Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 6

Fallacious Presumptions: Rand's implicit theory of mind. Although Rand never developed a complete theory of mind, an implicit theory of the mind underlies many of her epistemological assertions. Indeed, it could be argued that Rand doesn't have just one but actually several implicit theories of mind, and that she makes use of which ever one is needed for the situation at hand.

The more fully developed theory underlies Rand's view of "automatization":

Learning to speak is a process of automatizing the use (i.e., the meaning and the application) of concepts. And more: all learning involves a process of automatizing, i.e., of first acquiring knowledge by fully conscious, focused attention and observation, then of establishing mental connections which make that knowledge automatic (instantly available as a context), thus freeing man's mind to pursue further, more complex knowledge. [IOTE, 65]

I've already discussed the fallacy of assuming that concepts are formed consciously. I wanted to focus here on another aspect of the fallacy: namely, the implicit belief that consciousness either does or ought to act as a kind of gatekeeper to and trainer of the unconscious. This is a critical component of Rand's implicit theory of mind. The subconscious mind is a blank mechanism which is filled by an active consciousness. Furthermore, this blank mechanism will be filled whether the conscious mind is active or not. The only question is whether it is filled by conscious direction or by "chance." This view of the mind, as I have repeatedly shown on this blog, is wrong. There is no evidence that the mind works this way. On the contrary, all the evidence points to the view that a cognitive unconscious exists and that much of the work of cognition and even decision making is done unconsciously, away from the scrutiny of consciousness.

I continue to draw attention to this issue because it is the primary empirical error in the Objectivist Epistemology. I'll have more to say about this in my next post. But I want to turn our attention right now to another strand in Rand's implicit theory of mind: her view of "implicit" knowledge. Rand had very little to say about implicit knowledge (and its adjunct, "implicit" concepts). There really isn't an Objectivist theory of implicit knowledge: merely a collection of vague hints scattered throughout her "official" writings. Rand did, however, attempt to define what she meant by "implicit knowledge":

Implicit knowledge is passively held material which, to be grasped, requires a special focus and process of consciousness—a process which an infant learns to perform eventually, but which an animal’s consciousness is unable to perform.) [IOTE, 57] 

To the extent that we can draw anything definite out of this definition, it would seem to conflict with Rand's beliefs about an "active" consciousness. But the definition is to vague to draw any definite conclusions.

Rand has more to say about implicit knowledge in the workshops published in the seconded edition of IOTE. To be sure, her remarks are a bit confused and contradictory, suggesting that she hadn't really thought things out all that clearly. She begins by making the following assertion:

The "implicit" is that which is available to your consciousness but which you have not conceptualized. For instance, if you state a certain proposition, implicit in it are certain conclusions, but you may not be aware of them... [IOTE, 159] 

This is a bit vague and inadequate. What it suggests is that implicit knowledge is nothing more than the implicit presuppositions of conscious knowledge that have yet to be identified by consciousness. But what she says elsewhere implies there is more to the theory than that:

"implicit" is a knowledge which is available to you but which you have not yet grasped consciously," she elucidates. "And by 'grapsed consciously,' I mean, brought into conceptual terms." [IOTE, 160] 

This, however, is a bit problematic. The idea that there may be knowledge that is not known to a person (i.e., is unconscious) but which is nonetheless "available" to the conscious suggests that knowledge can be developed unconsciously (just as cognitive science has demonstrated). For where does this implicit knowledge originate? It clearly doesn't originate in consciousness. How could it? Consciousness has not yet grasped and conceptualized it! But doesn't this contradict Rand's view of the subconscious mind, which declares (among other things): "There is nothing in the subconscious besides what you acquired by conscious means"? Of course it does. Here we find Rand surreptitiously importing a premise into her theory which she denies in another place! "Implicit" knowledge can be developed without the conscious mind being aware of it!

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