thinking is dangerous


at last night's happy hour, after giving a shoddy run through of part of my dissertation (see thesis posts 1 and 2) , it was challenged that I am simply a behaviorist. I woke up this morning with a hangover and wrote the following:

to accuse me of behaviorism is to imply that thinking is not a behavior. I dont even know how to make sense of that.

It is one thing to say that the only (scientifically) relevant stuff is the input to our sensory system, and the output in the form of behavior and language. I wouldn't agree with this kind of classical behaviorism. Thats not enough, just like it is not enough to look at what food you eat and what you shit out a few hours later. It is important to look inside the body at the GI tract to get a real sense of what is going on, and it is important to look at the brain and the internal cognitive states.

But to say thinking isn't a behavior is again going to fall into the computational model, that thinking is manipulation of symbols according to rules, and that this processing occurs independent of behavior- in the 'thinking realm', say. When the processing is done the output gets turned into behavior somehow.

Thats just absurd. To extend the GI metaphor, in a certain sense the stomch is processing food (though not symbolically, and not according to rules). But this is just the way the stomach -behaves-. And there is nothing apart from the behavior of the stomach that goes into the processing of food- thats just what processing is.

I think thought (of the internal stream of consciousness monologue type thought, that the classical behaviorists would deny) is just the brain giving itself more input. It is just a recursive feedback loop. Some of the output of the brain goes into spoken language, some into action and behavior, and some comes out as thought- its a way for the brain to talk to itself (and convienently enough, this harmonizes nicely with the idea of the brain storing things not as 'representations' but in the world. Thought doesn't take place in the 'thinking realm', but in the world). Sometimes this thought takes the form of language, since language provides a fairly high bandwidth for information; but sometimes thought takes the form of other modes of input- 'images' for instance will take the structure of visual or auditory input. But this structure can't be understood in terms of a 'representation', anymore than the keyboard or ethernet card of my computer can be represented in terms of 1's and 0's.
16:13 :: :: eripsa :: permalink