Can experimentalism loosen the grasp of tradition?

I remember watching the movie Fiddler on the Roof. In this movie there was much talk, and singing and dancing about tradition. The story of the movie is, I think, about what happens when a people steeped in tradition are forced to deal with dramatic change.

The rock of tradition continually meets the winds of change to produce a new tradition. Tradition evolves and the rate of evolution marches ever faster as technology provides the metronomic beat of the march.

Cognitive science presently functions within the boundaries of two distinctly different paradigms. The traditional and first generation paradigm, Artificial Intelligence, is founded upon the theory of mechanical manipulation of symbols by computer, has in the last few decades been challenged by the SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) also known as Experimentalism.

Cognitive science seeks to comprehend via empirical techniques answers to such questions as: What is reason, how do we organize experience, what is a conceptual system, and others. These are not new questions but the answers derived via SGCS are new to science and a challenge to traditional philosophy.

Objectivism is considered to be the traditional philosophical view. “It has come out of two thousand years of philosophizing about the nature of reason. It is still widely believed despite overwhelming empirical evidence against it.” Objectivism is still widely held as valid because the empirical challenge to traditional knowledge, which is not within the domain of the natural sciences, takes generations to permeate the consciousness of the general pubic. The general public learns such matters primarily via social osmosis.

Cognitive science is in transition and categorization is the central issue defining the separation of the traditional view from the experimentalist view.

Cognitive science has introduced revolutionary theories that, if true, will change dramatically the views of Western philosophy. Advocates of the traditional view will, of course, “say that conceptual structure must have a neural realization in the brain, which just happens to reside in a body. But they deny that anything about the body is essential for characterizing what concepts are.”

The cognitive science claim is that ”the very properties of concepts are created as a result of the way the brain and body are structured and the way they function in interpersonal relations and in the physical world.”

The embodied-mind hypothesis therefore radically undercuts the perception/conception distinction. In an embodied mind, it is conceivable that the same neural system engaged in perception (or in bodily movements) plays a central role in conception. Indeed, in recent neural modeling research, models of perceptual mechanisms and motor schemas can actually do conception work in language learning and in reasoning.

A standard technique for checking out new ideas is to create computer models of the idea and subject that model to simulated conditions to determine if the model behaves as does the reality. Such modeling techniques are used constantly in projecting behavior of meteorological parameters.

Neural computer models have shown that the types of operations required to perceive and move in space require the very same type of capability associated with reasoning. That is, neural models capable of doing all of the things that a body must be able to do when perceiving and moving can also perform the same kinds of actions associated with reasoning, i.e. inferring, categorizing, and conceiving.

Our understanding of biology indicates that the body has a marvelous ability to do as any handyman does, i.e. make do with what is at hand. The body would, it seems logical to assume, take these abilities that exist in all creatures that move and survive in space and with such fundamental capabilities reshape it through evolution to become what we now know as our ability to reason. The first budding of the reasoning ability exists in all creatures that function as perceiving, moving, surviving, creatures.

Cognitive science has, it seems to me, connected our ability to reason with our bodies in such away as to make sense out of connecting reason with our biological evolution in ways that Western philosophy has not done, as far as I know.

It seems to me that Western philosophical tradition as always tried to separate mind from body and in so doing has never been able to show how mind, as was conceived by this tradition, could be part of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Cognitive science now provides us with a comprehensible model for grounding all that we are both bodily and mentally into a unified whole that makes sense without all of the attempts to make mind as some kind of transcendent, mystical, reality unassociated with biology.

Quotes from Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson