Noam Chomsky's Poverty of the Stimulus Argument is one of the most famous and controversial arguments in the study of language and the mind. Though widely endorsed by linguists, the argument has met with much resistance in philosophy. Unfortunately, philosophical critics have often failed to fully appreciate the power of the argument. In this paper, we provide a systematic presentation of the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument, clarifying its structure, content, and evidential base. We defend the argument against (...) a variety of philosophical criticisms, new and old, and argue that the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument continues to deserve its guiding role in the study of language and the mind. (shrink)
My paper defends the use of the poverty of stimulus argument (POSA) for linguistic nativism against Cowie's (1999) counter-claim that it leaves empiricism untouched. I first present the linguistic POSA as arising from a reflection on the generality of the child's initial state in comparison with the specific complexity of its final state. I then show that Cowie misconstrues the POSA as a direct argument about the character of the pld. In this light, I first argue that the data (...) Cowie marshals about the pld does not begin to suggest that the POSA is unsound. Second, through a discussion of the so-called `auxiliary inversion rule', I show, by way of diagnosis, that Cowie misunderstands both the methodology of current linguistics and the complexity of the data it is obliged to explain. (shrink)
We can find no place in psychology for the concept of stimulus as a physical agent to which an individual responds in a psychological manner. Moreover, we can find no place for sensation and image when considered as simple mental elements. We would also purge ...
A central goal of modern generative grammar has been to discover invariant properties of human languages that reflect “the innate schematism of mind that is applied to the data of experience” and that “might reasonably be attributed to the organism itself as its contribution to the task of the acquisition of knowledge” (Chomsky, 1971). Candidates for such invariances include the structure dependence of grammatical rules, and in particular, certain constraints on question formation. Various “poverty of stimulus” (POS) arguments suggest (...) that these invariances reflect an innate human endowment, as opposed to common experience: Such experience warrants selection of the grammars acquired only if humans assume, a priori, that selectable grammars respect substantive constraints. Recently, several researchers have tried to rebut these POS arguments. In response, we illustrate why POS arguments remain an important source of support for appeal to a priori structure-dependent constraints on the grammars that humans naturally acquire. (shrink)
Rolls defends a higher-order thought theory of phenomenal consciousness, mapping the distinction between conscious and non-conscious states onto a distinction between two types of action and corresponding neural pathways. Only one type of action involves higher-order thought and consequently consciousness. This account of consciousness has implausible consequences for the nature of stimulus-reinforcement learning.
This paper is principally devoted to comparing and contrasting poverty of stimulus arguments for innate cognitive apparatus in relation to language and in relation to folk psychology. These days one is no longer allowed to use the term ‘innate’ without saying what one means by it. So I will begin by saying what I mean by ‘innate’. Sections 2 and 3 will discuss language and theory of mind, respectively. Along the way, I will also briefly discuss other arguments for (...) innate cognitive apparatus in these areas. (shrink)
It has been thought that the meanings of some utterances might be explained or defined through their roles as responses, or through their roles as stimuli. I shall use the label ‘SRM’ - for ‘stimulus-response meaning-theory’ - to name a certain disjunctive view about this. One disjunct, speaker’s SRM, says that in some natural language L there are many values of E whose meanings can be expressed in the form: whenever any mature L-user undergoes a stimulus of kind (...) S, he utters E by way of response. The other disjunct, hearer’s SRM, says that in some natural language L there are many values of E whose meanings can be expressed in the form: whenever any mature L-user hears E uttered, he does something of kind A by way of response. (shrink)
One of the most influential arguments in contemporary philosophy and cognitive science is Chomsky's argument from the poverty of the stimulus. In this response to an essay by Chandra Sripada, I defend an analogous argument from the poverty of the moral stimulus. I argue that Sripada's criticism of moral nativism appears to rest on the mistaken assumption that the learning target in moral cognition consists of a series of simple imperatives, such as "share your toys" or "don't hit (...) other children." In fact, the available evidence suggests that the moral competence of adults and even young children is considerably more complex and exhibits many characteristics of a well-developed legal code, including abstract theories of crime, tort, contract, and agency. Since the emergence of this knowledge cannot be explained by appeals to explicit instruction, or to any known processes of imitation, internalization, socialization and the like, there are grounds for concluding it may be innate. Simply put, to explain the development of intuitive jurisprudence in each individual, we must attribute unconscious knowledge and complex mental operations to her that go well beyond anything she has been taught. (shrink)
The distinction between receptive field and conceptual field is appealing and heuristically useful. Conceptually, it is more satisfactory to distinguish between information from the environment and from the brain. We emphasize here a selectionist view that considers information transmission within the brain as modulated by a stimulus, rather than information transmission from a stimulus as modulated by the context.
In the debates surrounding the ethical dimensions of interventions in the human genome, much attention is paid to determining whether—and if so, how—market access to these technologies ought to be managed in order to maximize social benefit. There are those who advocate a “laissez-faire” free-market approach to the development and use of genetic and genomic interventions. We are sympathetic to this view insofar as we understand the workings of the market stimulus effect. We use the term “market stimulus (...) effect” to refer to the outcome of a set of mechanisms whereby early adoption of a new technology by wealthy consumers promotes the development of versions of this product that are cheaper to produce, or are simply .. (shrink)
Nikos K. Logothetis University of Manchester, Manchester, UK In binocular rivalry, the visual percept alternates stochastically between two dichoptically presented stimuli. It is established that both processes related to the eye of origin and binocular, stimulus-related processes account for these ﬂuctuations in conscious perception. Here we studied how their relative contributions vary over time. We applied brief disruptions to rivalry displays, concurrent with an optional eye swap, at varying time intervals after one stimulus became visible (dominant). We found (...) that early in a dominance phase the dominant eye determined the percept by stabilizing its own contribution (regardless of the stimulus), with an additional yet weaker stabilizing contribution of the stimulus (regardless of the eye). Their stabilizing contributions declined in parallel with time so that late in a dominance phase the stimulus (and in some cases also the eye-based) contribution turned negative, favoring a perceptual (or ocular) switch. Our ﬁndings show that depending on the time, ﬁrst processes related to the eye of origin and then those related to the stimulus can have a greater net inﬂuence on the stability of the conscious percept. Their co-varying change may be due to feedback from image- to eyeof-origin representations. (shrink)
This commentary focuses on the stimulus-reinforcer hypothesis of resistance to change. The overall context of reinforcement can account for resistance to extinction. There are ways to systematically test the hypothesis that Pavlovian contingencies account for the behavioral “mass” of discriminated operant behavior.
We have analyzed many discrimination learning difficulties as reflecting multiple stimulus control topographies (SCTs). Nevin & Grace's analysis offers new variables to consider in the design of stimulus-control shaping procedures and cross-setting generalization of newly established behavior. A multiple-SCT perspective also suggests that fixed-trial discrimination procedures may offer advantages for reconciling momentum theory and partial reinforcement extinction effects.
A symbol is defined as a species of sign. The concept of a sign coincides with Skinner's (1938) concept of a discriminative stimulus. Symbols differ from other signs in five respects: (1) They are stimuli which the organism can both respond to and produce, either as a self-directed stimulus (as in thinking) or as a stimulus for another individual with a predictably similar response from the recipient in each case. (2) they act as discriminative stimuli for the (...) same kind of object for all members of the verbal community within which they function as a symbols; (3) they acquire their properties by virtue of arbitrary social convention rather than any natural and intrinsic connection between the sign and what it is a sign of; (4) competent members of the verbal community can both produce the appropriate symbol in response to a naturally occurring sign of the presence of the object or a sample of the kind of object which the symbol stands for and select the appropriate object when presented with the symbol; (5) they form stimulus equivalence classes of the kind demonstrated in the matching-to-sample task (Sidman, 1971; Sidman and Tailby, 1982) both with other symbols having the same meaning and, more important, with the naturally-occurring non-symbolic signs of the presence of the object or kind of object which the symbol stands for. (shrink)
Shors & Matzel propose that hippocampal LTP increases the effective salience of discrete external stimuli and thereby facilitates the induction of memories at distant places. In line with this suggestion, a neural network model of associative learning and hippocampal function assumes that LTP increases hippocampal error signals to the cortex, thereby facilitating stimulus configuration in association cortex. Computer simulations show that under these assumptions the model correctly describes the effect of LTP induction and blockade in classical discriminations and place (...) learning. (shrink)
Glenberg offers two different accounts of embodied conceptualization. The first fails in cases where no direct bodily interaction is possible. The second fails in cases where the object in question cannot serve as a discriminative stimulus; moreover, it yields inappropriate content even in cases where it can be applied. Glenberg's disregard for the conceptual agenda set by the social world is also disquieting.
Jerry Fodor argues that Darwin was wrong about "natural selection" because (1) it is only a tautology rather than a scientific law that can support counterfactuals ("If X had happened, Y would have happened") and because (2) only minds can select. Hence Darwin's analogy with "artificial selection" by animal breeders was misleading and evolutionary explanation is nothing but post-hoc historical narrative. I argue that Darwin was right on all counts. Until Darwin's "tautology," it had been believed that either (a) God (...) had created all organisms as they are, or (b) organisms had always been as they are. Darwin revealed instead that (c) organisms have heritable traits that evolved across time through random variation, with survival and reproduction in (changing) environments determining (mindlessly) which variants were successfully transmitted to the next generation. This not only provided the (true) alternative (c), but also the methodology for investigating which traits had been adaptive, how and why; it also led to the discovery of the genetic mechanism of the encoding, variation and evolution of heritable traits. Fodor also draws erroneous conclusions from the analogy between Darwinian evolution and Skinnerian reinforcement learning. Fodor’s skepticism about both evolution and learning may be motivated by an overgeneralization of Chomsky’s “poverty of the stimulus argument” -- from the origin of Universal Grammar (UG) to the origin of the “concepts” underlying word meaning, which, Fodor thinks, must be “endogenous,” rather than evolved or learned. (shrink)
Quine claims that holism (i.e., the Quine-Duhem thesis) prevents us from defining synonymy and analyticity (section 2). In Word and Object, he dismisses a notion of synonymy which works well even if holism is true. The notion goes back to a proposal from Grice and Strawson and runs thus: R and S are synonymous iff for all sentences T we have that the logical conjunction of R and T is stimulus-synonymous to that of S and T. Whereas Grice and (...) Strawson did not attempt to defend this definition, I try to show that it indeed gives us a satisfactory account of synonymy. Contrary to Quine, the notion is tighter than stimulus-synonymy – particularly when applied to sentences with less than critical semantic mass (section 3). Now according to Quine, analyticity could be defined in terms of synonymy, if synonymy were to make sense: A sentence is analytic iff synonymous to self-conditionals. This leads us to the following notion of analyticity: S is analytic iff, for all sentences T, the logical conjunction of S and T is stimulus-synonymous to T; an analytic sentence does not change the semantic mass of any theory to which it may be conjoined (section 4). This notion is tighter than Quine's stimulus-analyticity; unlike stimulus-analyticity, it does not apply to those sentences from the very center of our theories which can be assented to come what may, even though they are not synthetic in the intuitive sense (section 5). Conclusion: We can have well-defined notions of synonymy and analyticity even if we embrace Quine's holism, naturalism, behaviorism, and radical translation. Quine's meaning skepticism is to be repudiated on Quinean grounds. (shrink)
A nativist moral psychology, modeled on the successes of theoretical linguistics, provides the best framework for explaining the acquisition of moral capacities and the diversity of moral judgment across the species. After a brief presentation of a poverty of the moral stimulus argument, this chapter sketches a view according to which a so-called Universal Moral Grammar provides a set of parameterizable principles whose specific values are set by the child's environment, resulting in the acquisition of a moral idiolect. The (...) principles and parameters approach predicts moral diversity, but does not entail moral relativism. (shrink)
I argue that we can reconcile two seemingly incompatible traditions for thinking about concepts. On the one hand, many cognitive scientists assume that the systematic redeployment of representational abilities suffices for having concepts. On the other hand, a long philosophical tradition maintains that language is necessary for genuinely conceptual thought. I argue that on a theoretically useful and empirically plausible concept of 'concept', it is necessary and sufficient for conceptual thought that a thinker be able to entertain many of the (...) potential thoughts produced by recombining her representational abilities apart from a direct confrontation with the states of affairs being represented. Such representational abilities support a cognitive engagement with the world that is flexible, abstract, and active. (shrink)
The psychological concept of illusion is defined as a process involving an interaction of logical and empirical considerations. Common usage suggests that an illusion is a discrepancy between one's awareness and some stimulus. Following preliminary definitions of classes of stimuli, five definitions of illusion are considered, based upon the possible discrepancies between awareness and a stimulus. It is found that each of these definitions fails to make important distinctions, even to the point of equating all illusory and perceptual (...) phenomena. This dilemma is resolved by redefining illusion without reference to truth or falsity, but relative to the functioning of a given perceptual system under different conditions. The definition accepted as best is 'a discrepancy between one's perceptions of an object or event observed under different conditions'. Conditions may differ in terms of stimulus exposure, stimulus context, or experiental context. The philosophical and psychological implications are discussed of accepting a definition of illusion not based on a discrepancy between awareness and a stimulus. (shrink)
The author argues for a purely naturalistic underpinning of the linguistic practice of reporting one's introspections. In doing so he avoids any commitments about the ontological status of entities referred to in introspective reports. He also presents evidence of the inadequacy of peripheralistic behaviorism as a naturalistic underpinning of introspective reports. The paper includes (a) a definition of 'introspection' and criticism of alternative definitions, (b) a classification scheme that sorts introspections into six different types, and (c) a presentation of evidence (...) that the reporting of certain of these is based on such fundamental psychological phenomena as stimulus generalization, and possibly also conditioning to covert mediating responses. (shrink)
This article reports four subliminal perception experiments using the relationship between confidence and accuracy to assess awareness. Subjects discriminated among stimuli and indicated their confidence in each discrimination response. Subjects were classified as being aware of the stimuli if their confidence judgments predicted accuracy and as being unaware if they did not. In the first experiment, confidence predicted accuracy even at stimulus durations so brief that subjects claimed to be performing at chance. This finding indicates that subjects's claims that (...) they are ''just guessing'' should not be accepted as sufficient evidence that they are completely unaware of the stimuli. Experiments 2-4 tested directly for subliminal perception by comparing the minimum exposure duration needed for better than chance discrimination performance against the minimum needed for confidence to predict accuracy. The latter durations were slightly but significantly longer, suggesting that under certain circumstances people can make perceptual discriminations even though the information that was used to make those discriminations is not consciously available. (shrink)
Twentieth century philosophy and psychology have been peculiarly averse to mental images. Throughout nearly two and a half millennia of philosophical wrangling, from Aristotle to Hume to Bergson, images (perceptual and quasi-perceptual experiences), sometimes under the alias of "ideas", were almost universally considered to be both the prime contents of consciousness, and the vehicles of cognition. The founding fathers of experimental psychology saw no reason to dissent from this view, it was commonsensical, and true to the lived experience of conscious (...) thinking. However, early in this century, just about when the behaviorist revolution in psychology was loudly declaring the scientific illegitimacy of any attempt to study consciousness, and the concomitant non-existence of imagery (Watson, 1913; see Thomas, 1989), philosophy was undergoing its "linguistic turn", a turn to seeing philosophy as essentially about language rather than the world, even the 'inner' world. For decades, the very concept of the mental image was suspect, and it was certainly banished from playing any major role in theories of mind and of thinking. Ralph Ellis' Questioning Consciousness, together with the recent speculations of certain influential neuroscientists (Edelman, 1992; Damasio, 1994), may be signaling the end this unusual era. (shrink)
À Harvard durant l’année académique 1940-41, les philosophes-mathématiciens Quine, Tarski et Carnap débattaient de la possibilité d’établir une distinction entre les énoncés analytiques et synthétiques qui soit suffisamment mordante pour dégager un statut spécial à l’épistémologie. Quine et Tarski s’objectaient à la distinction et l’objection de Quine verra notamment le jour sous le titre fameux « Les deux dogmes de l’empirisme ». Carnap, dans son autobiographie intellectuelle, se souvient avoir alors craint : « are we now back to John Stuart (...) Mill? ». Carnap avait compris qu’une épistémologie antipsychologiste comme celle du Cercle de Vienne ne peut subsister sans la présence d’une distinction de principe entre des énoncés analytiques et synthétiques. Il avait compris qu’un rejet de la distinction signifiait, à court ou moyen terme, un retour à l’épistémologie comme « psychologie de la science » telle que la pratiquait Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill et Ernst Mach. (shrink)
We argue that the effects of evaluative learning may occur (a) without conscious perception of the affective stimuli, (b) without awareness of the stimulus contingencies, and (c) without any awareness that learning has occurred at all. Whether the three experiments reported in our target article provide conclusive evidence for either or any of these assertions is discussed in the commentaries of De Houwer and Field. We respond with the argument that when considered alongside other studies carried out over the (...) past few decades, our experiments provide compelling evidence for a theory that posits a dissociation between evaluative learning and contingency awareness. (shrink)
I agree with Williams that evolutionary theory provides the best account of the pain expression. We may disagree as to whether pain has an emotional dimension or includes discrete basic emotions as integral components. I interpret basic emotion expressions that occur contemporaneously with pain expression as representing separate but highly interactive systems, each with distinct adaptive functions.
The neural substrates of context effects in word perception are still largely unclear. Interhemispheric priming phenomena in word recognition, typically observed in normal subjects, are absent in commissurotomized patients. This suggests that callosal fibers may provide contextual integration. In addition, certain characteristics of human frontal cortical fields subserving sensorimotor learning, as investigated by positron emission tomography, provide evidence for contextual integration not confined to the visual system. This supports the notion of common aspects of cortical computations in different cerebral areas.
A venerable philosophical tradition claims that only language users possess concepts. But this makes conceptual thought out to be an implausibly rarified achievement. A more recent tradition, based in cognitive science, maintains that any creature who can systematically recombine its representational capacities thereby deploys concepts. But this makes conceptual thought implausibly widespread. I argue for a middle ground: it is sufficient for conceptual thought that one be able to entertain many of the thoughts produced by recombining one.
A venerable philosophical tradition claims that only language users possess concepts. But this makes conceptual thought out to be an implausibly rarified achievement. A more recent tradition, based in cognitive science, maintains that any creature who can systematically recombine its representational capacities thereby deploys concepts. But this makes conceptual thought implausibly widespread. I argue for a middle ground: it is sufficient for conceptual thought that one be able to entertain many of the thoughts produced by recombining one’s representational capacities, so (...) long as one can do this apart from a direct confrontation with the represented states of affairs. (shrink)
Background: The development of implicit tests for measuring biases and behavioral predispositions is a recent development within psychology. While such tests are usually researched within a social-cognitive paradigm, behavioral researchers have also begun to view these tests as potential tests of conditioning histories, including in the sexual domain. Objective: The objective of this paper is to illustrate the utility of a behavioral approach to implicit testing and means by which implicit tests can be built to the standards of behavioral psychologists. (...) Design: Research findings illustrating the short history of implicit testing within the experimental analysis of behavior are reviewed. Relevant parallel and overlapping research findings from the field of social cognition and on the Implicit Association Test are also outlined. Results: New preliminary data obtained with both normal and sex offender populations are described in order to illustrate how behavior-analytically conceived implicit tests may have potential as investigative tools for assessing histories of sexual arousal conditioning and derived stimulus associations. Conclusion: It is concluded that popular implicit tests are likely sensitive to conditioned and derived stimulus associations in the history of the test-taker rather than ‘unconscious cognitions’, per se. Keywords: implicit association test; function acquisition speed test; relational frame theory; stimulus equivalence; sex offenders; sexual interests (Published: 15 March 2012) Citation: Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 2012, 2 : 17335 - DOI: 10.3402/snp.v2i0.17335. (shrink)
People often fail to detect large changes to scenes, provided that the changes occur during a visual disruption. This phenomenon, known as ''change blindness,'' occurs both in the laboratory and in real-world situations in which changes occur unexpectedly. The pervasiveness of the inability to detect changes is consistent with the theoretical notion that we internally represent relatively little information from our visual world from one glance at a scene to the next. However, evidence for change blindness does not necessarily imply (...) the absence of such a representation-people could also miss changes if they fail to compare an existing representation of the pre-change scene to the post-change scene. In three experiments, we show that people often do have a representation of some aspects of the pre-change scene even when they fail to report the change. And, in fact, they appear to ''discover'' this memory and can explicitly report details of a changed object in response to probing questions. The results of these real-world change detection studies are discussed in the context of broader claims about change blindness. (shrink)
Evidence that led to the hypothesis of a backwards referral of conscious sensory experiences in time, and the experimental tests of its predictions, is summarized. Criticisms of the data and the conclusion by Churchland that this hypothesis is untenable are analysed and found to be based upon misconceptions and faulty evaluations of facts and theory. Subjective referral in time violates no neurophysiological principles or data and is compatible with the theory of "mental" and "physical" correspondence.
Evidence from many different paradigms (e.g. change blindness, inattentional blindness, transsaccadic integration) indicate that observers are often very poor at reporting changes to their visual environment. Such evidence has been used to suggest that the spatio-temporal coherence needed to represent change can only occur in the presence of focused attention. In four experiments we use modified change blindness tasks to demonstrate (a) that sensitivity to change does occur in the absence of awareness, and (b) this sensitivity does not rely on (...) the redeploy- ment of attention. We discuss these results in relation to theories of scene percep- tion, and propose a reinterpretatio n of the role of attention in representing change. (shrink)