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The System of Cognition


Mysterious monism criticizes the dualism of modern philosophers. We must, however, overcome the horizon of dualism and monism and aim at pluralism consisting of dualism.

Image by Gordon Johnson+Karin Henseler from Pixabay modified by me.

1. Our cogition is subjective

We are the thinking subjects that recognize the object. But subjects don’t perceive the real world as it appears.

For example, color is not objective. Red, green and blue are called the three primary colors of which every kind of colors can be composed, as if they were something objectively fundamental. The fact is that they are primary because only these three colors can stimulate our sensory of eyes. A goldfish has four primary colors, a dog two, a rat one, and a bat perceives supersonic waves instead of light.

Each kind of animals has its own world, and it is nonsense to argue which is the most objective. The experience of illusion also makes us reflect on the subjectivity of perception. Zoellner figure, Wundt figure, Mueller-Lyer figure etc. also tell us that we perceive more than we are given.

The world we are given has unlimited diversity and it is simplified by selection. There would be unlimited graduation between dark blue and light blue, but we abstract such delicate shade of color and recognize the color as either dark blue or light blue. The traditional distinction between real and ideal depends on the degree of this abstraction i.e. selection.

2. The structure of cognition

The diversity of the world makes possible ways of simplification diverse. The world can be interpreted otherwise than as it is. The subject as the information system decreases this entropy of meaning. The relation of subject/object (selecting/selected or recognizing/recognized) is not equal to that of ideal/real, so there are four combinations:

Four Elements of Cognition
idealideal objectideal subject
realreal objectreal subject

The subject corresponds to a system and the object is divided into structure (whole) and element (part). An important distinction can be made within the ideal world. As a result, the cognition has nine moments:

Nine Elements of Cognition
idealintellectual objectconceptconception
intuitive objectimageimagination
realsensual objectperceptperception

The middle intuitive level is different from the lower sensuous level. When I see someone, I perceive his face. After I leave him, I still bear the image of his face in mind. I remember the characteristics that impressed and interested me. If I take his portrait, I’ll exaggerate some features and disregard others. Such an abstracted image is no longer real but ideal.

On the other hand, the intuitive level is different from the higher intellectual level. I can describe his characteristics by means of language; he has black hair, round eyes, big mouth and so on. These concepts in themselves aren’t intuitive images, because I can understand the description without figuring the intuitive image.

Another example: a triangle drawn on the blackboard in chalk is a sensuous object and not a geometrically strict triangle. But we can imagine an ideal triangle on it. This intuitive image is an acute-angle, a right-angled or an obtuse-angle triangle and cannot be three at once like the concept of triangle.

So much for the longitudinal distinction. As for the lateral distinction, you can say percept is what is perceived by perception, image is what is imagined by imagination and concept is what is conceived by conception. The perceiving system combines percepts into the sensuous object, the imagining system combines images into the intuitive object and the conceiving system combines concepts into the intellectual object.

When I perceive the world, I not only unify fragments of visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactual percepts but also combine the five percepts into one object. It is the subject as a system that unifies the object, for the object does not of itself unify itself. A grown-up who was blind and gains eyesight cannot combine the visual percept with the others and sees only a meaningless sight.

I get images from the five percepts. Unlike percepts, images remain without the presence of objects. I can freely combine images into an imaginary object that does not exist. I can, for example, imagine unicorn, combining intuitive fragments of horse and horn. I can also make up an intellectual world where 1+1=0. These other possibilities are the environment of the cognitive system.

This analysis of cognition structure is not sufficient, because I do not take the role of sign into consideration. I will take up the structure of sign and its relation to our cognition at the next article.

3. The structure of signs

The sign is more general than language. Language is a sign but some signs, such as facial expression, gesture, monuments, beacons, etc. are not language. It is because it refers to objects other than itself that a sign is more than a mere thing.

A dove, for example, conceives a sense of the dove; still it does not make the dove a sign, while regarding the dove as a symbol of peace turns the dove into a sign, because it refers to objects other than itself. The same rule is applied to the language. A word “dove" written in ink is a word for the dove, because it refers to objects other than itself. Let’s call expressing signs “signifiant" and expressed signs “signifiée". (These two are French words for the signifier and the signified.)

As explained at the former issue, cognition has three levels: sense, intuition and concept. So do signs. The sensuous signifiant of dove is directly given as the stain of ink on paper, vibration of air, etc. Though the word might be written in a printed style or scribbled down, we abstract these particular differences and see the visual signifiant through a standard intuitive form. The auditory signifiant of dove might be pronounced in a male thick voice or in a female high voice. Although this auditory signifiant is different from the visual on the intuitive level, they are identical on the intellectual level.

The signifié of doves, on the other hand, varies in color, figure, size, etc. on the sensuous level. In spite of this unlimited variety, the image of doves we conjure up has a constant ideal form. We can understand the concept of doves without envisaging their image. So signifié, too, has three levels: sensuous, intuitive and intellectual.

We hereby get the following classification:

Nine moments of signs
conceptabstract significantabstract signifié
imageconcrete significantconcrete signifié
perceptreal significantreal signifié

4. The synthesis of cognition and signs

Crossing the table of cognition, this table of signsresults in such a 3D model:

3D model of cognition

In this model, the front left axis referred by black terms corresponds to the selecting system and the opposite referred by yellow terms corresponds to the selected structure; the axis referred by green terms corresponds to signifiant and the opposite referred by blue terms corresponds to signifié. The model shows the subject recognizes the object through signs.

The rectangle of subject/object and that of signifiant/signifié crosses at the central axis referred by red terms. This indicates the object and signs correspond to the whole and parts. Each pair of signifiant/signifié consists in the negative relation of the total knowledge network. The proposition “This is a dove." is true by the negation of its negation “This is not a crow or a sparrow or a fowl…" Not a single elementary proposition can be true if it is not consistent with the total knowledge network. An unlimited number of pairs of signifiant/signifié can be plotted on the perpendicular bisector of the subject/object line and the model shows this unlimited number of pairs all converge on the object axis.

In this model, the subject axis faces the object axis symmetrically, as if the rectangle of signifiant/signifié were a mirror between them. Etymologically “subject" derives from “sub-jectum" that is thrown under phenomena and the modern ego-oriented philosophy inverted the relation and turned ego cogitans into the transcendental subject that makes phenomena objective. So, it is significant that subject and object are in the reversible relation.

The thesis of the modern transcendental philosophy is that unifying object unifies the unifying subject. Translated into terms of the system theory, you can say distinguishing a system from its environment maintains the system.