Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (2014) “A Natural History of Human Thinking” (Part 22 of 22)

0383 Chapter five is titled “Human Thinking as Cooperation”.

Tomasello considers other theories of human cognitive evolution (but not including Razie Mah’s masterwork, The Human Niche, available at smashwords and other e-book venues).

He draws four general propositions.

0384 One, for the era of individual intentionality, competition with groupmates leads to sophisticated forms of primate social and practical cognition, characteristic of great apes.

Two, for the era of joint intentionality, obligate collaborative foraging favors the evolution of new forms of hominin social coordination and thinking, without (what a modern anthropologist would label) culture.

Three, for the era of collective intentionality, intergroup competition, exploration of novel ecologies and environments, and larger group size favors the evolution of conventionalized culture.

Fourth, in regards to whatever may be missing in the first, second and third points, culture accumulates and allows specializations that cultivate a wide variety of cognitive skills and types of thinking.

0385 This examination demonstrates that each of these four general propositions coheres with the hypothesis contained in The Human Niche.

This may not be a surprise, since Razie Mah’s masterwork summarizes commentaries on four works in evolutionary anthropology, published within the past three decades.

0386 Here is a list of the four commentaries.

Comments on Steven Mithen’s Book (1996) The Prehistory of The Mind

Comments on Clive Gamble, John Gowlett and Robin Dunbar’s Book (2014) Thinking Big

Comments on Derek Bickerton’s Book (2014) More Than Nature Needs

Comments on Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky’s Book (2016) Why Only Us?

0387 Along with A Primer on Natural Signs and the masterwork, The Human Niche, these four commentaries constitute A Course on The Human Niche, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

0388 But, that is not all.

This examination of Tomasello’s arc of inquiry continues.


Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (1999) “The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition” (Part 1 of 12)

0001 In 1999 AD, Michael Tomasello, then co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, publishes the work before me (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

To me, this work marks the start of the author’s twenty year journey, culminating in a theory of human ontogeny, published in 2019.  The word, “ontogeny”, refers to human development and associates to the human phenotype.

0002 What interests me in Tomasello’s journey?

As noted in Comments on Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight’s Book (2017) Adam and the Genome (available at smashwords and other e-book venues), “phenotype” and “adaptation” are not the same.  Instead, these labels apply to distinct actualities that coalesce into a single actuality.  One may call that single actuality, an individual, a species or a genus.  One may also call that single actuality, “a mystery”.

I am interested in the natural history side of the mystery of human evolution.  However, the genetic (or ontogenetic) side cannot be ignored.  Plus, natural history cannot be reduced to genetics, or visa versa

0003 Chapter one of Tomasello’s book is titled, “A Puzzle and a Hypothesis”.

Of course, a puzzle is not a mystery.  A puzzle can be resolved.  A mystery cannot.

The puzzle starts with genetics.  Geneticists have examined the DNA of chimpanzees, bonobos and humans and predict that the last common ancestor lives 6 or 7 Myr (six or seven million years ago).

In contrast, physical anthropologists (natural historians) propose the fossil record noted in the following figure.  With terminological sleight of hand, they refer to human ancestors as “hominins”, even though the old term for any bipedal primate (ape or human) is “hominid”. 

0004 Hmmm. Does the puzzle concern time?

According to genetics, the last common ancestor (LCA) between chimpanzees and humans lives 7 Myr (millions of years ago).  But, little significant shows up in the fossil record until 4 Myr.  Our lineage obviously evolves feet first.  As it turns out, starting around 5 Myr, the extent of tropical vegetation in Africa decreases due to desiccation.  Bipedality is an adaptation to mixed forest and savannah.

0005 The fossil record provides other clues, especially stone tools.

The first stone tools are Oldowan.  Oldowan stones tools are constructed on site.  They are used to scrape meat off of bone and to crack long bones (that are full of fatty marrow).

Acheulean stone tools appear later in the archeological record.  Acheulean stone tools are made beforehand and carried with some intention in mind.  They have the appearance of a giant tooth.  Notably, Acheulean stone tool technology remains unchanged for over a million years.  Innovations in stone-tools follow the domestication of fire.

0006 Surely, these two tables are puzzling.  In the first, the fossil record pertains to changes in hominin phenotypes.  In the second, the fossil record pertains to hominin adaptations, but these adaptations are not phenotypic. They are artifacts.  Are these adaptive artifacts cultural?  Are they behavioral?  I wonder, “Do the words, ‘culture’ and ‘behavior’, capture the matter and the form of these artifacts?”  It is as if an adaptation recognizes matter and generates form.

0007 What is the nature of the adaptation that maintains (and occasionally changes) artifacts, as if these artifacts are phenotypes?

Tomasello suggests that an adaptation is a novel form of social cognition.  Our lineage adapts to a new way of thinking about one another, eventually allowing sociogenesis, new styles of learning and cultural evolution.

0008 Tomasello proposes that there is one adaptation that potentiates subsequent adaptations.

Razie Mah proposes that there is one ultimate niche for our lineage.  The hypothesis is presented in the e-book, The Human Niche (available at smashwords and other e-book venues).

0009 Do Tomasello (in 1999) and Mah (in 2018) propose that our lineage is defined by the same adaptation… er… niche?

What is the difference between an adaptation and a niche?

To these questions, I next attend.


Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (1999) “The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition” (Part 12 of 12)

0072 Chapter five is titled, “Linguistic Construction and Event Cognition”.  The perspective-level linguistic communication2c participates in ongoing events2a.

Tomasello claims that joint attention is the key adaptation from which subsequent adaptations proceed.  Surely, the three-level interscope depicted above does not contradict this claim.

After all, the evolution of joint attention should precede the evolution of linguistic communication.

0073 However, there is a disjunction, because great apes show few (if any) tendencies that may be characterized by joint attention.  Even the occasional monkey hunt by chimpanzees is best characterized by several individuals deciding to pursue the same thing at the same time.  The monkey-prey is the focus of attention, but the attention is disjointed, not really coordinated.

So, there must be a period before the evolution of joint attention, where individual intentionality reigns, even when group action takes place.

0074 So, when are these eras happening?

Tomasello wants to place the evolution of joint attention before the time of Homo heidelbergensis, who appears in the fossil record between 800 and 400kyr (thousands of years ago).

To me, this makes sense only so far as this.

Homo heidelbergensis leaves traces of cultural behavior in the archeological record.

To me, such traces indicate that these hominins are in the subsequent build-on era.

So, Tomasello’s timeline may require clarification.

0075 Okay, now that I am nitpicking, I must ask, “Is there a problem with making joint attention2a the foundation of an evolutionary theory?”

Allow me to return to Tomasello’s vision.

0076 According to Comments on Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight’s Book (2017) Adam and the Genome (by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues), adaptation2 and phenotype2 belong to two independent scientific disciplines: natural history and genetics.  Since both belong to situation-level nested forms that rely on different potentials, one cannot situate or contextualize the other.  However, this is precisely what occurs in Tomasello’s vision.

Of course, Tomasello’s vision remains a breakthrough in the framework of modern science.  At least, the phenotype does not correspond to the adaptation.  Instead, the phenotype2c puts culture2b into perspective.  Then, culture2b virtually situates the adaptation of joint attention2a.

Yes, to repeat, the phenotype2c does not directly situate the adaptation2a.  Tomasello’s vision leads upwards from joint attention2a to human culture2b and then to human cognitive development2c. Cognitive development2c puts culture2b into perspective, just as culture2b virtually situates joint attention2a.

Tomasello’s vision is truly remarkable.

0077 And, it is difficult to achieve.

This book is the start of a twenty year journey.

0078 As noted in points 0055 through 0058, the last few chapters cover the cultural (situation) and ontogenetic (perspective) levels of Tomasello’s vision.  As far as I can see, these chapters labor to show how human ontogeny2c (the scientific study of human development) virtually contextualizes human culture2b (a somewhat vaguely defined term that refers to all situations where joint attention2a pertains).  In the process, Tomasello must also explain how human culture2b, especially spoken language and symbolic representation, virtually emerges from and situates joint attention2a.

How ambitious is that?

0079 Here a picture of the virtual nested form in the realm of actuality (the vertical column in secondness in Tomasello’s vision, portrayed as a nested form).

The normal context of the behavior of newborns and infants2c virtually brings the actuality of spoken language and symbolic representation2b into the potential of a foundational adaptation2a.

0080 Yes, this is very ambitious, and the final three chapters of this book strain to meet the challenge.  They should be read with this in mind.  The last three chapters are well composed.  Tomasello is an excellent writer.  He is very organized.  But, his exposition is like lifting a two-hundred pound octopus out of the water.  As soon as one arm is lifted, a different one slides back into the murk.

0081 Plus, there is the lingering issue of natural history.

Here is a picture with Tomasello’s guesses.

Tomasello makes two associations that make no sense at all, when considering joint attention2b as an adaptation to sociogenesis1b in the normal context of natural selection3b.  Sociogenesis1b is the human niche1b.  The human niche1b is the potential1b of triadic relations2a.  Consequently, the adaptation of joint attention2a should be marked in the archaeological record with the appearance of the Homo genus, around 1.8Myr (millions of years ago).

0082 With that in mind, I close this examination of the first step in Tomasello’s journey, scientifically exploring who we are.  The next step is a book that expands and clarifies this first step.  It is published nine years later.


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 1 of 20)

0001 Let me start with an admission.  In this particular examination, I am not myself.  I am someone who I am not.  I own a dog named, “Daisy”.

The book before me is by Daniel C. Dennett and is titled, “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds”.  The book is published by W.W. Norton (New York, London).  The book wrestles with issues both philosophical and scientific.  How does our world come to be?  How do we come to be?

Who are we?  We are people with minds.  Minds intelligently design artifacts using tools of production and tools of the intellect.  The first tools are handy.  The second are… well… not exactly the same as “handy”.

0002 The hand grasps a tool then uses it to manipulate things.  The word, “prehensile” applies.  Our hands are full of prehensions.  We are aware of the heft and feel of material instruments.

The mind grasps an intellectual tool with its… um… brain.  Is there such a word as “comprehensile”?  How about the term, “comprehension”?  Once we become competent using an intellectual tool, we comprehend.  We become familiar with its heft and feel.

0003 The hand is unlike the appendages of other mammals.

For example, cats and dogs only have feet.  The cat uses its front feet as “paws”, in a manner similar to the way humans use their hands.  Not really, because the cat’s paws cannot hold anything.  The cat cannot pick up a tool.  May I say that the cat’s front paws are part of the feline toolkit?  Evolution builds tools right into the cat’s body.  Most mammals are fashioned this way.  Tools are part of their bodies.

0004 The mind serves as a metaphorical appendage, because it grasps ‘something’, and in doing so, may manipulate it.  The dog, whose practical toolkit includes feet and a formidable mouth, has an advantage over the cat, in this respect.  The dog’s mind grasps ‘something’ and, in doing so, manipulates humans into serving as the leader of its pack.

To me, the dog is testimony to the inhospitality of wolf “culture”, in general, and the inadequacy of wolf “leadership”, in particular.  Wolf pack-leaders often behave like aristocrats, always expecting deferential treatment.  They are often filled with paranoia and treachery.  Yet, their followers know that they need a leader.  Otherwise, there is no pack.  Without the pack, there is only death.

0005 Surely, a reasonable human would serve as a more hospitable leader, especially since humans know how to get food in surprising ways.  Humans give dogs food.  Until, of course, starvation fills the land.


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 2 of 20)

0006 Unlike the cat, the dog has a tool of the intellect, whose application is so relevant that it fashions the ways that the species adapts into its niche.  This raises the question, “What is a niche?”

0007 First, an aside.  The interscope for the Darwinian paradigm is developed in Comments on Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight’s Book (2017) Adam and the Genome and is represented in other e-books and blogs by Razie Mah.  The two-level interscope is presented in A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

0008 Second, an answer to the question.

A niche is the (situation-level) potential1b of a (content-level) actuality that is independent of the adapting species2a.  As such, the niche1b underlies the actuality of adaptation2b in the normal context of natural selection3b.  Here is a picture.

0009 On the situation level, the normal context of natural selection3b brings the actuality of an adaptation2b into relation with its niche1b, which is the potential1b of an actuality independent of the adapting species2a.

As mentioned earlier, the dog has a tool of the intellect and this tool must be an adaptation2b.  What is the dog’s niche1b?  It must be us, humans, of course.  We are the actuality independent of the adapting species2a.  When we look at the dog’s adaptations2b from our point of view, we call the result, “domestication”.  The dog finds a pack in the human household.

0010 Of course, the dog’s domestication is a recent process.  

How did it happen?

Certain wolves, empowered by humans, learn to identify the human as a candidate for a pack leader.  Surely, humans are more… um… humane, depending on how one defines the word, “humane”.  When a dog is treated like a member of the family, more or less, its descent from wolves serves it well, since a wolf knows that it belongs to a pack.  A lone wolf is unlikely to survive on its own.  Dogs know this and therefore, accept the leash.

0011 I wonder whether Dennett would call the dog’s affection for its new-found pack leader “an evolved user illusion”.  Whatever label one wants to apply, the dog’s affection serves as a conviction, or rather, a judgment.  A judgment is a triadic relation with three elements: relation, what is and what ought to be.  A relation (in the dog’s being) brings what is(a human, especially when it provides food and family) into relation to what ought to be (a pack leader for the domesticate).

The dog signifies its joy, as well as its distress, through its tail.

What a tale the dog’s tail tells!

0012 No matter what the content-level normal context3a or potential1a, the dog’s tail specifies its consciousness of whether its gambit2b is working.

But, with that said, I seem to have entered a different paradigm.  This paradigm belongs to old-fashioned Latin schoolmen, called “scholastics”, who prospered between say, 800 to 1700 AD, from the very end of the Roman empire to the start of the modern era.

0013 If I say that the canine’s tail tells me something about what is going on in the dog’s mind, irrespective of what is happening3a and the potential of ‘something’ happening’1a, then I may conclude whether the dog is happy or not2b, by situating a dog’s tail action1b in the normal context of what it means to me3b.  

The specifying sign is a triadic relation where a sign-vehicle (SV) stands for a sign-object (SO) in regards to a sign-interpretant (SI).

My dog’s tail action2a (SVs) is the sign-vehicle for a specificative sign-relation.

The happiness or unhappiness of my dog2b is the sign-object (SOs).

What it means to me3b and the potential of ‘situating content1b is the specifying sign’s interpretant (SIs).

If my dog wags its tail (SVs), then I know that my dog is happy (SOs).

If my dog tucks its tail between its back legs (SVs), then I know that my dog is not happy (SOs).

0014 I wonder whether one dog notices the tail-action of other dogs.  After all, for all dogs, only content and situation levels matter.  So, I suppose that they do.  The tail-wagging and tail-tucking business may have been enhanced because humans are receptive to such signals.

0015 Would Dennett call a dog’s tail action a “meme”?

I suspect that he would.

0016 Meanwhile, premodern scholastics call the above two-level interscope, “specificative extrinsic formal causality”.  I call it “a specifying sign”.

Tail-action2a is the sign-vehicle (SVs).  My dog’s apparent attitude2b is the sign-object (SOs).  The normal context of what it means to me3b, operating on the potential of ‘situating content’1b is the sign-interpretant (SIs).  The subscript stands for “specifying”.

The sign-relation is discussed in detail in Razie Mah’s blog for November 2023, Looking at John Deely’s Book (2010) Semiotic Animal, as well as A Primer on Natural Signs and related e-articles available for sale at smashwords and other e-book venues.


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 3 of 20)

0017 Evolution is the path that leads the reader from the earliest form of life, bacteria, to one of the West’s best musical designers, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Is that what Dennett claims?

If so, then the preceding blog offers an interesting comparison.

I wonder, can the specifying sign serve as an analogy for Darwin’s paradigm?

What about the other way around?

0018 Here is picture of the two-level interscope for the Darwinian paradigm.

Here is a picture of the two-level interscope containing the specificative sign of a dog’s tail action.

0019 Darwin’s paradigm and the specifying sign have a similar category-based structure.

So, may they serve as analogies for one another?

0020 If Darwin’s paradigm serves as a metaphor for the specifying sign, then my dog’s tail action2a is like an actuality independent of the adapting species2a.  My dog’s tail action2a harbors a potential that may be exploited or avoided1b.  Of course, the word, “niche”, seems a little awkward in this instance.  A clever fellow, named Gibson, comes up with a good substitute.  Gibson labels the potential with the term, “affordance1b“.

The dog’s tail2a provides an advantage to the human, that is, an “affordance1b“.  The dog’s tail might also offer a disadvantage, which is also an “affordance”.  Gibson’s term is ambiguous in this regard.  Nevertheless, “affordance1b” suggests that the adapting species exploits the opportunity or avoids the danger.

0021 So, what on earth is the adapting species in this example?

It must belong to me, since my situation-level normal context, what the dog’s tail means to me3bis like an episode of natural selection3b.

Dennett raises a very interesting option.  Maybe, evolution is going on in my head.

Maybe, the neural networks in my head are products of Darwin’s paradigm working on neural synapses.

According to Darwin, natural selection3b is a mindless proclivity to survive (or not survive) in the face of an affordance.  For neurons, “survival” concerns participation in a neural network that serves to exploit or avoid an affordance.

For example, neurons in the cerebellum coordinate signals for fine-tuned motions.  They are in business as long as the appendage or musculature that they are involved with is present and working.  Neurons in the neocortex tend to be more enterprising.  These cells are busy creating new synapses with other neurons.  They network, so to speak.  They fish for business… er… affordances.  The selection process is guided by… shall I say… the best of all possible affordances1b: an answer2b to the question of what the dog’s tail action2a means to me3b.

Yes, I want to be Candide, in this regard.

0022 This leaves the specifying sign-object2b (SOs) as analogous to an adaptation2b.

Isn’t that curious?

If Darwin’s paradigm serves as a metaphor for the specifying sign, then the inquirer may visualize a hypothesis concerning how the brain operates.  The actuality independent of the adapting species2a is my dog’s tail action.  The adaptation2b is a circuit built from synapses (along with their entrepreneurial neurons) that somehow conveys the mental perception that my dog is either happy or upset2b.  

This particular instance of natural selection is a variation of Darwin’s paradigm, because synapses are entities that either survive or don’t survive and neocortical neurons are long-lived prospectors that make (or cut loose) synapses in order to stay in business.  The synapses are selected for or against.  The neurons breed synapses.  The neurons select for synapses that participate in sign-processing networks.

0023 Here is a revised picture for a dog’s tail as a specifying sign.

0024 Perhaps, the analogy works, but the adapting species3b is not so clear.  Is it the synapse, the neuron or the local network?  Or maybe, it is all three, with the synapse similar to a member of a species, the neuron similar to a breeder of the species, and local networks serving as a motivation for why a neuron breeds synapses.

Plus, what is the affordance1b in this instance?

0025 On top of that, what about memes?

My dog’s tail action may be labeled a “meme“.

Dennett associates memes to affordances.  And here, one affordance is clear.  The meme survives because it satisfies a particular specifying sign.  Perhaps, all that a researcher needs to do is look for specifying signs that have survived for a long time in order to formulate hypotheses on the ways that memes survive.

Does that sound like circular logic?

0026 To me, here is one affordance1b.  If a dog’s tail-action is an index of its attitude, then that is an advantage to me, because it makes my dog’s behavior comprehensible.

With this adaptation2b at hand, er… in mind, Daisy, my dog, becomes reasonable, as long as she stays on her leash.


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 4 of 20)

0027 What about the other way around?

What if the specifying sign-relation is analogous to Darwin’s paradigm?

Well, let me just transfer the sign-labels from one to the other.

0028 Gibson’s term, “affordance”1b, replaces “niche”1b, as the potential of the specifying actuality2a.

To me, “affordance”1b suggests an immediate potential, which I associate to a proximate niche.  An affordance is like money in one’s pocket.  That is always good and should be sought after.  An affordance is like owing someone who wants to be paid.  That is always bad and should be avoided.

0029 So, what are biologists doing when they “reverse engineer” an apparent adaptation in order to explain it?

They start with something like a specifying sign-object2b and end up with something like a specifying sign-vehicle2a.  They reverse engineer something that is analogous to a specifying sign.  A specifying sign-interpretant (natural selection3band affordance1b) designs a sign-object (an adaptation2b) in regards to a sign-vehicle (an actuality independent of the adapting species2a).

The result?

An actuality independent of the adapting species2a (SVs) stands for an adaptation2b (SOs) in regards to natural selection3b operating on an afforance1b (SIs).

0030 If Darwin’s paradigm is like a specifying sign, then biologists work from something like a sign-object towards something like a sign-vehicle.

0031 The term, “design”, is a point of contention.

Replace the word, “adaptation2b” with the term, “designed product2b“.

For an engineer, the normal context is design3b.  Aristotle’s causes are material, instrumental, final and formal.  Design is a formal cause.  Note how all four of Aristotle’s causes come into play in the following figure.

For a biologist, the normal context is natural selection3b, the actuality is an adaptation2b and the potential is labeled “niche”1b.

For a philosopher or an engineer, the normal context is design3b, the actuality is a developed product2b, and the potential is labeled “afforadance”1b.

0032 In the final chapter of Dennett’s book, the author asks the question, “When will experts start using natural selection3b as one of their tools for designing3b in their various enterprises?”

What a wonderful question.

I think the answer has something to do with arrangements for payment1b.

Exactly who are engineers working for?

God or mammon?


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 5 of 20)

0033 Where does this notion of specificative extrinsic formal causality come from?

Comments on John Deely’s Book (1994) New Beginnings is a good place to start.

The specifying sign is embedded in a formula for sensible construction, arrived at by Latin schoolmen during the later Middle Ages.

Obviously, the scholastics did not know that.  The discovery of the triadic nature of the sign-relation comes towards the end of centuries of philosophical inquiry and debate (say nothing of political intrigue), during a period labeled, “Baroque scholasticism”.  Baroque scholars witness the end of the Latin Age at the same time that mechanical philosophers usher in the beginning of the Age of Ideas (that is, the modern period).  This terminology comes from John Deely (1942-2017 AD) and appears in his massive tome, The Four Ages (2001).  The four ages are the Greek Age, the Latin Age, the Age of Ideasand the forthcoming Age of Triadic Relations.

0034 The category-based nested form comes in handy when portraying sensible construction.  Here is a picture for how humans think.

0035 There are several items to note.

First, the actualities are Latin terms.  “Species” (say it with an Italian accent, with lots of cheese) means “type of”.  “Impressa” means impression or sensation or feeling.  “Expressa” means perception or phantasm or emotional reaction.

Second, the situation level emerges from (and virtually situates) the content level.  The vertical elements are nested.  Species expressa2b virtually situates species impressa1a.  The qualifier, “virtual”, means “in virtue”, for the mind, and “in simulation”, for the brain.

Third, Aristotle’s four causes allow me to appreciate normal context3 and potential1.  The four causes allow me to comprehend an actuality2.  Material, instrumental, final and formal causes elucidate a category-based form that incorporates the actuality at hand.

0036 Say what?

At the start of chapter three in Dennett’s book, titled “On the Origins of Reasons”, the author lists Aristotle’s four causes.  Two of the four causes are familiar to scientists.  These are the material and efficient (or instrumental) causes.  The other two causes are ruled out by the positivist intellect.  These are formal and final causes.  Today, formal and final causalities are not regarded as “scientific” at all.

0037 What does this imply?

Without all of Aristotle’s four causes, only actualities are relevant.  The normal contexts and potentials cannot be considered, much less appreciated.  A species impressa2a and a species expressa2b constitute a manifest image of sensible construction.  The following figure is the corresponding scientific image.

0038 Well, there goes the whole discussion on how Darwin’s paradigm and the specifying sign may be analogies of one another.

Indeed, there goes the specifying sign, along with comprehension.

0039 The scientific picture only allows for material and instrumental causation.

Yet, we cannot comprehend any actuality without final and formal causation.

What can we do if we cannot comprehend?

We can assess competence.

0040 We can measure phenomena of perceptions in response to particular sensations.

How does a human brain come to recognize that the dog is happy because it wags its tail?

Can I fashion a mechanical or mathematical model, using a disciplinary language, describing neurons selecting for synapses which either exploit or avoid an affordance?

How does one build a model on observations and measurements of species impressa1b and species expressa2b?

One scientific model would be like a giant betting parlor filled with neocortical neurons, where each successful bet raises the stakes.  A perception, a species expressa2b, is like a winner2b, in this regard.  A phantasm2b depends on the survival and demise of synapses, so the qualia of the species impressa2a (those impressions, sensations and feelings) constitute the “winnings’ that perception2b rakes in (and must use to bet again).

0041 In many respects, the survival and demise of synapses1b corresponds to what psychologists might call “priming” or “training”.  Neurons perform natural selection3b on synapses2b.  The result is not comprehension.  The result is competence.

My brain’s reading of my dog’s attitude2bmy species expressa2b, turns into an example of competence, stimulated by observations of my dog’s tail2a.  My brain is competent at conjuring a phantasm2b that seems, upon subsequent reflection, to be perfectly sensible.

0042 My brain’s competence even extends to Daisy’s reaction to the neighbor’s cat.

Here is a diagram.

0043 At this juncture, I feel that I am on the verge of slipping from my brain to my mind.

Oh, I meant to say, “the user-illusion of my brain”.

0044 The first aspect of the slippage goes with chapter eight, titled “Brains Made of Brains”, more or less applying the Darwinian paradigm as a metaphor for the specifying sign.  Neurons3b selectively breed synapses1b in order to participate in adaptive neural networks2b.

0046 The second part of the slippage starts with chapter three, titled “The Origin of Reason”, and concerns the fact that, on the occasion of my reactionary dog encountering the neighbor’s revolutionary cat, the process of natural selection3b of neural synapses3b, provides me with a phantasm2b, a manifest image2ba species expressa2b, that avoids the affordance1bimplied by my dog’s tail action2a.  I pull Daisy back on her leash in order to prevent her from engaging in an impetuous action.

Yes, my brain provides its user with an illusion.  The phantasm2b that occupies my mind is a solution to a challenge similar to the Turing test.  The Turning test asks a question, “Can a human observer distinguish whether an action or behavior is in virtue or in simulation?”  If the answer is no, then the action passes the test.  My phantasm2b is a human thought that passes Turing’s test. It has the virtue of being human. But, that does not mean that I created my phantasm.

0047 No, a specific application of the Darwinian paradigm “designed” my phantasm2b.

I do not comprehend how I obtain the phantasm2b in my mind, because it has been designed without a designer.  It has been conjured by an evolutionary process.

Even more, the phantasm in my mind swarms with formal and final causalities, which cannot be recognized by a positivist intellect, er, I mean to say… a scientist.

The positivist intellect has a rule.

Metaphysics is not permitted.


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 6 of 20)

0048 In science, metaphysics is not allowed.

Yet, Aristotle’s four causes allow comprehension, because they step out of the physics of material and instrumental causalities, even as they include them.  Comprehension wraps actuality2 with a normal context3 and a potential1.  The resulting category-based nested form entangles actuality, even as it transcends actuality.

Are triadic relations real?

Are they real enough to provide the ultimate human niche?

0049 Surely, the similarity between the relational structure of Darwin’s paradigm and the specifying sign is unsettling. Dennett writes this similarity out of his many scenarios.  Why?  The similarity stinks of metaphysics.

0050 Say what?

The absence and the presence of metaphysics is on display when comparing the content-level of the Darwinian paradigmand the content level of the human mind, as depicted by those medieval Aristotelian scholastics. 

0051 For the Darwinian paradigm, metaphysics is not allowed.

There is no content-level normal context3a and potential1a.

Biologists do not worry about comprehending the actuality independent of the adapting species2a.  All they worry about is the potential of the actuality2a in defining a niche1b.

0052 For the scholastic picture of the way humans think, metaphysics is allowed.


Signs cannot be understood without metaphysics (that is, final and formal causation).

The species impressa2a is the sign-vehicle of the specifying sign (SVs), regardless of what is happening3a and the potential of ‘something happening’1a.  Yet, the specifying sign-vehicle2a becomes affordance-rich when the content-level normal context3a and potential1a are available.  The normal context3a associates to formal causation.  The potential1aassociates to final causation.  Without a content-level normal context3a and potential1asituating an impression1b becomes difficult and prone to error.  The impression2a becomes less comprehensible.

0053 When I take my dog on a walk and the beast suddenly puts her tail between her legs (SVs) , I know that she is upset (SOs).  That is the specifying sign-relation in action.

When she does so when encountering the neighbor’s cat, I see the cat as well.  The cat triggers a species impressa2a.  She has prehensile paws that may claw my dog’s nose.

In this instance, what is going on in my brain is more like the selective breeding of synapses, because the actuality independent of the adapting synapses2a… er… the species impressa2a presents within a non-empty normal context3a and potential1a.

0054 On other occasions, I do not know what is happening3a nor what possibilities are raised1a when her tail goes between her hind legs2a.  

In these instances, what is going on in my brain is more like a wide-open exercise in synaptic selection.  No phantasm seems adaptive until an affordance becomes obvious.

0055 My conclusion?

species impressa2a, an impression2a, a sensation2a or a feeling2a marks a human encounter with a thing or event.

If the content-level species impressa2a is embedded in the normal context of what is happening3a and the potential of ‘something’ happening1a, then the affordance1b is obvious and neuron-facilitated synapse selection3b produces a familiar species expressa2a through a Darwinian process similar to selective breeding1b.  Selective breeding of synapses1bcorresponds to rote learning.  That is, competence without comprehension.

If the content-level species impressa2a does not occur in the normal context of what is happening3a and if the potential of ‘something’ happening1a is not apparent, then affordance1b is not obvious and neuron-facilitated synapse selection3b will not produce a stable species expressa2b unless an affordance1b becomes obvious or another process (besides sensible construction) is initiated at a level higher than the situation level.

0056 I know what is happening3a when Daisy encounters the neighbor’s cat on our morning walk.  I worry that the cat’s fast moving paws may make mince-meat out of my dog’s precious snout.  So, I pull on the leash, in order to avoid confrontation.  That is my example of the selective-breeding of neural synapses.

At the same time, I wonder about other options.  Such wondering introduces an affordance that is not so obvious. Consequently, I have the user-experience of a phantasm2b that is odd and constantly in need of revision.  Do I call this option, “incompetence without comprehension”?  Or “temptation without a devil”?


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 7 of 20)

0057 The preceding blog brings me to an unappreciated, almost subliminal, theme in Dennett’s book.  Dennett strives to defend scientific rationalism as opposed to… well… my blather about specificative extrinsic formal causality.  Phantasm2band manifest images2b are the stuff of opinions.  They2b merely situate content.  Even though they2b appear to concern reality, they2b are really user-end illusions, like the meanings of spoken words or the interfaces of mobile-phone applications.  They2b are the products of both evolutionary paradigms and explicit abstraction.  Evolutionary paradigms contribute to design in one way.  Explicit abstraction contributes to design in another way.

0058 Here is a picture of terms that apply to actualities in a two-level interscope.

0059 It makes me wonder about that word, “design”.

Is “design” an attribute of the manifest image2b that dwells in the user-end illusion that I call “my mind”?

Or does “design” apply to the neural networks2b that result from neurons3b naturally selecting for synapses1b?

Is my user-end illusion best described as a little homunculus capable of planning and carrying out those plans orcompetence without comprehension?

0060 Or, do these questions pose a false dichotomy?

Are my neurons like selective breeders of synapses?  Do synapses flourish when plugged into a neural network?  Do neurons and synapses serve as the material and instrumental support for an immaterial phantasm?  I suppose so.  Neurons are long-lived compared to synapses.  So, they may support selection through producing and sustaining synapses. Neurons are entrepreneurs who often outlive one particular business (neural network) and end up participating in another.  The pattern of synapses established by a neuron2b may be regarded as an adaptation2b.

0061 For classical biological evolution, natural selection operates on individuals within a species.  Each individual is on its own.

For the evolution that Dennett is interested in, synapses are not like individuals.  They are like toolkits, designed for neurons to network with other neurons.

0062 Okay, then let me take that to the next level.

I wonder whether the relation between human culture and our species expressa2b, have the same evolutionary configuration.  So, human culture reproduces neuronal natural selection3b and a meme2a, a species impressa2a,reproduces the role of the synapse.  After all, humans are long-lived compared to memes.  Memes are not individuals.  They are like toolkits, designed for humans to network with other humans.

Instead of “neural evolution”, Dennett proposes the label “cultural evolution”.

0063 This brings me back to the manifest image, produced mechanically and instrumentally by neuron-driven evolution,and, perhaps, mechanically and instrumentally producing cultural evolution.

Am I like a neuron of cultural evolution?

Think about it.

0064 Thank God that Daisy has not figured out that option.

The logic of this exposition would have Daisy as a short-lived synapse-like being held on a leash by a long-lived neuron-like master.

0065 What an incredible manifest image!   What portraits of neuronal and cultural Darwinian paradigms are on display in Dennett’s book.  Metaphysics-laden manifest images accord with the author’s physics-laden scientific images… er… models of biological and social phenomena.  Yet, Dennett does not clearly envision the accordance.

0066 Why?

Dennett’s work contains a subliminal, or maybe… a sublime, defense of the scientific worldview.

A versatile and productive diagram for the scientific enterprise is developed in Comments on Jacques Maritain’s Book (1935) Natural Philosophy, by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.