Cognitive Deficits Predicted by the Blind Brain Theory

by rsbakker

One of the reasons that BBT has such a fierce hold on my imagination despite the anomie it so regularly inspires has to do with the way it allows for the identification and parsimonious explanation of a number of cognitive deficits that have plagued humanity since the beginning of recorded history. The fact that no one has been able to tackle them in a comprehensive manner despite their manifest nature (the fact that we encounter these effects all the time) combined with the way they simply fall out of the explanatory resources provided by BBT, makes me fear/hope I’m onto something quite profound over and above the way it seems to make hash of a broad range of more abstract perplexities.

Of course, all these cognitive deficits need to be ecologically qualified: mistaking the fact of the matter in a manner that economizes neurocomputational loads can generate cognitive efficiencies as well. The very neglect that renders heuristics inapplicable to the bulk of problem ecologies renders them that much more effective when it comes to the subset of problem ecologies they are adapted to. It’s not an all or nothing affair, and as I have found discussing the philosophical implications of these ‘cognitive illusions,’ the question of applicability is where the primary battleground lies.

All of these effects are closely related, and I cannot help but think that any dedicated research project would lead to substantial conceptual calving as various ‘problem-ecologies’ are identified, if not the discovery of some more comprehensive way to regiment the domain altogether. If you happen to be a psychology graduate student, then I invite you to begin brainstorming possible experimental designs–or failing that, redefinitions that would make experimental operationalization more feasible.


ORIGINATION EFFECTS: Informatic neglect leads metacognition to intuit causal discontinuities between complex systems and their environments. The behaviour of the resulting systems seems to arise ‘ex nihilo’ and thus to be noncausally constrained, leading to metacognitive posits such as ‘rules,’ ‘reasons,’ ‘goals,’ ‘desires,’ and so forth.

OUT-OF-PLAY EFFECTS: Informatic neglect leads us to intuit the absence of some dimension of information as immunity to that dimension. So what makes geocentrism so compelling, for instance, is the absence of any information pertaining to the earth moving in space. The earth simply lies outside the realm of movement, or ‘out of celestial play.’ The same might be said regarding that philosophical darling of darlings, the ‘a priori’–not to mention ‘transcendentalism’ more generally. Since metacognition cannot access any information pertaining to neurofunctional precursors of, say, mathematical, logical, or transcendental operators, and since, just as importantly, metacognition has no access to information pertaining to this lack, the default assumption is that these operators somehow ‘lie outside’ the natural.

ONLY-GAME-IN-TOWN EFFECTS: Since information inaccessible to our brain simply makes no difference to neurofunctionality, the lack of information pertaining to the insufficiency of information, generates the illusion of implicit sufficiency, the default assumption that the information available is all the information required. What Daniel Kahneman (2012) rather cumbersomely calls WYSIATI (or ‘What-You-See-Is-All-There-Is) in his work represents a special case of this effect. As do what might be called IGNORANCE-ANCHORED CERTAINTY EFFECTS, the way humans seem to be so prone to think a given interpretation is the one and only true interpretation when they are ignorant of alternative interpretations. So this would be why, for instance, Kant was convinced of the apodictic nature of his transcendental deductions, even though hindsight has rendered his conviction more than a little preposterous. ‘Hindsight is 20/20,’ as they say, because assessing sufficiency becomes progressively more viable after the informatic dust has settled.

SIMPLICITY/IDENTIFICATION EFFECTS: Informatic neglect leads us to intuit complexes as simples. The most basic experimental example of this is found in the psychophysical phenomena of ‘flicker fusion,’ the way oscillating lights and sounds will be perceived as continuous when the frequency passes beyond certain thresholds. The fact is, all of experience, cognitive or perceptual, is characterized by such ‘fusion illusions.’ In the absence of information–or difference making differences–we consciously experience and/or cognize identities, which is to say, mistake matter of fact heterogeneities for homogeneities. Still frames become ‘moving pictures.’ Ants on the sidewalk become spilled paint. A bottomless universe becomes a local celestial sphere. Whole cultures become cartoon caricatures. Brains become minds. And so on.