Thursday, August 20, 2009

View of the World

After reading Temple Grandin's book Animal Translation (I think that's the name of it) I hypothesized that infants would be likely to perceive the world in the way that non-human animals do instead of as how adult humans do. Turns out that there's actually evidence in support of this. Take-away point: I was right :-)

Gopnik compares adult's capacity to 'pay attention' (a concept that is, actually, fraught with complication since paying attention is something that we do without thinking about it but when we do think about it we tend to think it's something it's not - but I digress) to a spotlight. When we pay attention to something, everything that we are not paying attention to fades away so that we can listen to someone in a noisy room and focus in only on what they are saying (which I think is evidence of a really amazing ability). Babies' attention she compares to a lantern - that is, babies don't discern and focus on one thing but are taking everything in. This makes evolutionary good sense, Gopnik says and I agree, because babies don't know what info is important and what isn't so taking in everything increases the chances of capturing that which is needed later. But, as evidenced by infants constant sleeping, doing this is amazingly taxing and ultimately takes up so much time that we'd all be reduced to infant dependence if we didn't move from this to learning what we need to be paying attention to and what we don't.

Gopnik makes the point that babies are more aware/conscious than the rest of us (she notes that we don't quite know what consciousness is but if we say that anaesthesia is what dampens it, then infants have more consciousness because it takes more anaesthesia to put an infant out for surgery). The connection to Grandin is that Grandin (who has autism) argues that animals perceive the world more in particulars - that is, taking in details more than taking in the general picture. [she also makes the interesting hypothesis that there's a continuum of how animals perceive the world with more or less particulars as compared to general pictures and that folks with autism are on the continuum between adult non-autistic humans and other mammals]. So, infants are seeing more particulars than we are. Gopnik notes a study in which infants notice very small alterations in images that non-infants don't.

Overall, this stuff continues to be cool. Gopnik's on-going hypothesis is that by better understanding infants brains/minds we can better understand ours -- this is a standard neuroscience approach: better understanding of the person with the major anomaly (say, reporting an inability to see but still having the ability to walk without bumping into things, picking things up, reporting accurately what's in front of them) helps us to better understand how the majority of us without the anomaly function.

A concept that Gopnik floats is the idea that 'consciousness' isn't one thing to be understood, but, instead, that there are many things that we do with our 'mind' each of which has a separate explanation. Much in the same way that we don't understand the body as much as we understand the different components of the body and then how all of these work together. An interesting idea that I'm guessing has traction in the neuro- world and will gain traction in philosophy.

Okay, need to finish this book so I can move on to Raz. BUT I also have been thinking about Royce and his Philosophy of Loyalty and really want to get to that too. Discipline. Must read Raz first for this next article.

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