Monday, December 04, 2017

Parcels of Matter Forming Concepts

It is a challenge to reconcile Thomas Aquinas' approach to "nothing exists in the mind before it exists in the senses" and the physicalist account of concept-formation. Sadly, neuroscience has not yet developed a robust account of how we form concepts: Joseph Ledoux (The Emotional Brain) has a great picture whereby he shows how sensory stimuli become "conscious content." Alas! He describes the whole process as a "black box" that involves stimuli being processed and stored along with more processing and storage before stimuli become the contents of consciousness.

The complex feature about this whole process is that memory has a role in sensible phenomena becoming conscious contents. For instance, I've seen many apples in my relatively brief lifespan. So when I perceive my 1000th apple, things are not so simple as the apple/stimulus being converted into information, which eventually becomes a representational concept (on the physicalist explanation of things) or sensible matter (according to the Thomist account). Yet my brain does not engage in this process every time that I perceive an apple. Are we not thankful for the hippocampal region, the amygdala, synapses, and other parts of our neurobiology?

See also by Owen Flanagan.


Duncan said...

So is a baby truly conscious or does it only become truly conscious once it has accumulated enough sensory input?

Edgar Foster said...

Babies do receive sensory stimuli, and the psychologists I've read say that consciousness exists on a continuum from lesser to greater degrees. Therefore, a baby is conscious (aware), but his/her consciousness is not the same as that of a full-grown healthy adult. But neither are conscious waking states qualitatively the same as sleeping states either.