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

Gary Blanchard (
Sun, 12 May 1996 09:56:02 -0700

Jack Adams-Webber wrote:
> 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
> Email:
> 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
> selection".
> 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,
> 1993).
> 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
> freedom.
> 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
> Holland.
> Jack Adams-Webber Tel: 905 (688) 5544 [x 3714]
> Department of Psychology Fax: 905 (688) 6922
> Brock University E-mail:
> St. Catharines, Ontario

Dear Jack and Devi-

I read with interest Jack's response to Devi. If you're interested in my
non-PCP-trained (i.e., other paradigm) perspective, I would be glad to
offer it.

But, not being sure if it would only impede your conversation (in the
eyes of the two of you), I think it best that I content myself simply
with making this offer.

[Note to Lois and Alessandra, and interested others:

[In my paradigm (Maturana-Varela, Flores-Winograd) an 'offer' is
a conditional Request; which my training has helped me to see as a Speech
Act, or Performative verb (a la Austen & Searle).

[This is interesting mainly because Requests/Offers (and, of
course, Counter-offers) can be shown to be the source of all human action
in the world, and always evoke a Promise (another speech act) from the
hearer of the original Request/Offer.

[We, all of us, produce these speech act utterances continuously,
in the stream of Languaging, which Maturana defines as 'mutually-
orienting behavior.'

[This 'stream'--- metaphorically-speaking only --- can be shown
to 'envelop' all of us humans, all of our lives. But the phenomenon
remains transparent to us until we get, and take, the opportunity to
REview our daily operations of speaking and listening from the
perspective of a new paradigm, or point of view.

[This new paradigm may afford a view of this phenomenon that
one's current operating paradigm (Objectivism) does not. If the new
pardigm does permit/provide this perspective, then it will be instantly
clear that we do, indeed, 'live in language;'and are, hence, primarily
linguistic creatures.

[This of course has profound implications for the question: What
makes people tick?]

RSVP....please! I could be in error. best, gary (Blanchard)