The Nature of Thought

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by esp, Jan 9, 2002.

  1. esp Registered Senior Member

    What, exactly , is thought?

    Is real thought limited to the conscious goings on in the brain, or does it extend to semi-automatic processes like driving, or walking a well known route?

    When you look at a picture for example, do you actually look at it and think what you're seeing, or do you just see it?

    Do real thoughts appear inside our minds in the format of words or pictures or something else?
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  3. caonight Registered Member

    Well I can only reply in the best way I know how, to think about typing something in real time

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    , anyhoo. I guess with the options you gave I would prefer to think *gasp* yes think, that whatever you are doing is you thinking. I believe that everything you see is your own reality created from your perspective or your consious thought. Hence everything revolving around this.
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  5. esp Registered Senior Member

    Yeah, but if you're, say, smoking a cigarette, do you actually think about what you're doing?
    Doesn't your mind just send out the orders without actually thinking about it?

    Like now, I'm thinking about the words that I'm writing, but I'm not even considering what keys to hit on my keyboard.
    When you sign your name on a cheque, do you think about every stroke of the pen, or do you just think 'I'm gonna sign my name'?
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  7. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    (Continues from the “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals...” thread as we were going off topic.)

    SeekerOfTruth wrote:
    “remembering a list of names or numbers was to associate the names or numbers with a common path you actually traversed often”

    Yep, the “Method of Loci” used by the ancient Greeks.

    In addition to the “chaining” methods I’ve practiced other techniques mentioned in cognitive psychology texts. Let’s see…I’ll remember “Jose” because he has a nose like a hose. Better not accidentally call him hose nose. Another technique for recalling numbers is to relate them to number of significance. A runner (faster than Imahamaster) might remember 358 as a great time for the mile. I practiced several techniques by memorizing the main ideas of the text I was reading. Worked at the time. Little remains. Sigh. I still use your number chunking technique.

    “Another thing about visualization. In one of the martial arts I was studying I was taught that I could 'watch' myself thinking by attempting to clear my mind for meditation and then just acknowledge the thoughts that came into my head without analyzing them. You can actively 'watch' yourself think in this way while meditating. You can eventually get to a point where you can 'stand outside yourself' and 'watch' thoughts float through your mind as if you are outside the process.”

    Hmmm…watching one’s self think. Imahamster pretty much analyzes and dissects every tidbit. Watch without analyzing? Not easy for this hamster. Closest I come is while reading a fiction book.

    I do have “self” monitors that track my major thread of thought. They aren’t particularly quiet or polite, interrupt with “But what about..” or “You don’t REALLY mean that…”. My head is a noisy place. Maybe too noisy for martial arts.
  8. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    Well there are two possible ways of responding to your question:

    1. How does one define the word thought? Is it only conscious brain phenomena or unconscious as well?
    From the stand point of defining it I say only consious. I would never say I thought my heart to beat ...

    2. Scientifically How do brain processes work?
    From this stand point I would say both are part of thought, as even your conscious thoughts have lower level components which are more automatic, but they shape your thoughts and are certainly part of them. What I find interesting is that thought is really a physcial process. It's all chemical reactions and physics. Crazy. So even conscious thought and shifts in awareness are dictated by complex chemical reactions.

    Just to throw something else out there ... pain is just a thought. How can an idea hurt. Red is just a thought. Why does it look red. How do encodings of ideas in our brain take on the significance that they do in our mental constructions of the world in our conscious mind??
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2002
  9. Yang´s_Matrix Registered Senior Member

    Begin with a function of arbitary complexity. Feed it values, "sense data". Then take your result, square it, and feed it back into your original function, adding a new set of sense data. Continue to feed your results back into the original function ad infinitum. What do you have? The fundamental principle of human consciousness.

    --Academician Prokhor Zakharov
    "The Feedback Principle"

    From Sid Meier´s Alpha Centauri
  10. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    Yogi’s have demonstrated that they can control their heartbeat and skin temperature through thought. Admittedly I doubt they do this by thinking, “slow down heart”. But then, as Esp pointed out, that is not how we control our muscles. Seems more like magic, wish and it happens. (Or, in the case of Yogi’s, wish in a special way and the heart responds.)

    Is there a clear separation between conscious and unconscious thought? Or does one overlap the other. If I’m ignoring most of a conversation and then hear a word that grabs my attention, can I recall the sentence in which the word was spoken? There are intriguing discoveries from split brain experiments concerning awareness. A person writing answers with the hand while the mouth claimed not to know the answers.

    Scilosopher, another view is that thoughts cause neurons to fire and synapses to grow. By the mental act of memorization I change the physical arrangement of my brain. (Telekinesis?) Hmmm…your reading my words is altering your brain. So my thoughts are causing physical changes in your brain. (Please don’t sue me.) Mind/brain duality.

    People ignore some pain by distraction or by maintaining deliberate focus away from the pain. Some sexual practices seem to be based on pain being perceived as pleasure while a person is in an aroused state. Wonder if that perception reversal happens at the nerve endings or within the brain?

    Yang, Imahamster has wandered many an Alpha Centauri world.

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  11. scilosopher Registered Senior Member

    But thoughts are nerves firing. So nerves firing cause other nerves to fire...

    I don't buy a mind/brain duality. Thought can supposedly be measured as nueronal (and possibly glial) activity. It's seems that thought and experience change the brain's physical patterning. It's more likely that a bunch of people trying to make subtle points and using lot's of other subtle arguments in abstract language may convince themselves of things that aren't quite right than that our physical brain is in any way reasonably separated from the thoughts we experience.They are two sides of the same coin ... one in the same. (which you seem to think two, because your saying my physcial mind will be changed by my thoughts after reading your words.)

    Biology may seem like magic and it is amazing, but believe me it's pretty mechanistic, just very complicated.

    Also even if conscious and unconscious thought can be separated in some cases they clearly interact at some levels, especially developmentally you learn to do things consciously at first and then the act is made more subconscious. Like learning how to throw a baseball. I don't think we should necessarily separate them so I change my answer - I'm thinking myself to breathe all the time (heart beat was a bad example ... I think that's actually just pacemaker cells).

    Yang ... I can't quite buy that procedure consciousness is a whole lot more tempermental than that. I wouldn't be surprised if there are maps (or iterative mathematical procedures), that contain many of the same qualities as consciousness, but if the procedure is X2 = X1 all you get is a repeated square with some added noise. The procedures are going to have to be a lot more specific than that.
  12. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    Imahamster sees “mind” as an emergent property of an actively functioning brain. Thinking, learning, listening, seeing, etc. are functions associated with “mind”. The brain is the biological substrate of “mind”. The two are tightly coupled. (Not likely a mind will slip its anchor and become a wandering hamster ghost.) A mind “thought” is a non-linear variable frequency electrical pattern on the brain neural net. Permanent memories are stored “holographicly” in various brain regions. (StryderUnknown described memory storage pretty well with pictures. Just don’t take the word holographic too literally. Overlaying a new memory causes synaptic changes among neuron regions.) Likely there are separate regions for visual memories, auditory memories, etc. That is the mind/brain duality as seen by Imahamster. Admittedly the hamster usage of “mind/brain duality” may be uncommon in the human world.

    (Imahamster puts on his preacher cap.)

    Imahamster shares Scilosopher’s concern that the real science of mind and brain not be lost in mysticism and pseudo-science. Imahamster doesn’t open his mind so far that his brain falls out on the floor. (At least it hasn’t yet.)

    Many intelligent and knowledgeable people believe that human minds or souls or something do exist independent of the brain. However once one detaches the mind from the brain the door is open for the most “novel” beliefs. Care is needed. Being open to new creative ideas keeps science fertile. Forcing ideas to pass rigorous scrutiny keeps science true. Good seeds may come from the most unlikely sources. Bad seeds may come from trusted “authorities”. Taste and chew before swallowing any seeds.

    Imahamster values diverse opinions and derives amusement from some of the more extreme theories. Figuring out just how a fringe theory is flawed can be better exercise than running on a wheel. This hamster likes seeing dogma, whether religious or political or scientific, challenged.

    (Imahamster tosses cap away.)

    The essence of mind seems to be pattern. If a pattern could be copied and overlaid onto and run upon a different substrate my hamster gut says the mind has been transferred. As this is beyond human technology such speculation may be silly. Besides who cares what noises a rodent’s gut makes?
  13. esp Registered Senior Member

    What we need to be careful about in this thread is to ensure that we differentiate between automatic and autonomic thought processes.

    The automatic process of, say, eating, can occure with very little or no actual intervention from the active or top level of the mind.
    It would be silly to say that this is an autonomic function, because you make a conscious decision to start eating.
    The process of cutting your food, handling your cutlery and flatwear, chewing, tasting and swallowing is handled outside the medulla, within the cerebellum itself.
    Once we have swallowed, however, the process of peristalsis and control of the bolus is handled by the area of the brain that controls heart and liver function, ie, within the autonomic centre, the medulla.
    Still, at almost any part of the autonomic phase of the process, the cerebellum can take over again at will.
    To prevent choking for example.

    It's similar to the autonomic process of breathing. We don't think 'inhale... exhale', but at any time we can override the medulla and control our breathing by thought. By slowing your breathing, the body is forced to relax, so the medulla slows the heart to match.
  14. SeekerOfTruth Unemployed, but Looking Registered Senior Member


    Maybe hamsters don't need martial arts

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    Your thought about noise is exactly the reason I was taught to try not to analyze the thoughts. This is very 'Martial Artsie' to coin a phrase, but when facing an opponent in combat, you do not want to be spending time analyzing your thoughts. You want to react without thinking. This takes a great deal of training and practice and speaks somewhat to the points made by you, scilosopher, and esp. You begin your training by consciously thinking about the moves/techniques/actions you take in response to a given attack. At first, you actively have to think. 'move my leg here...raise my arm in this manner...' After a great deal of practice, you get to the point that you can react to a given scenario without having to think.. 'move my leg this way' but instead recognize what technique is applicable in a given situation and use it. However, this is only a plateau. The culmination of martial arts is not having to think about what you are doing at all. To have your mind be a still pool upon which the opponents attack just vanishes into like a stone into a pond. Your actions have become almost autonomic and you can defend yourself without conscious thought.

    Speaking to autonomic processes, things like your heartbeat and breathing are typical of these kinds of processes within your body. Both, however are potentially under your conscious control. In this example, your breathing is the easier of the two to control. You can right now force yourself to breath faster or slower, but if you stop thinking about it, your autonomic control resumes without your conscious thought. In a similar manner, with bio-feedback training, it has been proven that you can consciously control your heartbeat. With the proper training you can speed up or slow down your own heartbeat consciously.

    So, we now get to the idea of trying to define conscious thought. I think that conscious thought and unconscious thought are just layers of what we call consciousness that are filtering the scensory imput our brain is receiving. The conscious thought process is the dominant one while we are operating, but the unconsciuos thought process has access to all of the same data and is driving the conscious process in directions it sees fit. Use an analogy of a ship at sea. The seaman driving the ship can change the course of the ship to avoid obstacles he sees and generally controls the ship when one views a very short timeline of the ships movement. However, the navigator is the one who has laid the course of the ship and provides input to the seaman as to course corrections that are needed. Finally, the captain of the ship is the one who actually determines the destination point of the ship and has the potential to override either the seaman or the navigator. View each of these individuals as different layers in the mind. Maybe the seaman is our conscious thought process, handling the day to day activities, the navigator is the next layer down and could be considered the unconscious thought process, finally, the captain could be considered to be the ultimate unconscious control that defines where we want to go in life.

    In support of the idea that our unconscious has access to the exact same information as our conscious, I have recently read two different articles on research into the subconscious though process. In both, the researchers either asked the subject to watch or listen to a specific information source. In one case, the subject was asked to watch a courser move across the screen as it blinked and moved. It was actually tracing out letters at a speed that was not possible for the conscious mind to recognize, but when tested, the subjects could identify the exact sequence of letters out of different sequences of letters.

    In the second case, the subject was told to listen to a specific sound track of someone talking. At a level below conscious detection, a beat was overlaid onto the sound track. It was noted that the majority of listeners' hands began tapping in sync with the beat that was overlaid onto the sound track, but when asked, denied hearing a beat.

    I have also read an article on artificial vision that described how the human eye actually perceives the 3D world. Our eye is continually moving very rapidly, scanning the entire field of view. Even as you read this, your eyes are actually picking up information about things 90 degrees to either side of where you are viewing, but your mind is filtering this information out because it is not relevant to the task of reading this post. The information is still there however. If you stop reading for a moment, but keep your eyes focused on the text of this message, you can direct your conscious 'focus' to scan the objects inside your field of view. The information isn't as good as what is directly in focus, but it is still there. Also, the three dimensional world we 'see' is a result of both our stereoscopic vision combined with the continual scanning of our eyes that generates the 3D world of vision we know.

    Our vision is not the only sensory organ we have and our brains are continually being bombarded by data from all of our senses. Think. Can you actually feel your socks on your toes right now (that is if you are wearing them)? If you stop and concentrate you can actually move the point of focus of your consciousness to your toes or your fingers. This is data your brain is receiving right now, but your conscious thought processes are discarding as irrelevant. The data is still being presented to your mind and is still available to your unconscious thought process, which may be logging the fact that woolen socks aren't that comfortable with Nike shoes, therefore, when at some future date you go to buy socks, you decide that cotton is much better.

    Given all of this sensory input, I think our brains are just the neural network filters and conscious thought, as well as unconscious thought, are the prioritization methods that have arisen to deal with the massive amounts of information our brains are continually receiving and to guide our course through life in the most survival oriented method possible.
  15. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    Esp, very good. The body is a complete system with multiple electrical and chemical communication systems. These systems are intertwined very messily. (Far worse than old Fortran spaghetti code.) Likely the path from a seed digesting in the gut to the thought of a seed digesting in the gut is continuous. (That is digestion changes blood sugar level and that changes brain function and that changes thought. In addition portions of the brain respond directly to the blood sugar level and respond with both chemical signals and electrical signals that affect the mind’s thoughts.) However claiming digestion is “thought” is silly. Your distinction is excellent. The boundaries between autonomic, automatic, unconscious, and conscious may be rather hazy but are important to remember. (Interesting seeds are found in boundary areas and transition regions.)

    Defining thought by brain region is interesting. Much of the brain is organized in layers. The layers are divided into areas that in many cases are maps of the human senses. (Amusing that a distorted wiggly map of my paw is embedded in my brain. Imagine that mental paw sparkling as I wiggle my digits. Somewhere in my hamster head another region is sparkling as I do this mental imaging.) These maps are specialized neural nets. Many functions can be mapped to these local regions. The local regions are connected by nerve bundles to other regions.

    Hmmm…think of a city map as a local brain region. The visual regions are the NYC’s. The toe regions are the hick towns. The cities are interconnected by a road system. The amount of traffic between the cities indicates how closely tied the cities are. So “self” and “thought” are likely strongly associated with the big cities, churning with the latest information industries. The autonomic functions are associated with hinterland cities with older industry, e.g., breathing and temperature control. Very important to the country but a little out-of-touch.

    Interesting, but this hamster’s thoughts don’t seem to be centered in one place. A prick on my claw gets my immediate attention. Prying open a seed might require focused attention on my paws, each action deliberately initiated. Thoughts seem highly connected to the senses. My thoughts soar easily from sounds, to touch, to sight. When I close my eyes and recall an image or when I imagine a fantasy scene the same brain regions are activated as when I examine an image with my eyes. So memory and thought seems to use at least some of the same brain regions used for processing sensory data.

    SeekerOfTruth, I‘ve read similar descriptions from top athletes in other sports. (Playing in the “zone”.) Wonder if cross-fertilization of training concepts would be a fruitful in sports as it has in science? (Bet football players would take better to karate than to ballet.)

    Nice “Ship” metaphor. Need to chew on it. Metaphors (like ships) take hamsters to interesting places.

    The pieces on conscious and unconscious awareness are interesting. Thanks. Another experiment showed that action sometimes precedes thought. That is, measurement of the brain showed that firing signals to muscles were sent before the higher center “thoughts” occurred. Yet the experimental subjects believed they consciously initiated the action. (Imagine a guy takes a swing at you and you “decide” to hit back.) The mind creates a reality in which events and actions happen in a simple, straightforward manner. That reality seems largely self-delusion.

    The results from split-brain experiments really make a hamster wonder. Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Seems Imahamster’s unconscious is less a single mysterious stranger than it is an unruly bunch of children that seldom listen to each other.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2002
  16. Chagur .Seeker. Registered Senior Member

    Imahamster ...

    Re. "The boundaries between autonomic, automatic, unconscious, and conscious may be rather hazy but are important to remember."

  17. wet1 Wanderer Registered Senior Member

    Mind and brains are different...

    The brains are separated in the right and the left hemisphere and than there is said that your analytical thinking is located in the left part and your more careable thinking is located in the right part.

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    Well, your mind is coming from the Cosmos. Beamed in like a Lightning Struck. That is your own Inner Self and with that, your mind, you have to feel a picture and let it come to you. Everybody looks at a picture in a different way and loves a picture (or not) for different reasons.

    Does that have to do with thinking? I THINK not. It is a matter of how you interpretate it. You can do that by simply let it come to you. FEEL, fellow members at Sciforums. Don't THINK so much.

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    How you THINK Yogi's can manage to let their heartbeat go that slow? By letting their MIND do the 'job'. Their Inner Self. I garantee you that they don't think about it. Not in any way.

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    They just do it.

    Be more aware of yourself fellow members. Let the Inner 'Voice' speak...
  18. Chagur .Seeker. Registered Senior Member

    Imahamster, Banshee ...

    Re. "Yogi’s have demonstrated that they can control their heartbeat and skin temperature through thought. Admittedly I doubt they do this by thinking, “slow down heart”. But then, as Esp pointed out, that is not how we control our muscles. Seems more like magic, wish and it happens. (Or, in the case of Yogi’s, wish in a special way and the heart responds.)"

    Re. "How you THINK Yogi's can manage to let their heartbeat go that slow? By letting their MIND do the 'job'. Their Inner Self. I garantee you that they don't think about it. Not in any way. They just do it."

    High School, mid-40's where students carrying a B or better average could elect 'service' instead of 'study hall';
    Elected Library, came across science book that had stereoptic pictures;
    Instructed to use piece of cardboard to force rt.eye/rt.picture, lft.eye/lft.picture;
    Decide to try without cardboard using 'stare into the distance'/'focus close' approach;
    Become proficient enough to view stereoptic cards without stereoscope ... required greater divergence than parallel 'stare into the distance';
    Discovered 42nd St. Library, NYC, had a fantastic collection of stereoptic pictures ... Guess where I spent the better part of one Summer.

    Curious if pupil contraction/dilation could be similarly controlled;
    Discovered it could and that there were practical applications;
    As a result discovered how subtle non-verbal communication can be.

    "Wish and it happens" or "wish in a special way" ... No wishing, training by 'thinking' ... Making the body learn.

    Same years later when into jujitsu.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2002
  19. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    Re: Imahamster ...

    Chagur, Imahamster has chewed your seeds with pleasure and appreciates this opportunity to chatter with you.

    This world overflows with data. Much too much data for Imahamster’s small mind. Structure, even artificial structure, reduces complexity so that Imahamster may pose and then answer a question.

    E.g., Imahamster may divide all objects into two classes those bigger than a hamster and those smaller. Imahamster then hypothesizes that objects smaller than a hamster may be chewed safely. Testing then determines whether the hypothesis is correct. Imahamster has generated knowledge from raw data. If Imahamster passes on the knowledge that chewing smaller is safe and a friend applies the knowledge thinking that "smaller" means smaller than an elephant then Imahamster loses a friend.

    Defining classes such as unconscious or conscious allows phenomenon to be assigned to one class or the other (or maybe even both). Hypotheses can then be proposed and tested. Larger knowledge structures can be built on top of these simple beginnings. If Imahamster forgets why a phenomenon was assigned to the “unconscious” class, the knowledge structure begins to crumble. This hamster may remember the rules but doesn’t know to what they apply. Might claim something about conscious thoughts that was really shown for unconscious thoughts.

    (Ask Imahamster "Why?" tomorrow and the answer may differ. Ask Imahamster "Why not?" and Imahamster may chatter about rigid thinking impeding creativity and new discovery.)

    The knowledge structures that best aid proposing and answering questions are models. Collecting models is more fun than running on a wheel. Imahamster has long admired beautiful models.

    Banshee, there are many paths. Imahamster follows the path of sniffing and chewing. Life is too short to wait for seeds to seek the hamster. However this hamster would enjoy sniffing the seeds Banshee’s path has uncovered.
  20. Yogamojo Here's lookin' at you...? Registered Senior Member

    Although such actions as breathing and heartbeat are classified as involuntary functions (controlled by our medulla oblongata, the stem of the brain) they require a consciousness to happen: an electro-chemical impulse of any kind is a message from the brain. Whether this constitutes a thought or not is an open arena.

    One way to "think" about it is to isolate which functions go on while we're asleep. We continue to breathe, to metabolize, and to pump blood to our organs: this apparently doesn't require decision making to happen, and so it is debatable whether they are real thoughts or not. I tend to lean more towards the premise that real thought requires deliberation: most of us cannot adjust the rate of our heartbeat or the temperature of our bodies; however certain yogis and contortionists (masters of the physical body) have been able to modify these functions under observation. Maybe then it is possible with discipline to gain control of all of our bodily functions.

    It is also true that we are continually filtering out possible stimuli such as our visual peripheries, background noise, any sensory input that is not imminently necessary, which raises the question: What part of our consciousness is making this decision? There is a good deal yet to be explained about the mind, and since the mind is the only tool we have with which to observe we are left in a bit of a quandary here.

    Here’s a rather interesting link not too far off the topic concerning the origin of abstract thought:
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2002
  21. SeekerOfTruth Unemployed, but Looking Registered Senior Member

    Re: Re: Imahamster ...


    Wouldn't this imply that our frame of reference, the structure we have either learned or obsorbed as we grew from childhood, is embedded within our brain and is the basis for our thought processes. The structure of our frame of reference would also then be the filter of the data our minds perceive and this filter has the potential to be altered by conscious decision. Isn't this learning?

    Also, as a kind of separate topic, would the structure for our minds and thoughts that has arisen out of our evolutionary path be locking us into a frame of reference that negates a true understanding of the Universe?

    We see the Universe through the senses we have and the filters of our thought processes, but are these the 'best' or even most accurate representations of the true universe?
  22. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    SeekerOfTruth, Imahamster seems to be running on a similar wheel.

    Past learning does affect interpretation of new information. To an extent a conscious mental effort can change interpretation. (As a silly exercise Imahamster looks at an image and imagines what the image would like after a Fourier frequency transformation. The brightest spots would be where the image is changing most rapidly. Interestingly the human visual system pays most attention to changing stimuli. It adapts and quickly ignores the unchanging.)

    Applying different models is a more effective way of changing perspective. Imahamster might view an information exchange as a scientific discussion or as a social interaction. The model applied will change Imahamster’s interpretation of the words and Imahamster’s responses. Occasionally Imahamster will re-read a post while deliberately applying a different model.

    The Imahamster persona itself is a deliberate construct that alters how information is exchanged and perceived.

    Imahamster does believe that the biological brain and cultural conditioning constrain human perception/understanding of the universe.

    Imahamster sees a parallel with biological evolution. Evolution does not produce all possible animals. New species are constrained by limited types of change from predecessors. Hence all animals are closely related. Hence the same genes perform similar function throughout the animal kingdom. The seemingly wondrous variety of animal life represents only a minute sample of what could be.

    The biological brain has been constrained by its connection to predecessors. The human mind has been constrained by animal survival needs. Imahamster suspects that human perception/understanding of the universe is constrained to only a small sample of what could be.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2002
  23. Imahamster Registered Senior Member

    Yogamojo, Imahamster thanks you for the seed.

    The phrase “arbitrary conventions unrelated to reality-based cognition” found in the article is intriguing. Reality-based cognition? Visual cognition, body cognition, smell cognition, sound cognition? What has been explored? What does a baby use before speech develops? What problems are solved using visual cognition? How does the process work?

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