Plato's Camera: How the Physical Brain Captures a Landscape of Abstract Universals

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Overview

In Plato's Camera, eminent philosopher Paul Churchland offers a novel account of how the brain constructs a representation--or 'takes a picture'--of the universe's timeless categorical and dynamical structure. This construction process, which begins at birth, yields the enduring background conceptual framework with which we will interpret our sensory experience for the rest of our lives. But, as even Plato knew, to make singular perceptual judgments requires that we possess an antecedent framework of abstract categories to which any perceived particular can be relevantly assimilated. How that background framework is assembled in the first place is the motivating mystery, and the primary target, of Churchland's book.

His account draws on the best of the recent philosophical literature on semantic theory, and on the most recent results from cognitive neurobiology. The resulting story throws immediate light on issues that have been at the center of philosophy for at least two millennia, such as how the mind represents reality, both in its ephemeral and in its timeless dimensions.

Unexpectedly, this neurobiologically grounded account of human cognition also provides a systematic story of how such low-level epistemological activities are integrated within an enveloping framework of linguistic structures and regulatory mechanisms at the social level. As Churchland illustrates, this integration of cognitive mechanisms at several levels has launched the human race on an epistemological adventure denied to all other terrestrial creatures.

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Editorial Reviews

Metascience
Paul Churchland continues, quite successfully, his bit to persuade the reader that the classical conception of the workings of the brain should be substituted by a construal of the brain as a dynamic neural network.... If a book's success is judged both by the scope of its material and by the amount of novelty it brings, then Churchland's book is an unqualified success.
Minds & Machines
Passionately argued and inspirational.... Churchland's book spans several seldom-bridged topics in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science, and does so with wit and intelligence from its provocative neurocomputational perspective.
Essays in Philosophy
Readers already somewhat familiar with... and intrigued by his quest to constrain computational modeling of the brain based on knowledge of its structural, kinematical, and dynamical properties will find much to relish in this rigorous work.... Churchland's prose is direct, concise and clear.... [an] impressive and provocative account.
From the Publisher
"Paul Churchland continues, quite successfully, his bit to persuade the reader that the classical conception of the workings of the brain should be substituted by a construal of the brain as a dynamic neural network….If a book's success is judged both by the scope of its material and by the amount of novelty it brings, then Churchland's book is an unqualified success."— Metascience

"Passionately argued and inspirational….Churchland's book spans several seldom-bridged topics in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science, and does so with wit and intelligence from its provocative neurocomputational perspective." — Minds& Machines

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262016865
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul M. Churchland is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. His the author of The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul (MIT Press), Neurophilosophy at Work, and several other books.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

1 Introduction: A Fast Overview 1

1 Some Parallels and Contrasts with Kant 1

2 Representations in the Brain: Ephemeral versus Enduring 4

3 Individual Learning: Slow and Structural 11

4 Individual Learning: Fast and Dynamical 16

5 Collective Learning and Cultural Transmission 25

6 Knowledge: Is It True, Justified Belief? 30

2 First-Level Learning, Part 1: Structural Changes in the Brain and the Development of Lasting Conceptual Frameworks 35

1 The Basic Organization of the Information-Processing Brain 35

2 Some Lessons from Artificial Neural Networks 38

3 Motor Coordination 45

4 More on Colors: Constancy and Compression 50

5 More on Faces: Vector Completion, Abduction, and the Capacity for 'Globally Sensitive Inference' 62

6 Neurosemantics: How the Brain Represents the World 74

7 How the Brain Does Not Represent: First-Order Resemblance 78

8 How the Brain Does Not Represent: Indicator Semantics 90

9 On the Identity/Similarity of Conceptual Frameworks across Distinct Individuals 104

3 First-Level Learning, Part 2: On the Evaluation of Maps and Their Generation by Hebbian Learning 123

1 On the Evaluation of Conceptual Frameworks: A First Pass 123

2 The Neuronal Representation of Structures Unfolding in Time 139

3 Concept Formation via Hebbian Learning: Spatial Structures 157

4 Concept Formation via Hebbian Learning: The Special Case of Temporal Structures 165

5 A Slightly More Realistic Case 170

6 In Search of Still Greater Realism 174

7 Ascending from Several Egocentric Spaces to One Allocentric Space 180

4 Second-Level Learning: Dynamical Changes in the Brain and Domain-Shifted Redeployments of Existing Concepts 187

1 The Achievement of Explanatory Understanding 187

2 On the Evaluation of Conceptual Frameworks: A Second Pass (Conceptual Redeployments) 196

3 On the Evaluation of Conceptual Frameworks: A Third Pass (Intertheoretic Reductions) 204

4 Scientific Realism and the Underdetermination of Theory by Evidence 215

5 Underdetermination Reconceived 223

5 Third-Level Learning: The Regulation and Amplification of First- and Second-Level Learning through a Crowing Network of Cultural Institutions 251

1 The Role of Language in the Business of Human Cognition 251

2 The Emergence and Significance of Regulatory Mechanisms 255

3 Some Prior Takes on This Epicerebral Process 261

4 How Social-Level Institutions Steer Second-Level Learning 268

5 Situated Cognition and Cognitive Theory 274

Appendix 279

References 281

Index 287

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