Fred Dretske - artigos


Epistemology and Information

Epistemology is the study of knowledge--its nature, sources, limits, and forms. Since perception is an important source of knowledge, memory a common way of storing and retrieving knowledge, and reasoning and inference effective methods for extending knowledge, epistemology embraces many of the topics comprised in cognitive science. It is, in fact, a philosopher’s way of doing cognitive science. Information, as commonly understood, as the layperson understands it, is an epistemologically important commodity. It is important because it is necessary for knowledge. Without it one remains ignorant. It is the sort of thing we associate with instruction, news, intelligence, and learning. It is what teachers dispense, what we (hope to) find in books and documents, what measuring instruments provide, what airline and train schedules contain, what spies are used to ferret out, what (in time of war) people are tortured to divulge, and what (we hope) to get by tuning in to the evening news.


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Sensation and Perception

Information-processing models of mental activity tend to conflate perceptual and sensory phenomena on the one hand with cognitive and conceptual phenomena on the other. Perception is concerned with the pickup and delivery of information, cognition with its utilization. But these, one is told, are merely different stages in a more or less continuous information-handling process. Recognition, identification, and classification (cognitive activities) occur at every phase of the perceptual process. Seeing and hearing are low-grade forms of knowing.

I think this is a confusion. It obscures the distinctive role of sensory experience in the entire cognitive process. In order to clarify this point, it will be necessary to examine the way information can be delivered and made available to the cognitive centers without itself qualifying for cognitive attributes—without itself having the kind of structure associated with knowledge and belief. For this purpose we must say something about the different ways information can be coded.

oil pressure. Used in this way the light would be functioning, in part at least, as an analog representation of the oil pressure.


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The mind's awareness of itself


The hard problem of consciousness--the nature of phenomenal experience--is especially hard for people who believe that:

(1) Conscious perceptual experiences exist inside a person (probably somewhere in the brain)1

(2) Nothing existing inside a person has (or needs to have2) the properties one is aware in having these experiences.

The experience I have when I see (dream of, hallucinate) a large orange pumpkin is certainly inside me. Why else would it cease to exist when I close my eyes, awaken, or sober up? Yet, nothing inside me--certainly nothing in my brain--has the properties I am aware of when I have this experience. There is nothing orange and pumpkin shaped in my head. How, then, can I be aware of what my perceptual experiences are like--presumably a matter of knowing what qualities they have--if none of the properties I am aware of when I have these experiences are properties of the experience?


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