and it seems likely that some of this is "architectural" as well, and that the human moral sense is unique in some ways as a result.

Those sequencing, syntactic, imaginative, and social reasoning capacities seem fairly subtle individually but together I imagine they can play an immense role in some domains of behavior, such as making an entire new layer of representation possible in creating things externally that reflect our imagination.

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Note that I have stated that the final nexus of decision choice for any behavior could even be located in the brain stem region since reptiles also make behavior choices and I suspect that early mammals added to that basic mechanism (by adding more refined emotional inputs) rather than replaced it.
Yes, that's where I suspect we are in agreement.

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Evolution seems to work gradually. Features are added or trimmed from existing physiology - but I've never seen an example of a complete replacement of function from one organ to another - especially for such a basic need as decision choice.
Ok.

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But if that happened, how do humans make behavior choices before their cognition first starts to become active - after mylenation of their neo-cortical nuerons occurs. Infants cry, smile, look at things, etc. Simlarly, how do humans who suffer from cognitive impairment or old age dementia still manage to make competent behavior decisions like eating and sleeping, to survive?
I guess I think of cognition as something that happens in layers from the ground up. I don't see it suddenly appearing at any point. A single cell does computation and engages in goal-directed behavior because, I suspect, feedback processes are fairly fundamental in nature right down into basic physics and chemistry.

Organisms with their own goal-oriented behavior exploit the behavior of individual cells and networks of cells acting on their own goals and their own simple rules. At a higher layer, the complex patterns that arise from massive numbers of simple rules at lower layers can be used to good effect. Actually. I don't think I thought much about this until I met Jim Brody, who pulled a lot of it together for me, but now it just seems to fit for me.

Given that framework of successive evolutionary exploitation of emergent behavior, I think the rest is details and testing particular hypotheses.

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I ask these questions because they seem (to me) to so obviously lead to the conclusion that intellect is an evolutionary add-on to our basic decision mechanism and not a replacement - that it is basically the same mechanism that we share with all other mammals, just with an additonal data input path (intellect).
I think I pretty much agree with this, given a fairly loose definitions of intellect. If I were to try to pick it apart to distinguish it from my own perspective, I would say that I don't think of intellect as a discrete functional module, I think of it as a concept we define for the purpose of telling people apart in terms of their problem solving ability in domains that are important to us, and behaviors that cross those domains. I don't think intellect is located anywhere, it is a quality we intuit and look for correlations and tests to better understand, but not something that appeared at some distinct point in evolutionary history. If we separate intellect into natural domains for reasoning, I think I begin to agree with you even more.

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It seems reasonable to me that we would subconsciously create an emotional tag for our intellectual conclusions then, to be weighed in our decision computation along with our other emotional input channels - thereby preserving that basic mammalian mechanism.
That's essentially what the hypothesis of "hot cognition" says, and closely related to the concept of "online processing" from social cognitive theory. One interpretation for example is that we put affective tags on internal representations, and then when we try to decide how we feel about something, we activate the internal representations, including their affective tags, which are then integrated into a summary impression which we use to make decisions. This becomes our "gut feeling" about the situation.

The thing that social cognitive theory emphasizes is that the activation and summary impression are automatic processes that happen before we realize we are making a decision, so they guide our reasoning in a particular way even to create our initial impression. A lot of the experimental work goes into showing different aspects of this, such as what rules we seem to apply and how they are affected by different factors in the situation.

So in effect, we seem, according to social cognitive theory, start out with a conclusion, whereas we feel as if we are starting out from a blank or neutral position. The place where we might then use "intellect" in the way we like to think of that capacity, is to reassess our initial summary impression.

This view is why cognitive psychologists tend to share the normative goal of something like "active open-mindedness" where we distrust our initial impression and instead try to actively reasses important decisions. This sometimes leads to an emphasis on formal procedures for decision making.

An opposing view is that the summary impression is better than our formal procedures. This is where the two views are at odds according to their different ways of thinking about the same "dual process" model of cognition.

It approaches being a legitimate dilemma because there are good reasons to distrust the summary impression in many situations, and other situations where it outperforms even our best formal procedures.

Most of what we think of as intellect seems to be our ability to apply formal procedures well and systematically, but I think of intellect as something practical that we measure by outcome rather than what particular skills or talents we are using.

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Smart people therefore, are not only good at reasoning, they have learned (developed a belief) that their intellectual conclusions are likely to improve their well-being and therefore they characteristically (and unconsciously) give those logically tested conclusions greater appropriate emotional weight than other sources in their mind.
I don't find this idea 'unpalatable' so much as seeming less than useful, it appears to be a sweeping claim about the relationship of smartness and belief with no weight placed on things like the accumulation of knowledge, the significance of understanding, or differences in different kinds of reasoning or different domains of reasoning.

There's a huge literature on learning, competence, and expertise that emphasizes the domain-specificity of practical smartness along with a lesser significance for general procedures. For example, in most complex subjects, the specific way we represent the information makes a big difference in how well we can solve problems in that domain.

kind regards,

Todd
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