Open systems LO19773

John W. Gunkler (
Mon, 9 Nov 1998 10:07:17 -0600

Replying to LO19756 --

I, too, understand how much philosophical progress has been made by erasing
>a border which somebody else had drawn
>previously, but which since then has become too anomalous to be of future

But I would like to suggest that, without someone having first drawn the
border, NO progress could have been made at all in our understanding. It
is part of the "becoming" process we're all in to draw borders then,
later, change them.

One cannot understand what something is, as someone once said, without
understanding what it is not. This is not mere "philosophizing." It
seems to be a fundamental condition of human understanding, at least of
rational understanding. [Please don't jump all over me about other modes
of understanding -- I respect them, too.] When one studies the psychology
of concept formation, the first things one discovers is that any "concept"
is formed by distinguishing what is part of the concept from what is not.
Without this fundamental dichotomy there will be no concept.

An elementary example. We used to try to teach animals (humans,
chimpanzees, other apes, even rats and pigeons) the concept of "redness."
To demonstrate that one understands "redness" the most fundamental thing
one must be able to do is to distinguish things that have "redness" from
everything else. Unless one can do this task it is impossible to accept
that one "understands" the concept. So we put the animals through what is
termed "discrimination learning" where they were taught to respond in one
way to objects that possessed "redness" and another way to objects that

Once the basic concept was learned, it was interesting to experiment with
degrees of "redness" (by showing pink objects, orange ones, etc.) and see
how "fuzzy" the concept was. Yes, we could move away from dichotomous
understanding of the concept into a fuzzy logic kind of understanding by
providing more than two kinds of response. This, for humans, meant
allowing (rather than just yes/no responses) a scale of responses --
measuring the amount of "redness."

But, I would claim, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to learn a
new concept in this rich, fuzzy way without first learning it
dichotomously. I would love to hear counterexamples.


"John W. Gunkler" <>

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