The New Foundation of Knowledge

by Daniel Alroy

 

Being conscious is the central fact of human experience. Yet, it is not presently known what consciousness is and what it does. For example, Physicalism, the currently dominant theory of knowledge takes the position that the non-conscious brain can do anything that the conscious brain can do. Artificial intelligence (AI) takes a similar view, that the digital computer can do anything that the conscious brain can do. In short, consciousness is deemed to be evolutionary fluke.

This book shows that the innateness of mental faculties is an empirical fact and establishes the reality and centrality of consciousness. Physics is considered to be the most basic science. However, how we get to know the physical world is a more basic question.

Until recently, the central issue was this: are sensations innate, or they imported from the senses into the brain? We now know that sensations are innate. They are not imported into the brain from the senses or from the outside world through the senses.

Consider sound. Recently, children born deaf have been made to experience sensations of sound by the electrical stimulation of hearing-related brain areas. This fact proves that the sensation of sound is innate and that it is not a property of air vibration.

Present-day neuroscience takes all sensations to be innate. Thus, the direct electrical stimulation of vision-related brain areas in children born blind would elicit sensations of light. I expect such experiments to take place within five years.

It would prove that the sensation of light is innate, private, and not a property of electromagnetic radiation. For the last 300 years, theories of knowledge are based on the directly opposite assumption that no sensation is innate.

It is now necessary to bring the foundation of knowledge up to date.

The book is now available on Amazon.

 

 

Innate Conscious States – Milestones in Discovery

1.

Galileo Galilei. Galileo was one of the first scientists to distinguish between the physical and non-physical sensations by which they are observed, writing: “…Hence I think that tastes, odors, colors and so on are no more than names so far as the objects in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in consciousness.” Letter to the illustrious and very reverend Don Virginio Cesarini. 1623/1957.

2.

Rene Descartes. Descartes spent some eight years dissecting brains in Leiden, the Netherlands. He observed no qualitative difference in what is transmitted from one type of sensory receptor to the brain compared to that of any other type of sensory receptor. Since our experience is qualitatively rich and input to the brain cannot be the source of this qualitative richness, Descartes concluded that sensations are innate and are evoked by the brain (1664/1955). His further conclusion -“I think, therefore I am” - reflects recognition that the innateness of sensation implies that the first-person perspective is necessarily epistemologically prior the third-person perspective.

3.

Secondary qualities. John Locke called sensory modalities of exteroception “secondary qualities” (1689). He did not call them “primary qualities” because he postulated that they are not a part of the object that they seem to be present. For Locke, sweet is not part of sugar. Sugar is a chemical that induces sweetness through the tongue, but not a characteristic of the sugar itself. Present day science agrees with Locke that sensory modalities of exteroception are not part of the physical object, but reject Locke’s contention that the sensation originates in sensory modalities before being imported into the brain.

4.

Isaac Newton. Newton’s development of calculus followed his close study of Descartes’ analytic geometry. The quotation below from Newton’s Opticks (1704) suggests that he was also acquainted with Descartes’ philosophical writings: “And if at any time I speak of Light and Rays as coloured or endued with Colours, I would be understood to speak not philosophically and properly, but grossly, and according to such Conceptions as vulgar People in seeing all these Experiments would be apt to frame. For the Rays, to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a Sensation of this or that Colour. For as Sound in a Bell or musical String, or other sounding Body, is nothing but a trembling Motion, and in the Air nothing but motion propagated from the Object, and in the Sensorium ‘tis a Sense of that Motion under the Form of Sound; so Colours in the Object are nothing but a Disposition to reflect this or that sort of Rays more copiously than the Rest; in the Rays are nothing but the Dispositions to propagate this or that Motion into the Sensorium, and in the Sensorium they are Sensations of those Motions under the Form of Colours.”

5.

Charles Darwin. Heritability is one of the three basic tenets of Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859). In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) Darwin extended the notion of heritability in humans from physical attributes to behavioral and mental capacities. Darwin’s theory did not elucidate the mechanism of evolution.

6.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. In 1809 Lamarck proposed that acquired characteristics are heritable. We now know that heritability is not confined to DNA but extends to DNA-regulating molecules. This makes it possible to inherit some acquired characteristics.

7.

Gregor J. Mendel. Mendel (1865) discovered that inheritance is based on discrete rather than mixable units, which later were called genes.

8.

James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell’s study of colors led him to conclude that “colour is a mental science” (1872), suggesting that Maxwell believed that this remains true for white light.

9.

Language. The discovery of cortical areas specialized for speech production (Broca 1861) and comprehension (Wernicke 1874) established the existence of these innate and universal complex cognitive mechanisms. It implies the existence of a universal language mechanism that is involved in learning any historical language. Noam Chomsky in his book Syntactic Structures (1955) was the first to make this fact explicit. Steven Pinker further elaborated that thesis in his book The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Languages (2010) describing language as an innate “hard-wired” capacity.

10.

Roger Sperry. In Neurology and the Mind Body Problem (1952) Sperry observed that the input from the senses is qualitatively homogenous. He therefore concluded that the qualitative aspect is the stimulated target in the brain. The direct stimulation (e.g. electrical) of a modality-specific cortical area of a conscious and awake person would evoke a sensation of that sensory modality: visual sensation by stimulating the visual cortex, sensation of sound by stimulating the auditory cortex, and sensation of taste by stimulating the gustatory cortex. Put differently, the Sperry thesis implies that sensations are not received from the sense or from the external world through the senses.

11.

Erwin Schrödinger. In Mind and Matter (1958) Schrödinger states “The sensation of colour cannot be accounted for by the physicist’s objective picture of light waves.”

12.

DNA, the heritable information molecule. The discovery of the structure of DNA (Watson & Crick 1953) proved it to be the biologicalinformation molecule, which is involved in replication and the transmission of biological information between generations.

13.

Carl G. Jung. “It is almost absurd prejudice to suppose that existence can be only physical. As a matter of fact, the only form of existence of which we have immediate knowledge is psychic (i.e. in the mind). We might as well say, on the contrary, that physical existence is a mere inference, since we know of matter only in so far as we perceive psychic images mediated by the senses” (1975).

14.

Evolutionary psychology. In The Adaptive Mind Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (Barkow et al. 1992) proposed that capacities such as language and the judgment of attractiveness in potential mates are the result of natural selection, which adapts innate capacities to challenges of survival and which can be further molded by experience.

15.

Innateness and the philosophic community. Colin McGinn’s recent book Inborn Knowledge – the Mystery Within (2015) may be the first book by a known philosopher that defends nativism - the view that innateness of human mental faculties is a fact, and it ought to replace the tabula rasa assumption. It is a significant milestone.

Quote of the Week

Kurt Gödel

The a priori is greatly neglected. [1] 

The a priori is very powerful. [2]

[1] In Rudy Rucker’s Infinity and the mind. 1982. P. 181.

[2] In Rudy Rucker’s The lifebox, the seashell, and the soul. 2005. p.8.

 

© 2016 Daniel Alroy