Participants: Alon, Jonathan, Noam, Amnon, Aviv, Ori
Presenter: Alon- On Non-Conscious Representations
Alon presented some of his lab's research. Abstract:
The traditional claim in cognitive sciences is that complex and serial cognitive functions can only be performed on consciously available representations. This claim was tested many times in the past, always using short time frames, allowing stimuli (and therefore the mental representation following it) to remain subliminal. Lately, however, using a new technology allowing us to render stimuli subliminal for longer periods, this barrier was broken. In our meeting, Alon presented some of the original findings, supporting the claims of inability to process non-conscious mental representation, as well as some new paradigms from his lab, providing evidence of complex, serial and strategic processing of non-conscious mental representations.
PowerPoint presentation attached.
Alon's presentation led to various debates with regards to the role of mental representations:
The first question to arise was whether or not this type of research proves the existence of non-consious representations. We seemed to agree that it proves the existence of non-concious high level cognitive capacities. But with regards to the existence of non-concious representations, that seems dependant on whether or not we already assume that high level cognitive capacities (like the ability to calculate 15-7-2) can only be performed through a manipulation of representations.
This immediately led to a second debate- Is there truth to the claim that high level cognitive abilities can only be performed through the manipulation of representations? This debate was not settled. We tried to understand the justification behind such a claim- why must high-level functions demand the existence of representations? Is it because that when I calculate 15-7-2 conciously it seems/feels like I'm manipulating representations (of 15,7, etc.)? If so, then doesn't Alon's research, showing these tasks can be achieved non-conciously, prove that that is a weak justification? Perhaps the justification in assuming the need for representations is simply derived from the complexity of these tasks. If so, then does that mean that when calculaters or computers achieve such tasks, they too must manipulate representations? And would that be the same type of representation manipulation that human beings are assumed to perform?
These last questions offer a quick stepping stone to the biggest questions with regards to representation. Do machines or computers use representations like humans do? What counts as a representation? What counts as using a representation to achieve a task? We discussed these questions shortly and we will surely return to them. Another important question that was touched upon was an attempt to analyze the extent to which cognitive psychology is commited to representations. Are cognitive psychologists realists, pragmatists, or maybe eliminativists? And how do we even tell the difference? We will return to this question as well (perhaps even right at the start of our next meeting).