The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Cognition as Adaptation

The US psychologist Randy Gallistelbelieves that the nature of cognition lies in some "organizational" principles. Those are principles on how to organize a system so that the system can adjust rapidly and efficiently. In other words, "something" enables living organisms to make rapid adjustments of patterns of action in response to the environment. That "something" is the way they are internally organized.

No movement in nature is random. It always serves the purpose of "adapting" the state of the system to the external conditions. No matter how intelligent the action of a living being appears to be, that action satisfies the same general principle: adaptation.

At first sight, human action looks too complex to be reduced to such a simple scenario. Nevertheless, Gallistelbelieves that human behavior can be decomposed down to more and more elementary units, and those units do satisfy the general principle of action for the sake of adaptation only.The point is to explain how an action that looks like a whole can be decomposed in many coordinated lower-level actions. In Gallistelís hypothesis, the elementary units of behavior (reflex, oscillator, servomechanism, i.e. external stimulus to internal signal to muscle contraction) are "catalyzed" by units at the higher levels of the system.

Drawing from the model of a central program advanced by the US philosopher Paul-Alfred Weiss, Gallistelassumes that units are organized in a hierarchy that allows for competition and antagonism.A central program is a unit of behavior that is activated as a whole.A central program "selectively potentiates" subsets of lower-level units according to their relevance to the current goal. The principles that determine the "selective potentiation" of lower-level units are the same that govern the properties of elementary units.Each unit in the hierarchy appears to act independently, but it is held together in a consistent whole.


Back to the beginning of the chapter "Ecological Realism: The Embodied Mind" | Back to the index of all chapters