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Philosophy Meets Neuroscience: The Molyneux's Problem

Philosophy Meets Neuroscience: The Molyneux's Problem

Consider the Molyneux's problem

"If a man born blind can feel the differences between shapes such as spheres and cubes, could he similarly distinguish those objects by sight if given the ability to see?" (Wikipedia)

There is recent evidence$^{1}$ that the answer is likely negative. In their experiment, Held et al. used "three-dimensional forms drawn from a children's shape set" (Legos, actually). I was thinking would the results be the same, if the stimuli were reconstructions of snakes or other reptiles? Humans are argued to have evolved fear modules$^{2}$ in their brain for such creatures. Or, if the stimuli were directly related to humans, e.g. body parts? Could this kind of experiment test whether a child's mind is tabula rasa?

References:

$^{1}$ Richard Held, Yuri Ostrovsky, Beatrice deGelder, Tapan Gandhi, Suma Ganesh, Umang Mathur, Pawan Sinha, The newly sighted fail to match seen with felt, Nature Neuroscience, vol. 14, pp. 551-553, 2011.

$^{2}$ Arne Öhman, Susan Mineka, The Malicious Serpent: Snakes as a Prototypical Stimulus for an Evolved Module of Fear, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Z6:6, pp. 5-9, 2003.


A child's mind is certainly not tabula rasa; language acquisition patterns in children suggest that they have an inborn module for it - domain-specific and, while flexible, clearly incompletely flexible.

The children would probably have the same troubles with constructions of spiders and snakes; the modules that we are said to have for those species concern our prepared learning to fear these organisms, not our identification of them.

Even if the modules did concern identification rather than fear, the fact that the inborn modules do not constitute inborn abilities or tendencies. Experiences must still be had with the snakes, spiders, etc for fear to be acquired.


Book Description

This collection of essays brings together research on sense modalities in general and spatial perception in particular in a systematic and interdisciplinary way. It updates a long-standing philosophical fascination with this topic by incorporating theoretical and empirical research from cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology. The book is divided thematically to cover a wide range of established and emerging issues. Part I covers notions of objectivity and subjectivity in spatial perception and thinking. Part II focuses on the canonical distal senses, such as vision and audition. Part III concerns the chemical senses, including olfaction and gustation. Part IV discusses bodily awareness, peripersonal space, and touch. Finally, the volume concludes with Part V on multimodality. Spatial Senses is an important contribution to the scholarly literature on the philosophy of perception that takes into account important advances in the sciences.


including 6,6,5 at Higher Level with at least two of Higher Level subjects at 6 in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science or Psychology. Note the total IB point score of 35 includes TOK/EE. Note: For IB students intending to meet the subject requirement through Higher level Mathematics, they would be able to meet this through either Analysis and Approaches or Applications and Interpretation.

You will also need:

GCSEs: Mathematics at GCSE grade 6/B (or equivalent) is required.


Behavioral Neuroscience

Einstein once wrote that “The world we have created is a product of our thinking it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Discoveries, innovation, languages, social progress, even entire societies were built on humankind’s actions, as driven by its thoughts.

Yet at its base level, an idea is nothing more than an electro-chemical reaction, with neurons delivering rapid-fire messages across the synapses in our brains. To understand how thought becomes action, we must start where thought begins — within the brain structures and mechanisms themselves.

It is within these physical transmissions that a beautiful and complex mix of communication is taking place. Interpretations, reasoning, and learning are happening here, all at once. And somehow, this cacophony of lightspeed movement harmonizes together to form the endpoint that drives actions and behaviors themselves.

The Behavioral Neuroscience program, one of the most established programs in the United States, seeks to trace the connections and uncover the nature of how these mysterious transmissions transform from thoughts into actions.


Vygotsky's Career and Theories

Vygotsky was a prolific writer, publishing six books on psychology topics over a ten-year period. His interests were diverse but often centered on issues of child development and education. He also explored the psychology of art and language development.

The Zone of Proximal Development

According to Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is "[The] distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers." (Lev Vygotsky, Mind in Society, 1978).

The "zone" is the gap between what a child knows and what they do not yet know.

Acquiring the missing information requires skills that a child does not yet possess or cannot do independently, but which they can do with the help of a more knowledgeable other.

Parents and teachers can foster learning by providing educational opportunities that lie within a child's zone of proximal development. Kids can also learn a great deal from their peers. Teachers can foster this process by pairing less skilled children with more knowledgeable classmates.

The More Knowledgeable Other

Vygotsky conceived the more knowledgeable other as a person who has greater knowledge and skills than the learner. In many cases, this individual is an adult such as a parent or teacher.

Kids also learn a great deal from their interactions with their peers. Children often pay more attention to what friends and classmates know and are doing then they do to the adults in their life.

No matter who serves as the more knowledgeable other, the key is that they provide the needed social instruction within the zone of proximal development (when the learner is sensitive to guidance).

Children can observe and imitate (or even receive) guided instruction to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Sociocultural Theory

Lev Vygotsky also suggested that human development results from a dynamic interaction between individuals and society. Through this interaction, children learn gradually and continuously from parents and teachers.

However, this learning varies from one culture to the next. It's important to note that Vygotsky's theory emphasizes the dynamic nature of this interaction. Society does not just impact people people also affect their society.


We will explore the connection between two abiding concerns of Western philosophy, and French philosophy in particular: the nature of linguistic meaning and skeptical worries about the possibility of knowledge.

20th century philosophers had an especially keen interest in language. This orientation was of a piece with the broader intellectual and aesthetic current of “modernism”, in which the means through which human beings engage in communicative and expressive activity becomes the subject matter of that very activity.

In much of the arts and humanities, the modernist drive to scrutinize communicative and expressive media was motivated by misgivings about traditional modes of representing the world and the self, and suspicion of the longstanding cultural confidence in the accuracy and power of these modes. But philosophy was a different case. For philosophy had already been struggling for millennia with doubts about the possibility of accurate representation, just as it had been struggling for that long with puzzles about the possibility of knowledge, and the objectivity of truth, and even the intelligibility of existence itself. Against the backdrop of this difficult history, the message of modernism seemed one of promise. Philosophers thought that attention to the means of human expression, especially to language, could prove the key to dissolving the skeptical puzzles that had heretofore dogged their attempts to achieve a satisfactory understanding of our place in the world as knowers, thinkers, and agents.

We will take as our test case one such skeptical puzzle, perhaps the most famous one. This is the argument of ‘external-world skepticism’, according to which we can know nothing at all about the world around us. Some of the most famous and influential presentations of external-world skepticism are due to two French writers of the early modern period—Montaigne and Descartes—and we will begin by examining their texts.

In the remainder of the course, we will look at three attempts to solve the problem of external-world skepticism through reflection on the nature of language. The first is logical empiricism, which aimed to show that purported statements of skepticism or of other sweeping philosophical doctrines are meaningless. The second is ordinary-language philosophy, according to which arguments for skepticism depend upon distortions of our ordinary practices of offering and assessing claims of knowledge. The third is the contemporary movement of contextualism, which traces the skeptical threat to a failure to grasp the pervasive context-sensitivity of meaning. We will ask in each case whether the claims made about the nature of language can be sustained, and whether they really do have the power to defeat the skeptical challenge.

No philosophical background is presupposed. The texts we read will be challenging (in addition to Montaigne and Descartes, they include Carnap, Quine, Wittgenstein, Austin, Cavell and Laugier), but we will talk carefully through the basic ideas needed to begin to appreciate what these writers might be after. (B)

Open to students who have been admitted to the Paris Humanities Program. This course will be taught at the Paris Humanities Program.


Where psychology and science meet

Professor Hohwy envisages engaging psychologists and cognitive scientists to collaborate with this task.

“It's very unusual for anyone in consciousness science or research to think that there could be any change in any consciousness state without some change in some brain state,” he says.

“There’s a materialist foundation for this, but that’s not the same as saying that you can explain every subjective aspect of consciousness by just listing changes in neurons that fire certain ways. That’s where the interesting philosophical work is done. What are the limits to our capacity of explaining subjective experience?”

He says Dr Chadha’s background in Buddhism has been useful in placing mindfulness practices in a historic and philosophical context, rather than simply seeing it as “a product, an app on the phone”.

“The ethical side, the interpersonal side of this, is really important and exciting, as far as I'm concerned,” Dr Chadha says.

The centre will also look at “other faith traditions and secular and humanist traditions, to see what the contemplative practices look like there”, he says.


Hard problem of consciousness

The hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1995) is the problem of explaining the relationship between physical phenomena, such as brain processes, and experience (i.e., phenomenal consciousness, or mental states/events with phenomenal qualities or qualia). Why are physical processes ever accompanied by experience? And why does a given physical process generate the specific experience it does—why an experience of red rather than green, for example?


Must complete six

  1. PSYC 6 Introduction to Neuroscience
  2. PSYC 10 Statistics OR
    BIOL 29 Statistics (Note: Students cannot get major credit for taking both PSYC 10 and BIOL 29)

And any 4 of the following courses. (Students in the class of 2023 and earlier may take any 4 courses from the lists below. Students in the class of 2024 and later must take at least one course from each category.)

  • CHEM 5 General Chemistry
  • CHEM 6 General Chemistry
  • PHYS 3 General Physics I
  • PHYS 4 General Physics II
  • MATH 3 Introduction to Calculus
  • MATH 4 Calculus with Applications
  • MATH 8 Calculus of Functions
  • COSC 1 Introduction to Computer Science
  • COSC 10 Problem Solving with Computer Science
  • COSC 31 Algorithms
  • ENGS 20 Introduction to Computer Science with applications in Engineering
  • You can NRO prerequisite classes EXCEPT PSYC 6 and 10 and BIOL 29.
  • You must obtain a grade no lower than a C in PSYC 6. Students who fail to obtain a C or better in PSYC 6 may still complete the major in the event that they earn a C or better in their next two Neuroscience courses.

Core Courses


Psychology PhD (cognitive science)

The Doctor of Philosophy program in psychology with an emphasis on cognitive science at Arizona State University investigates core cognitive processes and applies multiple theoretical perspectives to understanding these processes. Doctoral candidates conduct both basic and translational research in the spirit of the New American University to generate solutions for real-world problems, such as improving children's reading comprehension.

The Department of Psychology’s doctoral program offers collaborative and interdisciplinary training in innovative, mentored research that is tailored to the unique needs of student. Doctoral candidates will develop expertise in quantitative methods from one of the nation’s top-ranked programs. The program also offers a breadth of courses in cognitive processes such as decision making, dynamics, embodiment, language, memory, natural language processing, neuroscience, and perception and action. Careers in cognitive science can be anywhere from research, computer science, intelligence, marketing, speech synthesis, telecommunications, medicine, informatics, and big data analysis. A graduate degree in cognitive science prepares you for any field that includes cognition and technology.

IMPORTANT: To be considered for this PhD program, you must complete the application through ASU's online portal AND submit your material through Slideroom.

Degree Overview

The 84-hour program of study includes a first-year project, a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive, a prospectus and a dissertation. Prospective doctoral candidates should have a passion and interest in cognitive science, have demonstrated research skills in a senior thesis, have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA and score in the upper quintile of GRE scores.

How to apply

One of the best things about the doctoral program in Psychology is the really great sense of community and working together to exchange ideas. Not only have I been able to publish my research but I've also been able to collaborate with other scientific resources in Phoenix such as the Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute and TGen.
- Stephanie Koebele, Doctoral Student, Behavioral Neuroscience

Curriculum

Training in cognitive science follows an apprenticeship model. Students work closely with a mentor to complete required coursework, research training, a first-year project, a comprehensive examination and a doctoral dissertation. The goal of the program is to prepare students to become independent and creative scientists who publish findings in major, peer-reviewed outlets.

A minimum of 84 hours is required.

Requirements and electives

Courses and electives

Training in Cognitive Science (CS) follows an apprenticeship model and most students work closely with one advisor/mentor. Depending the student’s interests, however, the student may participate in several laboratories. The goals of the program are to train students through a series of projects and courses and to become independent and creative scientists. An important part of this training is developing skill in publishing and students are expected to have several publications in major, peer-reviewed outlets by the time they graduate.

+ Core courses (24 hours)

2 – Graduate Level Statistics

6 – courses taught by at least five CS core faculty (3 credits each), sample courses include:

528 Sensation and Perception

576 Dynamical Systems in Psychology

591 Seminar (in various topics)

598 Psychology of Language

+ Electives (6 hours)

In consultation with their research advisors, students select courses to meet their research and training goals.

2 – electives, sample courses include:

  • PSY 598 Cognitive Science
  • PSY 573 Psychopathology
  • PSY 591 Social Cognitive Development: Theory of Mind
  • PSY 591 Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
  • PSY 598 Cognitive Science seminar
  • PSY 512 Advanced Learning

+ Research (42 hours)

First Year Project. The first year project involves designing, conducting, and reporting research under the direct supervision of the student’s advisor. By the end of the student’s first semester, two additional faculty members, called "readers," are selected to assist in the development of the project. The student must meet with the readers (either separately or as a committee) at least once. Also by the end of the first semester, the student will give a presentation of the plans for the first year project in the CS Seminar. No later than two weeks before the end of the second semester, the student provides to all CS faculty a written draft describing the project. The readers provide feedback to the student. The student gives an oral presentation to the CS Seminar by the end of the student's second semester.

Master’s Thesis. The master's thesis is typically undertaken in the second year and defended during the third year. It is an original piece of research, closely supervised by the research advisor and an advisory committee. The thesis leads to the MA degree, which is considered to be a "masters in passing." After forming a master’s thesis committee, the student must complete a three-step process: (1) defend a written prospectus (2) after data collection, conduct a “data meeting” at which the analyses are reviewed by the committee and (3) pass a defense of the thesis.

Comprehensive Examination

During the third or fourth year of the doctoral studies, the student concentrates much of his or her effort on a scholarly review of the areas of Cognitive Science. The student works with four committee members to put together a reading list upon which the Comprehensive Exams — written and oral — are based. The student has the choice of completing a "closed-book," two-day written exam or an "open-book," two-week written exam. The oral exam is conducted one week after the conclusion of the written exam and serves to clarify the student's answers to the written questions. Often, the literature review that the student conducts during this time period becomes the basis of the doctoral dissertation.

+ Doctoral dissertation (12 hours)

Doctoral Dissertation: PSY 799 (12 hours)

The doctoral dissertation is an extensive piece of original research that demonstrates the capability of the student to act as an independent scholar and use experimental methods. The dissertation is closely supervised by the research advisor and three additional faculty members who constitute the dissertation committee. As with the master’s thesis, there are three components. First, the student writes a formal dissertation proposal and defends it to the committee. After the defense, the student is admitted to PhD candidacy by the Graduate College. Second, following data collection, there is a "data meeting" at which the analyses are reviewed by the committee. The process culminates with the student's defense of the dissertation before the committee and the academic community.


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