Monday, March 27, 2006

The paradigm effect

Originally uploaded by cgoblemoblo.

Colin Blakemore and Grahame Cooper at the University of Cambridge published a paper in 1970. They raised kittens in pitch darkness, except for 5 hours each day during which they were put in pens painted with either vertical or horizontal stripes. After five months, the kittens were let loose in a normally lit room. Those that had been exposed only to horizontal lines would repeatedly walk into table legs, while animals exposed to vertical lines couldn't see horizontal edges. Each was effectively blind to edges in the direction they had not been exposed to during the formative period.

New Scientist, 5 November 2005 page 32

It certainly seems clear that the paradigm one uses to see the world affects the things one sees in it. I wonder if one can get this idea from Alma's rebuttal to Korihor that all things testify there is a Christ. Either nothing does, or every thing does. It just depends on the perspective taken. However this doesn't explain what is correct. It only move the decision of correctness from a realm of absolutes to one of perspectives. This isn't a whole sale shift though. Obviously some things, are much more appropriate from an absolute frame instead of a relative frame and vice versa. (hard science -absolute, ethics and morality - relative)

I would say the decision about which paradigm is most valid largely depends on what one is trying to accomplish. From previous posts I have mentioned that quite a few things can get created by simply having a committed group of people working together. Obviously not everything can, but by and large it is surprising how often the limiting factor often is willingness, not capability. So it seems that as the level of novel creativity increases, so to does the need for more open paradigms. One can try and apply the results of creative exploration in an absolute way, but the search itself seems to be quite relative.

So applying this to religious thought, the degree to which one should apply absolute versus relative assessments on the world seems to depend whether one is trying to creatively explore it, or dedicatedly follow others explorations of it. Both seem valid. Mixing up the tools with the task, however doesn't seem to fare very well.


Clark Goble said...

The more interesting thing about this study is the question about whether these projective categories (I dislike the term paradigm) end up being innate or not.

It seems to me that brain development in mammals leads to a lot of projective categories becoming hard wired in our brains.

That's partially, btw, why I dislike the term paradigm. It's both a tad equivocal (as even Kuhn acknowledged) but also implies the possibility of paradigm change - something that innately developed structures from childhood might not be.

This probably is also why children who face trauma (typically abuse of some kind - but also kids in war zones etc.) have such trouble as adults. The brain is simply wired with projective categories that are suited to one environment but not what we characterize as the "normal" one.

Of course the real big issue in this study of cats is that it shows the divide between animals and humans in this regard isn't as big as some assert. That is, animals use these projective categories as well.

jeff g said...

My understanding of this kitten phenomenon is that in neural development, the perceptual input actually conditions by way of a sort of natural selection which neural pathways will remain open or strong. Thus, the kittens non-exposure to lines in a particular direction caused any neural pathways associated with detecting those lines to atrophy to non-existence.

I don't think that this is really innate or paradigmatic.

Clark Goble said...

Jeff, that's what I mean by innate. That is it isn't learned by a mature neural system but is part of the development of the neural system.

If by innate we simply mean genetic, then you are right. (And I might be guilty of poor language choice) But I'm more thinking in terms of say how an adult learns versus learning that leads to a physically significant difference that can't easily be undone.

But clearly there are blurry boundaries to all this. Clearly even adults can rewire their brain somewhat. So it is a kind of continuum between the genetically innate to the developmentally innate to the more fluidly learned.

chris g said...

Yes, I think the boundaries between biological disposition and the perspectives we choose to follow are blurry. We have power over our influences, but probably in a way inversely proportion to extent they are ingrained. (Note I think the same thing for sexual preference and quite a few other things). However I think continuous concious choice can ingrain quite a few things.

I fully agree that the brain becomes hard wired with perceptual influence (among other things). I think one's paradigm (or projective category :) can do pretty much the same thing though.

The way we interpret the world conditions neural pathways. Thus weightings become different, and one "sees" things in a different way. If these pathways never change, they become more or less ingrained. One has a hard time modifying them as they are quite tangled up. Concious effort doesn't automatically make them fluid - they are too tied up in background weightings. Clark's abuse example seems appropriate here.

I would say the whole issue seems to revolve around the extent to which one comes to embody a perspective. There are quite a few stable equilibria that are easy to fall into. While the influence of the bioligical ones are easy to spot, we often seem to neglect the stability (and well) that concious choice can create. So I would say that there are certain perpectives of thought (concious paradigms) into which we seem predisposed to fit. Balancing between these perspectives seems unstable in a mathematical sense.

Clark Goble said...

While I'm sure you know this Chris, as you've read many of the same books I have, there is a fundamental difference between how the neural systems get wired in kids versus adults. That's more what I was getting at. They simply can't be changed to the same degree in adults.

This isn't just due to background but is due to the very way that the axial parts of nerves in the brain are developing as the brain grows. So it is very much a physiological issue - something I think far to many people forget when looking at people and their childhood development. Far too many are still trapped in the metaphor of the blank slate.

chris g said...

True enough. I would tend to say, using the idea of stable vs. unstable equilibria, that physiological dispositions of children merely steepen the curve, making stable equilibria easier to fall into and harder to move out of.

I have a hard time imagining biology enabling much flexibility for the way schemas like the brain's response to light get interpreted. But I don't think this implies there isn't a continuum of stable equilibrium points. I was postulating such a continuum, not a blank slate.

It just seems as we age people have a tendency to fall into certain mental processes. I think our free will makes these wells more shallow than conventional physiological wells, however it doesn't mean they aren't similar. It just means that the degree to which our biology is wired for these points is less. The way we re-enforce and hence entagle thinking certainly seem to deepen these "chosen" cognitive wells. The idea that used pathways get more efficient and have higher neuroligcal weighting certainly isn't new.

I think the cognitive phsychology approach to religion implies that it is stable equilibrium point weaker than other physiological ones (vision interpretation), but stronger than mental stereotypes (dirty clothes mean you are poor). All of these are influenced by biology, but the degree certainly varies. Hence some deepen and entrench by repeated use much more than others.

chris g said...

With regards to Jeff's comments I would just say I think biology primes things at early stages. That is lots of weighting is given certain things at certain times. Most of this is due to physical preferences, but I wonder if an equivalent sort of priming can't happen to pathways that are more thought based.