BrainChildren, Essays on Designing Minds
Daniel C. Dennett, 1998

On Moving Memory Contents Around
In discussing Newell's book,
Dennett touches upon the issue of whether it makes sense to think of memory contents in the mind as being moveable objects as one often thinks of computer memory contents. Calvin , for example, makes this assumption in his view of evolving hexagonal mosaics. He presents a picture of copying symbols from one hexagon to another. Dennett comments on Newell's three-way choice; of moving the data [bad idea!], moving the processes [better!], or by changing the access path [best!]. This works out well with the brain model discussed in my essay .

Knowing is Believing
I think Dennett is wrong when
he equates knowing and believing . I believe there is another layer which deals with the knowledge of knowledge. I will argue that there is a more primitive layer which represents the bare fact, the knowledge itself, and that we humans almost inevitably include a second layer, the knowledge of that knowledge. This second layer is most clearly evident in our use of language, although I am not certain that it is part and parcel of language. There are two views on this. Bickerton argues that there is, in fact, a second cognitive system which evolved specifically for language concepts. Jackendoff argues that there is a single knowledge system which handles both linguistic and the more primitive pre-linguistic kinds of knowledge.

Dennett's position requires the seemingly extreme conclusion that a thermostat has a belief about the room temperature. Jackendoff would not require this extreme position, because (I think) he would attribute the belief itself to a second level of concept dealing with the knowledge of the more primitive fact, the room temperature itself. Dennett necessarily uses such a second layer in talking about knowledge. When you say you know that proposition p is true, the proposition itself has been rerepresented by a second concept which was constructed for the purpose of forming the embedded clause (italicized). Bickerton would place this second concept in a separate language-related concept system, Jackendoff would have the second concept, but not in a separate system, and Dennett would perhaps allow the existence of the second concept, but would consider it as a strictly language issue, of no relevance to the underlying proposition.

It is my view that we use the word "belief" primarily to refer to the second-level concept, not the primitive knowledge itself. As soon as we think about knowing something, a higher-level concept is created. Can we determine, perhaps by using some of the tests Dennett proposes, whether a particular animal is capable of forming such a second-level concept? This, I don't know, but I am certain that the thermostat cannot do it.


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