Graduate studies at Western
|Abstract||I recently discovered that work I was doing in the laboratory and in theoretical writings was implicitly taking a position on a set of questions that philosophers had been worrying about for much of the past 30 or more years. My clandestine involvement in philosophical issues began when a computer science colleague and I were trying to build a model of geometrical reasoning that would draw a diagram and notice things in the diagram as it drew it (Pylyshyn, Elcock, Marmor, & Sander, 1978). One problem we found we had to face was that if the system discovered a right angle it had no way to tell whether this was the intersection of certain lines it had drawn earlier while constructing a certain figure, and if so which particular lines they were. Moreover, the model had no way of telling whether this particular right angle was identical to some bit of drawing it had earlier encountered and represented as, say, the base of a particular triangle. There was, in other words, no way to determined the identity of an element (I use the term “element” when referring to a graphical unit such as used in experiments. Otherwise when speaking informally I use the term “thing” on the grounds that nobody would mistake that term for a technical theoretical construct. Eventually I end up calling them “Visual Objects” to conform to usage in psychology) at two different times if it was represented differently at those times. This led to some speculation about the need for what we called a “finger” that could be placed at a particular element of interest and that could be used to identify it as particular token thing (the way you might identify a particular feature on paper by labeling it). In general we needed something like a finger that would stay attached to a particular element and could be used to maintain a correspondence between the individual element that was just noticed now and one that had been represented in some fashion at an earlier time. The idea of such fingers (which....|
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