David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophical Psychology 10 (2):197 – 210 (1997)
Harry Harlow is credited with the discovery of learning set, a process whereby problem solving becomes essentially complete in a single trial of training. Harlow described that process as one that freed his primates from arduous trial-and-error learning. The capacity of the learner to acquire learning sets was in positive association with the complexity and maturation of their brains. It is here argued that Harlow's successful conveyance of learning-set phenomena is of historic significance to the philosophy of psychology. Learning set is said to reflect the affirmation or rejection of hypotheses. Hypotheses are generated by the learner's brain, not its muscles. Thus, learning-set research served to advance the perspective that even nonhuman primates think and that their thinking reflects the active processing of information accrued from efforts to solve problems. Their learning processes are not simply the strengthening of some motor responses over others. Hence, learning-set research served to advance studies of animals as rational agents. This trend is serving to supplant the radical-behavioristic models, formulated earlier this century, with models predicated on rational processes for animals' complex learning and behavior.
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