Re: Devi (Re: Adams-Webber (Re: Lefebvre))

Jack Adams-Webber (
Tue, 9 May 1995 09:05:41 -0500

Dear Devi:

You suggest,

>Of course, this.......
>harks back to a logical dilemma that I've tried, perhaps rather
>inarticulately, to address in the past, viz., that a constructivist
>alternativist epistemology must logically admit absolutist, positivist
>epistemologies as members of the set of alternatives to itself and thereby
>treat them as equally possible: acceptance of which would seem to explode
>the notion of constructivist alternativism....
>Maybe this would be worth readdressing? (_Pace_ Beverly Walker, who
>suggested my problem lies in an excessive adherence to the need for logical
>consistency if I'm taking a constructivist position, which seems
>reasonable; and Jack Adams-Webber, whose response led me to resolve that it
>was high time I read some Lefebvre, a good intention, like so many others,
>which awaits a suitable opportunity free of other committments...)

Perhaps the following might save you some time (or save you sometime):

PSYCOLOQUY.95.6.34.human-choice.2.adams-webber Sunday 3 December 1995 ISSN
1055-0143 (10 paragraphs, 9 references, 177 lines)
Sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA)
Copyright 1995

Commentary on Lefebvre on Human-Choice

Jack R. Adams-Webber
Department of Psychology
Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario
Canada L2S 3A1

ABSTRACT: It is argued that it makes epistemological sense for cognitive
scientists to adopt the pragmatic constructivist strategy pursued by
Lefebvre (1995). The intent is to identify formal principles which can
impose logical constraints on the construction of computational models
applicable to specific psychological problems such as, in the case of
Lefebvre's own research, the prediction of human choice behavior.

1. Lefebvre (1995) illustrates how an epistemological strategy that has
proved useful in contemporary theoretical physics can also be employed in
the construction of computational models in cognitive science.
Specifically, he formulates an a priori assumption which cannot be
falsified empirically, but allows us to generate testable hypotheses
concerning possible values of parameters and boundary conditions for
existing models of cognitive processes.

2. As clearly explained in ordinary English for the benefit of
non-physicists by several leading cosmologists, including Hawking (1988)
and Penrose (1989), the anthropic principle entails an explicit criterion
for excluding from further consideration a certain subset of possible
mathematical models of the evolution of the universe that do not allow for
the appearance of a human observer at a certain point in its development.
As Penrose (1989, p. 434) also notes, it "could provide a reason that
consciousness is here without it having to be favoured by natural

3. Thus, the anthropic principle serves an important epistemological
function in cosmology, which possibly also has implications for the
"physics of mind". Lefebvre (1995) offers an "abstract principle of
freedom" that might serve an analogous epistemological function in
contemporary cognitive science by imposing logical restrictions on the
selection of basic parameters in computational models of human behavior.

4. His work provides an example of a methodological gambit that is novel
from the standpoint of traditional experimental psychology, but has become
almost commonplace in physics and computer science, that is, employing
abstract a priori postulates, which are not in themselves empirically
falsifiable, to guide the selection of initial parameters and/or the
location of boundary conditions for theoretical models without recourse to
experiments (e.g., the "temporal projection" problem in artificial
intelligence). Once such parameters are inserted into specific models, at
least some of their predictive implications can be deduced and tested
empirically; however, their initial selection or exclusion from
consideration may be guided only by logical discourse.

5. For instance, I can hardly use the second law of thermodynamics to
specifically predict how fast the coffee in my cup will cool off, although
it implies generally that, if I were to place it next to a cup of
relatively cold coffee, I would thereby irreversibly increase the total
amount of entropy in the universe by some unspecified amount. More to the
point, the same law also has specific implications for cognitive science in
that it tells us that any model of the organization of information in
memory, either human or computer, must entail a net increase in entropy
when we take into account the amount of energy dissipated in its
implementation. That is, as Hawking (1988, p. 147) puts it, "this increase
in disorder is always greater than the increase in order of the memory
itself." It follows that the direction of time in which the past is
remembered must be that in which entropy increases. Therefore, in
constructing models of memory, we can rule out the possibility of symmetry
with respect to time (say we were thinking in terms of a quantum computer);
and accordingly, all of such models will be, in principle, logically
subject to the multifaceted temporal projection problem (cf. Adams-Webber,

6. Within the explicit context of modeling binary choice, Lefebvre (1995)
shows that his own "principle of freedom" has some empirical implications
that can be tested against experimental data. Indeed, he adduces several
experimental observations to illustrate this point. He refers specifically
to the fact, as he has demonstrated elsewhere (Lefebvre, 1985, 1992),
several "golden section" findings can be deduced directly from his
computational model of binary choice; and in the current paper, he shows
that specific parameters in this model can be derived from a formal
principle of much broader generality, that is, an a priori assumption of

7. Another interesting aspect of the anthropic principle in cosmology is
that it is reflexive in the sense that it applies directly to the fact that
there currently exist cosmologists who are developing models of the
evolution of the universe which may be judged to be either consistent or
inconsistent with the anthropic principle itself. Lefebvre shows that his
"principle of freedom" has the same kind of reflexive property in that it
can be applied to our own choice of parameters in the construction of
cognitive models.

8. Perhaps the deepest implication of his argument is that the "principle
of freedom" imposes a restriction on the range of convenience of the
anthropic principle itself. That is, the two principles, in combination,
rule out all models of the evolution of the universe that do not include
the conditions for the appearance, at a certain point, of an observer
similar to a human being who enjoys free will, and under some
circumstances, freedom of choice as well. As Lefebvre, himself points out,
this position allows for the epistemological possibility that such
observers might themselves construct the phenomena which they observe.

9. An important premise underlying Lefebvre's thesis is that, as in
theoretical physics, empirical findings are not necessarily either
constitutive of, or regulative of, all of the principles applicable to the
choice of parameters for computational models in cognitive science. The
wider implications of this assumption need to be explored more fully. For
example, Miles (1986, p.172) speculates, "there is implicit in empirical
science an a priori structure that provides a reference frame without which
empirical investigation would itself be impossible." From a strictly
pragmatic standpoint, it is difficult to see how we can ever develop fully
specified formal models of any generality, such as Lefebvre's (1992) own
algebraic model of reflexion, without using certain a priori postulates to
guide the initial choice of assumptions. Nonetheless, this process of
construction should not be free-floating: that is, explicit logical
criteria should govern the use of formal postulates in the development of
cognitive models, such as, for example, mathematical consistency.

10. Lefebvre could possibly strengthen his general case for our using the
methodological gambit exemplified by the anthropic principle, if he were to
more fully explicate other assumptions underlying his argument that we can
construct useful functional descriptions of cognitive processes at
relatively high levels of abstraction in which the selection of certain
parameters is guided by a priori formal principles of wide generality (of
which his principle of freedom is but one example) without direct recourse
to experimental data. For instance, how might we initially delimit the
potential search space for finding relevant parameters? Perhaps we need to
devise some clear epistemological criteria for determining the range of
relevance of any empirical generalization (cf. Von Wright, 1966). Further
elaboration of his thesis might also require our distinguishing between
different levels of logical discourse with a view to avoiding category
errors, while, hopefully, also eschewing metaphysics (cf. Hayes, Ford &
Adams-Webber, 1994).


Adams-Webber, J. (1993). The robot's designer's dilemma. American Journal
of Psychology, 106, 300-303.

Hawking, S.W. (1988). A brief history of time: From the big bang to black
holes. New York: Bantam.

Hayes, P.J., Ford, K.M. & Adams-Webber, J. (1994). Human Reasoning About
Artificial Intelligence. In E. Dietrich (Ed.), Thinking computers and
virtual persons: Essays on the intentionality of machines (pp. 331-353).
San Diego: Academic Press.

Lefebvre, V. A. (1985). The golden section and an algebraic model of
ethical cognition. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 29, 289-310.

Lefebvre, V.A. (1992). A rational equation of attractive proportions.
Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 36, 100-128.

Lefebvre, V.A. (1995). The Anthropic Principle in Psychology and Human
Choice. PSYCOLOQUY 6(29) human-choice.1.lefebvre.

Miles, M. (1986). Kant and the synthetic a priori. University of Toronto
Quarterly, 55, 172-184.

Penrose, R. (1989). The emperor's new mind. New York: Oxford.

Von Wright, G.H. (1966). The paradoxes of confirmation. In J. Hintikka & P.
Suppes (Eds.), Aspects of inductive logic (pp. 208-218). Amsterdam: North

Jack Adams-Webber Tel: 905 (688) 5544 [x 3714]
Department of Psychology Fax: 905 (688) 6922
Brock University E-mail:
St. Catharines, Ontario