The Limits of Knowledge
Prof. Dr. Israel Rosenfield

Contemporary views of how the mind works - the nature of thought, knowledge and action - have been deeply influenced by developments in the computer sciences. The assumptions that have guided much of this work are nineteenth century neurological discoveries that the brain consists of anatomically-localized functional units. In the classical Artificial Intelligence view, the world can be understood by describing it; knowledge is those descriptions according to certain rules. The "universal grammars " of sight, sound, touch and language dictate the ways in which the details of our daily experiences are encoded and stored in our brains; and they dictate the ways in which we can think about those experiences. Knowledge, in the classical AI view, is a copy of reality; memory is a stored record of this information. Some of these ideas were challenged with the development of the parallel distributed processor (PDP) in the 1980s. Nonetheless both classical AI and PDP view knowledge as static and the brain as an organ that could produce thought even if it were isolated in a jar. Newer developments have taken a much broader view of knowledge; thought and action are possible only when the brain functions within a body - ultimately, it is the continously evolving relations between the individual and his surroundings that is at the heart of what much thought and knowledge are all about. And yet this picture as it has evolved to date must be incomplete, for critical to our understanding of human knowledge is the nature of bluff, lying and self-deception. These are at the heart of Freudian theory (repression, slips of the tongue, the unconscious, etc.) and they are at the heart of von Neumann's Theory of Games and its social and economic applications, as well. Game Theory's emphasis on the importance of rational strategies (determining our understanding and reactions to others) has had a considerable influence on contemporary biological models of the genetic determinants of animal (and human) behaviour and the nature of knowledge. And yet these attempts to describe the rationality of bluff, lying and deception have failed to capture the elements of suspense - the unpredictable and perhaps irrational - that make us want to learn and acquire knowledge and without which bluff, lying and deception (critical characteristics of all human thought and action including memory) would not be possible.

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