Notes on Active Knowledge and As-If-Constructions

When we are acting, some of our knowledge is active. We might think of this as comparable to the execution of a program. When we perceive, there is also active knowledge, processing the data that flows in from our senses. In thought, there is also active knowledge. Believing means to give control to some body of knowledge, to execute it. (See also https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/active-information/)

We construct things out of the raw sense data by the activity of chunks of knowledge. There is a world that exists independently of us, but we produce or project some world out of it by the activity of our active knowledge. (See also https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/generating-objects-towards-a-procedural-ontology/)

We can think of this perceived or projected reality as a set of as-if-constructions. Each as-if-construction is projected by a chunk of knowledge (part of which might be procedural) that is active. You enter an as-if-construction by activating that knowledge; you step out of it by deactivating the corresponding knowledge.

The term “knowledge” here is not used in the way it is used in traditional epistemology (as “justified true belief”) but instead meaning information that has become active, i.e. that influences the way other information is processed or the way you act. You may think of it as something analogous to a program. Knowledge is used information. Declarative, propositional knowledge is only a fraction of it, and by limiting its view to this subset of knowledge and the question of its truth, traditional epistemology has been limiting itself (one may view traditional epistemology as an as-if-construction: philosophers act as if all knowledge consisted of propositions which are built up from concepts, and all thinking processes consist of logical inferences; other forms of knowledge and of cognitive processes are masked).

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3 thoughts on “Notes on Active Knowledge and As-If-Constructions

  1. What do you think of Theories of thought like that of Jerry Fodor? If there is a language of thought then even this information processing you are talking about is conceptual and propositional. Thinking is then using propositions in the language of thought.

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    • Good question, I think I will address it in an article of its own. Something about this topic is already contained in several articles, which I have to collect together (I hope I will have time tomorrow to do so).
      In short, I don’t think that there is a fixed propositional “mentalese” language at the base of cognition. I think that the base is something procedural. Think of something that has the expressive power of a general purpose programming language. I think whatever you can do with a programming language can be done with neurons, they are a “language” that is totally plastic. In a programming language, you can implement any kind of declarative, propositional language. But it does not need to be fixed; it can be modified and changed. The procedural is the more basic thing.
      Think about the internet. There are all kinds of different formats (representation languages) for different kinds of information (text, hypertext, images, sounds, film, etc.). All of these formats are implemented in terms of programming languages, and you can invent new formats and implement a viewer or a program to manipulate them, using a programming language.
      The different programming languages are equivalent to each other because it is possible to implement an interpreter (a system that can execute programs written in a particular programming language) for one language using another, and vice versa. So whatever you can do with one general purpose programming language, you can do with the others.
      I think human cognition is programmable in the sense that information we process can be influenced by other information we have received before. As a result of this, the “laws of thinking” and also the languages or formats used in thinking can be modified. There is no general, unchangeable form of cognition. It may be different from one culture to the other, from one individual to the other and it might change during the lifetime of an individual. For example, if you learn how to do math, you might build up new kinds of mental representational languages or formats.

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      • I will add some comments:

        “In short, I don’t think that there is a fixed propositional “mentalese” language at the base of cognition.”

        Ok, forget about the nativism of Fodor. My professor for example holds that the language of thought (LOT) is just our commons mother tongue. So for me my language of thought is german. That means the LOT must not be innate. It can be learned when we learn how to speak.

        “I think that the base is something procedural. Think of something that has the expressive power of a general purpose programming language.”

        LOT is something procedural because in the end Fodor has some modules like the perception module that has inputs (sensory data) and outputs (percepts) and the LOT that is the structure which is necessary to think. All of this are in the end neuronal processes. And his argument for LOT being not your mother tongue but a all in itself different language is exactly that it should be usable for “general purposes” of thinking.

        “In a programming language, you can implement any kind of declarative, propositional language. But it does not need to be fixed; it can be modified and changed. The procedural is the more basic thing.”

        That is just the good old computational theory of mind, am I right? The brain is the hardware, the mind is the software. But of cause you have in every computer a basic level. The level of Bits. They can only have two states 0 and 1. Logic provides the rest. So you can translate every programming language in every other because you have this basic level. For Fodor this basic level is LOT implemented in the brain.

        Don’t get me wrong I see many problem with Fodors theory. But it is interesting to see what the differences between your approaches are. I think everyone that holds a computationale theory of mind must get to something a like Fodors approach.

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