The Smarmy, Cloying and Incoherent Notion of Human Cognition


“I think, therefore I am.” ….probably not

This is a very old idea. It is incoherent. It is internally nonsensical. So, animals don’t think so they “aren’t!?”  Since humans alone, supposedly, think this simple phrase proposes that the human species stands as unique in animal evolution, biology and physiology.  Further, if at any point a human doesn’t “think” are they no longer?

But, what do we mean by “thinking?” Really, all “thinking” means is everyday language words composing statements, written or spoken, that claim to report, accurately and instantly, some (very confused and undefined) internal processes in the brain. !!?? Wha!? So, there really is no way to experience, define or measure “thinking.” All we have is words and sentences claiming to describe thinking.

Descartes real claim, then, is “I write and talk about an imaginary internal dialog and brain process and therefore I am a sentiment and unique individual – from my own, and socially embedded – claims.”

It is worthwhile to rethink (lol) the mythical idea of “thinking” as a ultra-socially socially determined, verbal signaling (using everyday language) of imagined internal processes that adhere to social and cultural norms of “rationality.” “Rationality” seems to imply actions that are less impulsive then “thoughtful” actions.

The appeal of “thinking” seems to lie in the evoking of less impulsive actions in individuals. But, the topic of the semantics of “thinking” is a useful task for social scientists and philosophers.

Probably because of the pop cultural sales, marketing and promotional value of the notion of “thinking” – it is selling fundamentally unimpulsive/unselfish actions – it is really hard to question and challenge the neurological and medical validity of this myth.

“Cognition” is the formalization and top-down attempt to prove a cultural belief exists by creating a brain process. Joe LeDoux, a leader in the study of fear and anxiety, critically calls such ideas and models “higher order concepts.” Top-down means a kind of theory building and set of ideas that start with cultural categories and THEN looks for evidence in the basic biology and medical physiology. In contrast, a “bottom-up” theory and model building starts with the fundamental molecular physiology builds up models and concepts based on fundamental processes and not cultural concepts.

Cognition is a self-refential and incoherent idea. For example, do any other animals “think” or have cognition? Can there be unconscious cognition? Does cognition have to happen in everyday language? What is the physiological and neuronal speed of Cognition? We know that actions are “decided” in 140 ms. Does thinking and cognition happen that fast, as well?


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