A b o u t • T h i s • S i t e


This online journal aims to explore and promote a causal account of mind that makes a break with mainstream analytic philosophy over the role and especially the evolution of representational capacities. I argue that representations (signals, images, mimicry, language etc.) are behavioural and artifactual capacities that are fully reliant upon necessary and sufficient conditions of evolutionary emergence and utilisation. Moreover, I argue that these necessary and sufficient conditions are impossible within bodily organs (like the brain) because organs are not organisms in need of communicative artefacts or behaviours to mediate their behaviour. Representations are articles of cultural evolution, not biological evolution. If this is correct, then the widespread assumption throughout much cognitive science, philosophy and other related disciplines, that brains produce their own representations, is unfounded.

Since undertaking a research residency in Australia in 2011, my thinking on representation has undergone a significant change. Whilst presenting a conference paper at NIEA in Sydney, I encountered the work of one of the keynote speakers, Donald Brook, whose theories of representation have been published widely over the last 50 years. Despite this international dissemination, Brook’s ideas appear to have had relatively little impact outside the Australian artworld, yet considering their implications, not only for art and philosophy but for culture more generally and science also, this is somewhat strange – though it is by no means inexplicable.

Of course, it may be the case that Brook is mistaken and the lukewarm reception of his work is indicative of underlying conceptual weaknesses. However, if these weaknesses are obvious, it should be possible to find at least one or two persuasive counter-arguments mounted over the last half century in some of the many journals etc. in which his work has been published. Despite extensive investigation, I can find no such objections – nothing other than simple misunderstanding or the occasional petulant remonstration.

The explanatory challenges presented by perception and consciousness are well known in philosophy and many contrasting theories have been developed to explain and overcome them. It cannot be the case that all the available theories are correct. It is far more likely that most – if not all – are flawed in one or more ways. However, if everyone is making the same foundational error, as the work of Hacker and Bennett, Hutto and Myin or Ramsey suggests, then perhaps a principled alternative is required.

I argue that Brook's account of representation resolves  or at the very least forms the basis for resolving  many perplexities that have stymied thinkers for millennia and provides powerful tools for exploring many related issues and theoretical obstacles. This blog is an attempt to chart the many insights that come from taking Brook's work seriously whilst also providing reasoned arguments and evidence in support of these theories.

If you would like to discuss the ideas presented on this site or to share your own research then Please feel free to add a response to one of the comments boxes provided or alternatively send me an email here.


Tim R. Even said...

Hello! I find myself intrigued by this sort of thing -- and also Chompsky's idea that language is primarily a tool of thought, and not of communication. The latter would explain much I think.


Jim Hamlyn said...

Thanks Tim,

It's interesting that you mention Chimsky. I found a very interesting quote from him a couple of days ago:

"The central problem that troubles me is this. I do not know of any notion of ‘representational content’ that is clear enough to be invoked in accounts of how internal computational systems enter into the life of the organism. And to the extent that I can grasp what is intended, it seems to be very questionable that it points to a profitable path to pursue” (Chomsky, 2003, p.274).

His suggestion that language is primarily a tool of thought is a little like saying that pretending is primarily a tool of thought. It is trivially true, but it sheds no light on the evolutionary origins of thought or language. In fact I think it casts a shadow where significant light can be focussed.

modvs1 said...

Hi Jim.
Are you familiar with the notion of “neural reuse/redeployment”? Among explaining a host of other things, there's a pretty tidy account of what 'mental imagery' consists in (a.k.a: “top-down sensory-motor emulation”). Or what about work on the reversal of signal flow in cortex when switching between visual vs. imagination driven tasks? Allegedly the various parts of the brain typically involved in bottom-up processes (modal (sensory), vestibular, proprioceptive, some autonomic, etc., experience) are “reused/redeployed” top-down-wise (endogenously), to produce ‘mental imagery’. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20964882
Are you familiar with the work of Stephen Kosslyn, Lawrence Barsalou, Rick Grush, Andy Clark, Germund Hesslow? Hesslow's “simulation”argument is pretty straight forward; and I think he provides a convincing account dispelling the need for a “homunculus who see's the imagery”; not to mention Hacker's mereological fallacy.
I agree that an inner team of symbol shuffling homunculi is nonsense, not to mention that treating perception as representational (not presentational) is also riddled with complications, but I'm not too sure we should be wiping mental imagery off the map- in toto- just yet. I swear anti-representationalists are simply ‘weak visualisers’ exposed to too much eco-psychology. Either that or they have aphantasia.

Jim Hamlyn said...

Thanks James,

I should point out that I do not deny imagination, I'm an artist after all! What I deny is that the publically visible artefacts and behaviours that we call "representations" are also generated inside us. What we have is capacities to make public representations and it is the capacities alone that do the heavy lifting.

modvs1 said...

From what I can tell you're simply advocating a view denying that sub-personal (cognitive) processes trade in representations, in the ways we do as whole organisms (in socio-cultural contexts)- is that right? You might like this paper by Inman Harvey which I think captures this sentiment well ("representings" are strictly behavioural level activities perpetrated by whole agents): http://users.sussex.ac.uk/~inmanh/Misrepresentations.pdf

modvs1 said...

Here's a few more that you might find consonant:






I could go on...

Jim Hamlyn said...

Thanks James (modvs1),
Apologies for the slow response. I've been very busy and haven't had a chance to read any of the material you have linked to. At a quick scan, the Harvey link looks good. The Kirsh one is interesting too. I'm not a fan of Clark but his mistakes are too ramified to be dealt with easily in a quick comment (Hutto and Myin are excellent critics though). I'll have a look at the other links when I get a chance, but thank you.
In response to your question, yes I am "simply advocating a view denying that sub-personal (cognitive) processes trade in representations." I am also simply [as simply as I can] denying that thoughts and imaginings are representations too. Representations are publicly perceptible. They require an audience, at least in principle and they are intentionally produced. If you have a scan around the last few years of posts on this blog you will see that I have explored these and other arguments against inner representation a lot.

Anyway, what is your own view and how do you come to be interested in this stuff?

modvs1 said...

Are you denying that reflective ("off-line") cognition doesn't involve 'mental imagery', because there's no such thing as mental imagery? The whole debate is incredibly confusing. Have a glance at this: (http://lesswrong.com/lw/gq6/visual_mental_imagery_training/). I swear it all boils down to a continuum issue involving aphantasia. And by the way there are some who think Hutto and Myin aren't radical enough. These guys claim that language is not representational- that representation is not a thing! To date I can't make sense of what they are claiming; not to mention that it seems awfully ironic that there literature "is not a representation" of there theoretical views:



Jim Hamlyn said...

I think it is a mistake to suppose that the capacity to make a cake requires a capacity to generate an inner representation of a cake. We do not suppose that the capacity to form a scab requires a capacity to represent a scab.

My view is that the enactive capacity to demonstrate the production of a cake serves the role that representationalists take inner reps to serve.

On the question of mental imagery I will refer you to a post that I wrote last September on the subject which also includes mention of aphantasia: http://thoughtsonartandteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/pretending-to-ourselves.html

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