Hi, Isn't rationality highly overestimated in our western culture? The more I think about it, the more I'm getting convinced that the real 'processing' power resides at a less conscious level, in our neural network which can 'reason' with incomplete and inconsistent data in 'real time'. This power is sometimes called intuition or common sense. I believe that intuitive knowledge is the foundation for cognitive knowledge. It delivers the axioms for our rationality. And these axioms are much more than just: "Cogito ergo sum" ... Are there any philosophers who adhere this idea? Thank you very much, Eric

I have a few things to say in response to your question.

First of all, about whether too high a value is placed onrationality in “Western” culture: I feel that rationality is too little valuedin the United Statesat the moment, and that irrationality is celebrated. An extremely popular trope in US books,movies, and television shows is the heroism of a person who “believes” – that is, who accepts on faith something thatflies in the face of all evidence and logic. The skeptic, the “man (usually) of science,” is always shown to bewrong, often disastrously so. And manypeople report with great pride that they hold their particular religious orpolitical beliefs on the basis of no evidence or reason at all. “It’s just what I believe.”

Secondly, as to the nature of our cognitive processes. You’re raising a perfectly sensible empiricalquestion – what are the neurological processes that account for the phenomenawe call “thought”? It’s clear thatneural networks are responsible, in some way and at some level, for all of ourcognition – the mind is made of the brain, and the brain is made of layers ofneurons. But that’s not to say that thearchitecture – the functional organization – of a neural net has to be thearchitecture of the mind as a whole. Neuralnetworks can implement classical computer architecture, just as molecules canimplement complex biological structure. (And by the way, the reverse is true, as well. Lots of research on neural networks is doneby using classical computers to simulate/implement connectionistarchitectures.) Many philosophers thinkthat there are kinds of cognitive processes that require a symbols-and-rulesarchitecture, so that neural networks can’t be the whole story. Logical inference is one of those; we may notengage in it that often, but when we do, it looks like our thought transitionsare sensitive to the form of ourthoughts, and connectionist architectures are not sensitive to form.

Third, don’t confuse the question of whether there isunconscious cognitive processing with the question of what the architecture ofthe mind is. The two areindependent. Almost everyone with anyexpertise in cognitive science now accepts that there is a great deal ofunconscious information processing going on – but it’s still an open questionwhether all this processing is connectionist or symbolic.

With respect to points two and three, I suggest you take alook at a book by cognitive scientist Gary Marcus called The Algebraic Mind.

Finally – intuitions: philosophers call something anintuition when it really, really, really, REALLY seems to you to be true, butyou can’t give any reasons why youthink it’s true. Where intuitions comefrom, in that sense, is anybody’s guess. Some of them probably do come from unconscious information processing(like when you fall victim to a visual illusion), some may come from ourdetecting or responding to the operation of cognitive processes (like when youhave intuitions of logical relations), some may be memories of things you weretold as a child, some may be brain farts. I personally think that philosophy is the business of trying toreconcile everything you think is true with everything else you think is true,so intuitions may as well go into the mix along with everything else. Also like everything else we start out believing, intuitions mayhave to be abandoned if the pressure gets too great.

Whatever "intuitions" are, however, they can only be the foundation of knowledge of any kind if one can show that they justify the beliefs they give rise to, and to do that, one has to say something about why intuitions are trustworthy. Descartes's foundational intuition did well on that score -- as he said, in the Second Meditation: "So that it must...be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully considered, that this proposition I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind." (Whether he could derive from that one intuition everything else that he thought he could, with equal certainty is very dubious, and most commentators concede that he could not. ) Apart from Descartes's cogito, though, the intuitions to which philosophers appeal are mostly subject to doubt, and rarely command universal consent. Since the status of intuitions is open to question, the beliefs and theories they support are open to question as well.

On the other hand, intuitions are often all we've got.

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