RE: [xmca] Material cognition

From: David H Kirshner <dkirsh who-is-at>
Date: Tue Oct 30 2007 - 18:03:20 PDT

In keeping with his connectionist analysis, Reber's perspective is
nonrepresentational. Here are a couple of illustrative quotations.

Consciousness tends to assume epistemic priority largely because it is
so introspectively obvious; unconscious systems are thus left to be
dealt with derivatively. As Kihlstrom (1990) has pointed out,
psychology's very beginnings as a distinct field of scientific
exploration began with the examination of consciousness its defining
characteristic. As I argued in Chapter 2, this perspective has its roots
in our Lockean foundations. (Reber, 1993, p. 87)

When a cognitive scientist constructs a stimulus environment, he or she
may do so on the basis of some set of principles that have the effect of
creating an environment that reflects particular patterns of
co-occurrence and covariation among its elements. But there are no rules
here, just patterns of co-occurrence and covariation. The cognitive
scientist may think that there are rules that characterize these
covariations, and in fact, she or he is certainly entertaining a
particular clutch of these--namely, the ones begun with. (Reber, 1993,
p. 116)

This position [of my critics] emerges from a particular epistemology, a
point of view, for want of a better term, we can call the consciousness
stance. From this perspective, consciousness takes priority, awareness
and self-reflection become the central features of human cognitive
function. The cognitive unconscious is dealt with by exclusion and
implicit processes have to be defended against claims of residual
awareness. The popularity that this consciousness stance has in
contemporary psychology is in no small way due to the very poignant
sense that awareness and sense of self are what defines our very
existence and, therefore, are the features that make us human. George
Miller recently called consciousness "the constitutive problem of
psychology" (Baars, 1986, p. 220). The stance that gives the unconscious
and the implicit priority is one that, one might argue, strips away
something fundamentally human from our characterization of ourselves.
(Reber, 1993, p. 69)

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 4:59 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Material cognition


I'm sure I was over-stating their neglect. But is the study of implicit
learning more than simply looking for mental representations which don't
make it to consciousness, rather than looking for a form of learning
is non-representational?


On 10/30/07 1:45 PM, "David H Kirshner" <> wrote:

> Martin,
> Not sure I can speak to the latter part of your question, however, in
> recent years tacit knowledge--and more spectacularly, tacit
> learning--has made considerable headway in mainstream psychology
> the "implicit learning" paradigm. In the first study in this paradigm
> Arthur Reber (1967) exposed subjects to multiple instances of
> random stimuli, that actually were generated by a complex mathematical
> algorithm. He demonstrated that subjects are able to exploit
> regularities in the task domain, without awareness that they had
> anything.
> His work in this genre languished for almost two decades before it was
> picked up as an important window into cognitive functioning (see
> & Frensch, 1997, for a review). In my opinion, this hiatus reflects
> grounding of mainstream cognitive science in dualist framings that
> assume intellectual skills are rooted in conscious representations.
> Toward the mid-1980s, as cognitive science's underlying assumptions
> becoming more subject to critique, the significance of Reber's
> could be better appreciated. (Reber's, 1993, own summation of this
> interprets implicit learning in terms of connectionist architectures
> that resist many classical assumptions of cognitive science.)
> What is interesting is the continuing fetishizing that goes on around
> the question of just how tacit is this learning (e.g., Berry, 1997).
> There has been momentous energy invested in showing at least a hint of
> conscious recognition of some underlying structure (lest we become too
> far removed from the authority of consciousness).
> David
> Berry, D.C. (Ed.) (1997). How implicit is implicit learning?.
> Oxford: Oxford University Press.
> Mathews, R. C. (in press). Implicit learning: Attacking the
> authoritarian view of mind. Contemporary Psychology.
> Reber, A. S. (1967). Implicit learning of artificial grammars.
> Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 855-863.
> Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge: An
> essay on the cognitive unconscious (Oxford Psychology Series No. 19).
> Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; New York: Clarendon Press.
> Stadler, M. A., & Frensch, P. A. (Eds.) (1997). Handbook of
> implicit learning. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> On Behalf Of Martin Packer
> Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 10:01 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Material cognition
> Once again a thread on XMCA has intersected with something I'm
> working on. I'm feeling stupid, so let me just throw out a question,
> perhaps
> provocative, perhaps dumb. How do we reconcile the fact that tacit
> knowledge
> is undoubtedly important but neglected by much mainstream research
> devalued in society) with the suggestion that participation in the
> practices
> of modern society leads to MISunderstanding how that society works
> (false
> consciousness, alienation, etc.)?
> Martin
>> All of these hover around my central interest, which is the often
> unspoken
>> (sometimes called "tacit") knowledge that people working develop and
> share
>> about how to get the work done. For example: a class which we have
> been
>> asked to teach in November will take place at a plant where the
> workers are
>> represented by the grainmillers' union. This is an old plant. Under
> the
>> original management, the workers essentially ran the plant -- they
> the
>> knowledge and the means to run the plant efficiently and safely. Then
> the
>> plant was sold and new management came in. This new management took
>> adversarial position against the union and attempted to take over
> control of
>> the work without fully understanding how it was done (without
> exploring the
>> social practices related to the working knowledge of the plant?). A
> bitter,
>> non-productive culture developed. Now another new management has
> over,
>> and this new management has gone to the union and together they have
>> approached us to teach a class to the supervisors that is essentially
> about
>> getting them to respect the working material knowledge that the
> workers have
>> developed. "Leave us alone and we'll run the plant better than you
> ever
>> do it," the union is saying.
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