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Conclusions and Questions

the question

This course was based on a simple question. The question is,
How do humans first come to know about---and to knowingly manipulate---objects, causes, words, numbers, colours, actions and minds?
At the outset we know nothing, or not very much. (Like little Wy here.) Sometime later we do know some things. How does the transition occur?
Have we made any progress in answering this question?

no big idea

(case-by-case approach)

If you're wondering what the big idea is, there isn't one. I think progress depends on approaching it case by case. For instance, we considered the role of language in two cases, knowledge of colour and knowledge of minds. It seems to play quite different roles in these two cases. So while it seems plausible that abilities to communicate by language do play a role in explaining the emergence of knowledge in many domains, it's hard to assign it one role. There are themes running across the cases but little in the way of general principles. I'm not saying that's a bad thing; that's just how it is.

‘if you want to describe what is going on in the head of the child when it has a few words which it utters in appropriate situations, you will fail for lack of the right sort of words of your own.

‘We have many vocabularies for describing nature when we regard it as mindless, and we have a mentalistic vocabulary for describing thought and intentional action; what we lack is a way of describing what is in between

(Davidson 1999, p. 11)

I love this: Davidson says we will fail. So encouraging. But why will we fail?
Is he suggesting the issue is merely terminological? Not quite ...

core knowledge of

Core knowledge is initially a label for a problem. With respect to various domains of knowledge including colour, physics and psychology, infants have some but not all of the capacities that are characteristic of knowledge. So we face a dilemma. The simplest explanation of what they can do would be to ascribe them knowledge. But ascribing them knowledge systematically generates false predictions about what they will do. So it must be wrong to ascribe them knowledge. In the first instance, ‘core knowledge’ (or modular cognition, or implicit knowledge, or tacit knowledge) is just a label for whatever it is that is not knowledge but explains these capacities.
  • actions
  • syntax (?)
  • minds
  • causal interactions
  • physical objects
  • colours (?)
  • (number)
  • (space)

What is core knowledge?

Is it all one thing?

Does it exist in adults?

How does it relate to knowledge knowledge?

(How does it relate to nonhumans' cognition?)

Core knowledge exists.
There is a gap between core knowledge and knowledge knowledge.
Crossing the gap involves social interactions, perhaps involving words.
  1. Core knowledge exists.
  2. Core knowledge is real. Infants’ have unexpectedly sophisticated abilities concerning physical objects and categorical colour properties (and much more) even from the first year of life.
  3. There is a gap between core knowledge and knowledge knowledge.
  4. There is a gap between core knowledge and knowledge knowledge. It takes months if not years between clear manifestations of core knowledge and knowledge knowledge. Importantly,
  5. Crossing the gap involves social interactions, perhaps involving words.
  6. Crossing the gap involves social interactions, perhaps involving words.
background Layer 1 understanding action understanding minds joint action referential communication communication with words
Gradually build up from understanding minds and actions to words.

Minimal approaches

to joint action

and referential communication

do not presuppose

and may therefore explain

knowledge knowledge.

development as rediscovery

Joint action transforms which abilities core knowledge makes possible, and it is reflection on these abilities and the experiences they case that is the ultimate source of our knowledge.
Well, maybe there is a big idea after all.
(I'm hesitant to mention this because it's not well established and, anyway, you should find your own big idea. But ...)
Through joint action you are able to rediscover what is in some sense already encoded in your core knowledge.
That, anyway, is one idea about how humans come to know about objects, causes, minds and the rest.
core knowledge of syntax
ability to communicate with language
core knowledge of mind
reflection on this
knowledge knowledge