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Note to JennaW and Eudaimonist; I took the liberty of moving your posts concerning tabula rasa off of the a/s discussion to avoid hi-jacking the thread. Hope you didn't mind.

L W said:

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JennaW said:

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And also per other research, humans are not born tabula rasa. I doubt the majority of people still thinks this though, but it comes up in nature/nurture debates (and I also doubt that anyone really thinks it's either nature or nurture anymore in this day and age).

I do not wish to hi-jack this thread in any way, but the argument for and against tabula rasa has always been an interesting one to me. Since you are on the cutting edge of new discoveries in these fields I would find it interesting if sometime in the future you could start a separate thread setting forth your beliefs on why you do not hold with the pro tabula rasa crowd.

L W

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JennaW said:

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L W HALL wrote:

I do not wish to hi-jack this thread in any way, but the argument for and against tabula rasa has always been an interesting one to me. Since you are on the cutting edge of new discoveries in these fields I would find it interesting if sometime in the future you could start a separate thread setting forth your beliefs on why you do not hold with the pro tabula rasa crowd.

Cutting edge? *grin* I feel like I'm in the middle of the Pacific, at night, no moon, and I'm naked and I don't know how to swim. Oh yeah, no land in sight. If that's what cutting edge feels like... I guess I'm there.

As for blank slate: I don't know who still holds this idea. I've asked non-science folks and most have come to their own conclusion that it's an interaction between nature and nurture.

Here's a site of a father writing about his child's developmental process.

This article is research done where humans are suggested to be "hard-wired" not for speech, but for "detecting aspects of patterns for language".

Interesting in that language can be dissected into "phonemes" (speech sounds), intonation, morphology, syntax, etc. and that some parts of this is related to how music is also as universal in humanity as language, and how we are born to pick up differences/similarities in sounds/intonation. Language has a connection to music this way too (sounds, tones---> music); I've heard plenty enough that Mandarin sounds like singing or like birds. To bring this type of study to the brain's physical function is within the realm of Neurolinguistics.

_________________

"Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny — and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do)." — Stephen Jay Gould

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Eudaimonist said:

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JennaW wrote:

As for blank slate: I don't know who still holds this idea. I've asked non-science folks and most have come to their own conclusion that it's an interaction between nature and nurture.

Perhaps this discussion should have a topic of its own, but doesn't the idea of tabula rasa really mean that we are born without conceptual knowledge (based on the view that all concepts must be formed through a process of thought), not a lack of "hard-wiring" that allows one to learn languages, for instance. Our natural ability to quickly pick up languages when we are young isn't a form of conceptual knowledge -- it's a "first nature" ability, where the language is something we acquire "second nature". Conceptual knowledge is also something acquired "second nature".

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eudaimonia, Mark

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Eudaimonist said:

Perhaps this discussion should have a topic of its own, but doesn't the idea of tabula rasa really mean that we are born without conceptual knowledge (based on the view that all concepts must be formed through a process of thought), not a lack of "hard-wiring" that allows one to learn languages, for instance. Our natural ability to quickly pick up languages when we are young isn't a form of conceptual knowledge -- it's a "first nature" ability, where the language is something we acquire "second nature". Conceptual knowledge is also something acquired "second nature"

My idea concerning tabula rasa follows what you are writing above; that it refers to the absence of conceptual knowledge which if Rand is followed comes from percepts.

Untill a child starts interacting with the outside world through it's senses and perceiving said external world the mind is a clean slate devoid of any type of formed thoughts(don't know if that's a good word to use here?).

Here is a definition of tabula rasa I lifted off of Wikipedia

Tabula rasa (Latin: "scraped tablet", though often translated "blank slate") is the notion that individual human beings are born "blank" (with no built-in mental content), and that their identity is defined entirely by their experiences and sensory perceptions of the outside world

If indeed the argument is made from the opposite that the mind id not tabula rasa then what would be existent at birth other than a propensity toward certain thought formulation-the hardwiring.

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Perhaps this discussion should have a topic of its own, but doesn't the idea of tabula rasa really mean that we are born without conceptual knowledge (based on the view that all concepts must be formed through a process of thought), not a lack of "hard-wiring" that allows one to learn languages, for instance.  Our natural ability to quickly pick up languages when we are young isn't a form of conceptual knowledge -- it's a "first nature" ability, where the language is something we acquire "second nature".  Conceptual knowledge is also something acquired "second nature".

Well the blank slate issue started soooo long ago that I think it's outdated considering that there is no hard dividing line in the brain between thought/nonthought. Can you remember your first concept? or thought?

Here's an excerpt from one of the research articles I'm reading (and using). It's called "Concept Formation: Object attributes Dynamically Inhibited from Conscious Awareness":

The fact that cognitive processes are largely nonconscious has been periodically reported through the ages, although often ignored. Helmholtz [21] observed that we are not aware of the elements used to form a judgement - we make “unconscious interferences” based on prior experience. We are not conscious of the details that make up the percept. Such details are inhibited from our conscious awareness. Instead, what we see depends largely on what we already know [17, 55, 53]. Basically we force fit every image into a known percept. We are concept driven! On the other hand certain brain-damaged people, like autistic savants [59], would appear to have the opposite strategy. They have privileged access [52] to nonconcious information and processes but are not concept driven as discussed at length by Snyder and Mitchell [52, 53]. Savants are rare individuals who, although severely brain impaired, display islands of astonishing excellence in specific areas including drawing, memory, music, calendar calculations, and arithmetic [2, 22, 24, 28, 40, 47, 54, 59]. They typically have no idea how they do it.
Indeed, a dominant strategy of the brain is emerging from these observations. It gives rich insight into how neural architectures evolve to impart conceptual thought. It builds on research that newborns, unlike adults, are probably fully aware of the raw sensory information available at lower levels of neural processing and that they quite possibly have excellent recall of this information. But, with maturation, such awareness and recall is largely suppressed from executive awareness. Instead, the maturing mind becomes increasingly aware only of concepts (groupings of raw details which encapsulate the familiar) to the exclusion of the details which comprise the concepts. We believe that this strategy of suppression is continued with the formation of metaconcepts (groupings of concepts), resulting in the awareness of metaconcepts, to the exclusion of the concepts that compose the metaconcepts.

Anyway, this one article is from the Journal of Integrative Neuroscience Vol. 3, No. 1 (2004) 31–46.

From Current Opinion in Neurobiology 1996, 6:153-157:

Weiskrantz's pioneering work on `blindsight'challenged the dogma that the geniculo-striate pathway is essential for visual discrimination performance (see [3]). The primate retina in fact projects to more than ten different targets in the brain. In his review, Weiskrantz (pp 215-220) discusses the recent finding that some humans with damage to the striate cortex (V1) can perform visual discriminations at a high level despite reporting that they are blind in the corresponding parts of their visual fields. Such people, as well as non-human primates that have had V1 surgically removed, can detect the presence of a spot of light or of a grating, and can even successfully discriminate the orientations of bars or the direction of a moving target. Indeed, some of the human patients apparently can discriminate among lights of different wavelengths - but have no experience of seeing color.

I'm not making an argument for either extreme. I think that's just fulfilling the whole dichotomous problem that it *must* be either nature or nurture. I think it's an interaction of both, and the blank slate approach is the nurture one. Identity is not defined *entirely* by nurture. There are biological influences in identity.

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Well the blank slate issue started soooo long ago that I think it's outdated considering that there is no hard dividing line in the brain between thought/nonthought. Can you remember your first concept? or thought?

I wasn't talking about conscious thought, but about the distinction between natural capacity and what we acquire through its use. (By "a process of thought", I am implicitly including any brain processes of which we are not consciously aware.)

I like your quotes, btw, but they don't really address my point.

I'm not making an argument for either extreme. I think that's just fulfilling the whole dichotomous problem that it *must* be either nature or nurture. I think it's an interaction of both, and the blank slate approach is the nurture one. Identity is not defined *entirely* by nurture. There are biological influences in identity.

I totally agree that human identity is not entirely a matter of nurture. You'll get no argument from me there. Our natural mental capacities -- what we have first nature -- play an important role in our development. I'm simply questioning whether or not this really challenges the idea that we start off tabula rasa, at least as Ayn Rand and some other philosophers meant the term.

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Mark,

On another thread here on OL, I listed a series of innate notions and intellectual propensities that are discussed in Nyquist's Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

This looks like the appropriate place to discuss them. They are obviously not conceptual knowledge in the sense of ITOE-type concept, yet to ignore their existence and observe them develop automatically is to ignore reality. (There already has been some discussion on that thread about aversion to incest.)

For the record, here is the list, (without comments):

    Aversion to incest
  • Sexual selection
  • Studies of identical twins
  • Propensity to learn language
  • Propensity to expect environmental uniformities
  • Certain types of mental mutations: Turner's syndrome, Lesh-Nyhan syndrome
  • Handedness - right-handed or left-handed
      Michael
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Mark,

On another thread here on OL, I listed a series of innate notions and intellectual propensities that are discussed in Nyquist's Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

I think an interesting question is: what precisely is an "innate notion"? Is the aversion to incest, for instance, at root a concept, or it is it an aversion first (hypothetically non-conceptual, though perhaps activated in response to other conceptual knowledge, such as knowledge of sex and family relations), and only a concept afterwards (once we conceptualize the aversion)?

They are obviously not conceptual knowledge in the sense of ITOE-type concept, yet to ignore their existence and observe them develop automatically is to ignore reality.

I totally agree.

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Mark,

The Objectivist theory of concepts is based on sensory input plus integration of mental units. I believe the tabula rasa idea means that since the senses have not been working before birth, no integrations of mental units are possible.

This is an area where I see a direct collision between Objectivist philosophy and psychology (and biology). I have stated elsewhere that one of my main criticisms of Rand's approach that needs to be corrected is a competition she set up trying to dominate psychology with philosophy.

The parameters of psychology are health/illness and the parameters of philosophy are true/false with conceptual volition thrown into the mix. Man needs both functioning correctly for a good productive life, not one obliterating the need for the other.

Objectivists don't like the word "knowledge" for innate drives, like the one babies have to learn human language for instance, and they have a horror of the word "instinct." So another word needs to be devised. I happen to like instinct. Another example - we have an instinct to be right or left handed. What's wrong with saying that? As we grow, our motor capacity develops and we become more proficient with our hands, but we simply don't learn to be right-handed or left-handed from sensory input. That's already ingrained in our minds.

Thus, for conceptual knowledge, I would add instincts to the integrating process - sensory input plus inborn instincts.

Michael

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The Objectivist theory of concepts is based on sensory input plus integration of mental units. I believe the tabula rasa idea means that since the senses have not been working before birth, no integrations of mental units are possible.
Fetuses also are behaviorally responsive to sensory stimulation and changes in environmental conditions in utero. Expression of these behavioral properties emphasizes continuity between prenatal and postnatal life while implying an adaptive role for behavior before birth.

Fundamental motor patterns of the mammalian fetus

Scott R. Robinson, William P. Smotherman

Laboratory of Perinatal Neuroethology, Center for Developmental Psychobiology, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York 13902-6000

Olfactory responsiveness was assessed in 24 neonates born to mothers who had or had not consumed anise flavour during pregnancy. Both groups of infants were followed-up for behavioural markers of attraction and aversion when exposed to anise odour and a control odour immediately after birth and on day 4. Infants born to anise-consuming mothers evinced a stable preference for anise odour over this period, whereas those born to anise non-consuming mothers displayed aversion or neutral responses.  

Human Foetuses Learn Odours from their Pregnant Mother’s Diet

Benoist Schaal, Luc Marlier and Robert Soussignan  

Chem. Senses 25: 729-737, 2000

*Some* senses are working before birth and affect behavior after birth. Infants are not "blank" with regards to sensing, perceiving, and preferring. Preferential treatment means being able to discriminate between options, and whlie infants may not be aware in the "higher levels of consciousness" meaning, they are processing some kind of information, even at a rudimentary level. The sensing, perceiving, and preferring may change after birth, but are not absent at birth.

The other post I did was in a hurry, so I'm sorry if it's not clear. But I was trying to get across that thought is not always conscious, and that humans do have biological influences (amongst other influences) on their behavior.

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Jenna,

Thank you for that. Please don't take my statement, "I believe the tabula rasa idea means that since the senses have not been working before birth, no integrations of mental units are possible," to mean that I believe senses are not working before birth. I was merely giving the classical Objectivist position.

You are right, of course. Lots of pre-wired biological cognitive stuff goes on all the time, even before birth. These things seem to develop on their own with growth.

Michael

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Please don't take my statement, "I believe the tabula rasa idea means that since the senses have not been working before birth, no integrations of mental units are possible," to mean that I believe senses are not working before birth. I was merely giving the classical Objectivist position.

I didn't think that *you* were holding this position. *laugh* I did notice that you put in "the Objectivist position is that...." and that postition was what I was discussing. I should make what I notice clearer, since sometimes what I notice is so natural to me that I take it as a given. I will be more aware of making this known next time.

I'm glad that you and others here are open to what the sciences can tell us, and that neither philosophy nor science take a superior position over the other. I think all our fields overlap, as they all arise from the human mind and interact in ways that are sometimes surprising. I'm recently discovering how math can be very beautiful-- artistic--, even if I am stuck in rudimentary calculus.

I think I am most comfortable discussing ideas in the OL forum because of the atmosphere fostered here.

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JennaW said:

I think I am most comfortable discussing ideas in the OL forum because of the atmosphere fostered here.

Totally agree, although I have no problem with competition between minds and cordial disagreement, when it falls into the nature of attacks and personal insults I prefer not to participate.

On the nature of tabula rasa Locke puts forth the idea as one person writes it that although the mind has no 'innate ideas' it does possess 'inate faculties', which would lead me to believe that it is these "inate faculties" that today we would consider to be "hard-wired".

That there are senses at work before birth would seem to be a given, however that does not seem to imply concept formation as we usually understand it unless I am missing something.

I believe that you could not argue for the ability to perceive did we not possess a propensity to do so from birth although I am not to sold on the idea that there is much of any volition when we are first born as to whether we pay attention or not. Perhaps it is as I read somewhere else a matter of reward that is fundamental in forming the basis for volition.

It seems that there is no real dissention here on tabula rasa, other than what we consider it to be may not be totally aligned.

L W

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It seems that there is no real dissention here on tabula rasa, other than what we consider it to be may not be totally aligned.

No, I don't think so, and I didn't think so from the beginning. I think it's more of a clarification issue more than ever; what scientists argue now are about *how much* nature and nurture are interrelated. And I think this debate on *how much* is going to go for quite a long time.

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I. M. Hall: "... doesn't the idea of tabula rasa really mean that we are born without conceptual knowledge (based on the view that all concepts must be formed through a process of thought), not a lack of 'hard-wiring' that allows one to learn languages, for instance. Our natural ability to quickly pick up languages when we are young isn't a form of conceptual knowledge -- it's a 'first nature' ability, where the language is something we acquire 'second nature'. Conceptual knowledge is also something acquired 'second nature'."

Thank you for making this point, and sparing me the need to do so. Certainly this is what Rand meant by "tabula rasa" -- that whatever we may or may not be born with, we are not born with formed concepts already in our brains.

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Michael, you mentioned left or right handedness as innate. If I understand your point, my own experience leads me to think that more is involved. I write with my right hand -- and I don't recall it ever being different. But in a great many instances, I do things with my left hand, and I could easily learn to write with my left hand. If I am doing something I've never done before -- such as batting during a baseball game -- I have to try it with each hand in order to discover which hand feels most comfortable. What makes it more confusing is that as time passes I find myself doing more and more things with my left hand.

So I am in the position of becoming a leftie, when I wasn't at one time.

Also --and I'd be curious to know if I'm alone or not in this experience -- I find that when I'm talking, if I'm gesturing with my right hand, I tend to be relatively cut off from my emotions; it I'm gesturing with my left hand, my mind and emotions are integrated. I discovered this when a friend pointed out that as I had gotten rid of repression, I, who had been a right-hand gesturer, had become a left-hand gesturer. And I've been fascinated to observe that this integration of emotions with left-hand gesturing appears to be true of other people as well.

I'm either very wierd or I'm onto something.

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Barbara,

I can live with the non-conceptual idea of tabula rasa. You should see some of the silly things people argue about this, though. I think this is so important that it should be made explicit - tabula rasa refers to concepts and conceptual volition only.

On a perceptual level, as Jenna pointed out above, sensory activity in fetuses has been observed and I have read that some memories from before birth exist in all of us. As Rand defined a percept as being sensory input retained in memory, it stands to reason that a newborn is not tabula rasa on a perceptual level. It is born with some percepts in memory already from being in the womb.

In terms of concepts, I am coming to a small difference with Rand on the definition of concepts, but nothing that contradicts it - only adds to it. I am starting to believe that innate mental tendencies and capacities are also integrated together with percepts. First they are integrated in a "pure" state, then as awareness of them grows, that awareness gets integrated also.

Your right hand-left hand experience sounds absolutely fascinating. I wonder if there are studies on this.

Also, my mother had a stroke several years ago. Part of her recovery was to teach one side of her brain to assume the capacities of the other side. This process is such common knowledge that it does not seem extraordinary. Yet all her memories, nervous habits - the whole shebang - was reconstructed by doing that. (Actions and reactions are a bit slower, that seems to be the only difference.) This means that her memories and integrations did not die with the part of her brain that did die. Yet for the longest time, they were unavailable and she could not do the simplest things like swallow.

I have a feeling that science is going to lead us to some marvelous places will all this.

Michael

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I can live with the non-conceptual idea of tabula rasa. You should see some of the silly things people argue about this, though. I think this is so important that it should be made explicit - tabula rasa refers to concepts and conceptual volition only.

I think this is more the case, unless research shows differently that fetuses are aware at that high level of consciousness and use their volitional abilities. However, I don't think percept-->concept is such a straight line. I think they are more "parallel, bidirectional, and feedback processed" as the infant gets older.

In terms of concepts, I am coming to a small difference with Rand on the definition of concepts, but nothing that contradicts it - only adds to it. I am starting to believe that innate mental tendencies and capacities are also integrated together with percepts. First they are integrated in a "pure" state, then as awareness of them grows, that awareness gets integrated also.

Perhaps innate mental tendencies towards a specific way of concept formation that is slightly different in individuals? The more I know about neuroscience, the more I'm being convinced through tons of science literature that percept/concept/mental integration is all networked, interrelated, realized, and happening in a parallel, bidirectional, networked, nested way. I just read some research on how people "blend concepts".

I have a feeling that science is going to lead us to some marvelous places will all this.

I know science will. Brain/consciousness studies has begun... the trick is what will people do with the knowledge? :)

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No, I don't think so, and I didn't think so from the beginning. I think it's more of a clarification issue more than ever; what scientists argue now are about *how much* nature and nurture are interrelated. And I think this debate on *how much* is going to go for quite a long time.

Thanks Jenna, it is good to know that their are bright young minds like yours working to increase man's knowlege of himself. I enjoy reading the links you have provided in some of your posts.

L W

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Barbara,

Thanks for your reply confirming what Eudaimonist had posted as being Rand's view of tabula rasa. It helped firm up my understanding of it.

On the left hand/right hand thing although I have never paid attention to my emotional state when gesturing I find the idea fascinating and will start to do so. It would be interesting to know if this could be a way of calming ourselves were we to start getting agitated.

I too use both hands when doing various taks and it has been that way as long as I can remember. On the one hand(no pun intended) I use my left to eat, write, shoot pool, and shoot a bow; and I will then use my right as the hand with the most strength, to shoot a gun, when I am bowling, when I throw a ball and in other ways. I often switch back and forth between my hands if I am painting(house painting) and feel fairly comfortable with either hand.

All in all this has always been an area which interests me as to what transpires in mind mind to bring this about.

L W

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Michael,

In terms of concepts, I am coming to a small difference with Rand on the definition of concepts, but nothing that contradicts it - only adds to it. I am starting to believe that innate mental tendencies and capacities are also integrated together with percepts. First they are integrated in a "pure" state, then as awareness of them grows, that awareness gets integrated also.  

when you say "integrated in a 'pure' state" ; is this occuring neonatal, before birth, or at a later period?

Thanks

L W

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I posted this before, just reposted it over at NB's forum.

It is an interesting bit worth reading. I think it would be foolish to disqualify reading it because it is associated with a mystic like Gurdjieff.

Relevant to the thread, I believe.

Mr. Gurdjieff, The Psychology of Common Sense, and the Neurosciences:

http://www.quartavia.org/inglese/neuroscenze1.htm

Check it out!

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So has the basic idea of tabula rasa been rejected scientifically and by philosophers as invalid? I didn't think I had been out of school that long. According to my rather basic philosophy 101 book, it is basically Locke's way of saying lack of knowing through experience. The definition I have says:

Tabula Rasa – Literally, blank tablet. The term was used by John Locke to summarize his claim that the mind comes into life blank or empty, and is written on by experience as though it were a clay or wax tablet waiting to be marked by a writing stylus. Locke was arguing against the widely held view that the mind comes to experience with ideas whcih are built into it (or "hard-wired" as computer types like to say).

Kat

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Tabula Rasa – Literally, blank tablet.  The term was used by John Locke to summarize his claim that the mind comes into life blank or empty, and is written on by experience as though it were a clay or wax tablet waiting to be marked by a writing stylus.  Locke was arguing against the widely held view that the mind comes to experience with ideas which are built into it (or "hard-wired" as computer types like to say).

I think this came about because they (Locke & Co.) didn't understand the brain even though they could see it physically. Literally blank to me means "absolutely nothing"-- no instinct, no inclination, no sense of what makes someone human when they are birthed. ASAIK, scientists on the whole have moved on from this within the past 100 years.

Don't know about philosophers, though; I'm not in the field, and therefore, not "in the know"....

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LW,

I apologize for the delay in answering. (It slipped by somehow.) You asked:

... when you say "integrated in a 'pure' state" ; is this occurring neonatal, before birth, or at a later period?

I am only speculating, but I am pretty sure that some really basic perceptual integrations occur before birth since there is sensory awareness.

The innate things I was talking about are already present when the conceptual integrating mechanism kicks in. According to the Objectivist theory, conceptual integration only happens when percepts are present and, excluding the primitive ones done in the womb, these come from sensory input of outside "things" (sound waves, light waves and so forth).

Thus what gets integrated is something that is already there (the innate stuff) and something new (stimuli).

Here is a case involving handedness. If a person is right-handed, his concept of writing - when applied to him - will include doing it mostly with the right hand. That information was both present in the early stages of building this concept (when he first started reaching for stuff) and was reinforced over time by the person observing himself (the sense of sight, mostly).

I am not a scientist, but I intend to look into this to see how accurate it is.

Michael

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