Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

N. Katherine Hayles is known for breaking new ground at the intersection of the sciences and the humanities. In Unthought, she once again bridges disciplines by revealing how we think without thinking—how we use cognitive processes that are inaccessible to consciousness yet necessary for it to function.

Marshalling fresh insights from neuroscience, cognitive science, cognitive biology, and literature, Hayles expands our understanding of cognition and demonstrates that it involves more than consciousness alone. Cognition, as Hayles defines it, is applicable not only to nonconscious processes in humans but to all forms of life, including unicellular organisms and plants. Startlingly, she also shows that cognition operates in the sophisticated information-processing abilities of technical systems: when humans and cognitive technical systems interact, they form “cognitive assemblages”—as found in urban traffic control, drones, and the trading algorithms of finance capital, for instance—and these assemblages are transforming life on earth. The result is what Hayles calls a “planetary cognitive ecology,” which includes both human and technical actors and which poses urgent questions to humanists and social scientists alike.

At a time when scientific and technological advances are bringing far-reaching aspects of cognition into the public eye, Unthought reflects deeply on our contemporary situation and moves us toward a more sustainable and flourishing environment for all beings.
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About the author

N. Katherine Hayles is the James B. Duke Professor of Literature at Duke University. She is the author of many books, including, most recently, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 5, 2017
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780226447919
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
Philosophy / Mind & Body
Science / Cognitive Science
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Philosophers and cognitive scientists reassess systematicity in the post-connectionist era, offering perspectives from ecological psychology, embodied and distributed cognition, enactivism, and other methodologies.

In 1988, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn challenged connectionist theorists to explain the systematicity of cognition. In a highly influential critical analysis of connectionism, they argued that connectionist explanations, at best, can only inform us about details of the neural substrate; explanations at the cognitive level must be classical insofar as adult human cognition is essentially systematic. More than twenty-five years later, however, conflicting explanations of cognition do not divide along classicist-connectionist lines, but oppose cognitivism (both classicist and connectionist) with a range of other methodologies, including distributed and embodied cognition, ecological psychology, enactivism, adaptive behavior, and biologically based neural network theory. This volume reassesses Fodor and Pylyshyn's “systematicity challenge” for a post-connectionist era.

The contributors consider such questions as how post-connectionist approaches meet Fodor and Pylyshyn's conceptual challenges; whether there is empirical evidence for or against the systematicity of thought; and how the systematicity of human thought relates to behavior. The chapters offer a representative sample and an overview of the most important recent developments in the systematicity debate.

Contributors
Ken Aizawa, William Bechtel, Gideon Borensztajn, Paco Calvo, Anthony Chemero, Jonathan D. Cohen, Alicia Coram, Jeffrey L. Elman, Stefan L. Frank, Antoni Gomila, Seth A. Herd, Trent Kriete, Christian J. Lebiere, Lorena Lobo, Edouard Machery, Gary Marcus, Emma Martín, Fernando Martínez-Manrique, Brian P. McLaughlin, Randall C. O'Reilly, Alex A. Petrov, Steven Phillips, William Ramsey, Michael Silberstein, John Symons, David Travieso, William H. Wilson, Willem Zuidema

The first interdisciplinary investigation of the cultural context of enactive embodiment, offering perspectives that range from the neurophilosophical to the anthropological.

Recent accounts of cognition attempt to overcome the limitations of traditional cognitive science by reconceiving cognition as enactive and the cognizer as an embodied being who is embedded in biological, psychological, and cultural contexts. Cultural forms of sense-making constitute the shared world, which in turn is the origin and place of cognition. This volume is the first interdisciplinary collection on the cultural context of embodiment, offering perspectives that range from the neurophilosophical to the anthropological.

The book brings together new contributions by some of the most renowned scholars in the field and the latest results from up-and-coming researchers. The contributors explore conceptual foundations, drawing on work by Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, and respond to recent critiques. They consider whether there is something in the self that precedes intersubjectivity and inquire into the relation between culture and consciousness, the nature of shared meaning and social understanding, the social dimension of shame, and the nature of joint affordances. They apply the notion of radical enactive cognition to evolutionary anthropology, and examine the concept of the body in relation to culture in light of studies in such fields as phenomenology, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and psychopathology. Through such investigations, the book breaks ground for the study of the interplay of embodiment, enaction, and culture.

Contributors
Mark Bickhard, Ingar Brinck, Anna Ciaunica, Hanne De Jaegher, Nicolas de Warren, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Christoph Durt, John Z. Elias, Joerg Fingerhut, Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Thomas Fuchs, Shaun Gallagher, Vittorio Gallese, Duilio Garofoli, Katrin Heimann, Peter Henningsen, Daniel D. Hutto, Laurence J. Kirmayer, Alba Montes Sánchez, Dermot Moran, Maxwell J. D. Ramstead, Matthew Ratcliffe, Vasudevi Reddy, Zuzanna Rucinska, Alessandro Salice, Glenda Satne, Heribert Sattel, Christian Tewes, Dan Zahavi

A rigorous analysis of current empirical and theoretical work supporting the argument that consciousness and attention are largely dissociated.

In this book, Carlos Montemayor and Harry Haladjian consider the relationship between consciousness and attention. The cognitive mechanism of attention has often been compared to consciousness, because attention and consciousness appear to share similar qualities. But, Montemayor and Haladjian point out, attention is defined functionally, whereas consciousness is generally defined in terms of its phenomenal character without a clear functional purpose. They offer new insights and proposals about how best to understand and study the relationship between consciousness and attention by examining their functional aspects. The book's ultimate conclusion is that consciousness and attention are largely dissociated.

Undertaking a rigorous analysis of current empirical and theoretical work on attention and consciousness, Montemayor and Haladjian propose a spectrum of dissociation—a framework that identifies the levels of dissociation between consciousness and attention—ranging from identity to full dissociation. They argue that conscious attention, the focusing of attention on the contents of awareness, is constituted by overlapping but distinct processes of consciousness and attention. Conscious attention, they claim, evolved after the basic forms of attention, increasing access to the richest kinds of cognitive contents.

Montemayor and Haladjian's goal is to help unify the study of consciousness and attention across the disciplines. A focused examination of conscious attention will, they believe, enable theoretical progress that will further our understanding of the human mind.

A defense of the computational explanation of cognition that relies on mechanistic philosophy of science and advocates for explanatory pluralism.

In this book, Marcin Milkowski argues that the mind can be explained computationally because it is itself computational--whether it engages in mental arithmetic, parses natural language, or processes the auditory signals that allow us to experience music. Defending the computational explanation against objections to it--from John Searle and Hilary Putnam in particular--Milkowski writes that computationalism is here to stay but is not what many have taken it to be. It does not, for example, rely on a Cartesian gulf between software and hardware, or mind and brain. Milkowski's mechanistic construal of computation allows him to show that no purely computational explanation of a physical process will ever be complete. Computationalism is only plausible, he argues, if you also accept explanatory pluralism.

Milkowski sketches a mechanistic theory of implementation of computation against a background of extant conceptions, describing four dissimilar computational models of cognition. He reviews other philosophical accounts of implementation and computational explanation and defends a notion of representation that is compatible with his mechanistic account and adequate vis à vis the four models discussed earlier. Instead of arguing that there is no computation without representation, he inverts the slogan and shows that there is no representation without computation--but explains that representation goes beyond purely computational considerations. Milkowski's arguments succeed in vindicating computational explanation in a novel way by relying on mechanistic theory of science and interventionist theory of causation.

In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the "bodies" that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans "beamed" Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.

Hayles relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman."

Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel Limbo by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.

Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, Hayles shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, How We Became Posthuman provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in our virtual age, and of where we might go from here.
The first rule of warfare is to know one’s enemy. The second is to know thyself. More than fifteen years and three quarters of a trillion dollars after the US invasion of Afghanistan, it’s clear that the United States followed neither rule well.

America’s goals in Afghanistan were lofty to begin with: dismantle al Qaeda, remove the Taliban from power, remake the country into a democracy. But not only did the mission come completely unmoored from reality, the United States wasted billions of dollars, and thousands of lives were lost. Our Latest Longest War is a chronicle of how, why, and in what ways the war in Afghanistan failed. Edited by historian and Marine lieutenant colonel Aaron B. O’Connell, the essays collected here represent nine different perspectives on the war—all from veterans of the conflict, both American and Afghan. Together, they paint a picture of a war in which problems of culture and an unbridgeable rural-urban divide derailed nearly every field of endeavor. The authors also draw troubling parallels to the Vietnam War, arguing that deep-running ideological currents in American life explain why the US government has repeatedly used armed nation-building to try to transform failing states into modern, liberal democracies. In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, this created a dramatic mismatch of means and ends that neither money, technology, nor the force of arms could overcome.

The war in Afghanistan has been the longest in US history, and in many ways, the most confounding. Few who fought in it think it has been worthwhile. These are difficult topics for any American or Afghan to consider, especially those who lost friends or family in it. This sobering history—written by the very people who have been fighting the war—is impossible to ignore.
“How do we think?” N. Katherine Hayles poses this question at the beginning of this bracing exploration of the idea that we think through, with, and alongside media. As the age of print passes and new technologies appear every day, this proposition has become far more complicated, particularly for the traditionally print-based disciplines in the humanities and qualitative social sciences. With a rift growing between digital scholarship and its print-based counterpart, Hayles argues for contemporary technogenesis—the belief that humans and technics are coevolving—and advocates for what she calls comparative media studies, a new approach to locating digital work within print traditions and vice versa. Hayles examines the evolution of the field from the traditional humanities and how the digital humanities are changing academic scholarship, research, teaching, and publication. She goes on to depict the neurological consequences of working in digital media, where skimming and scanning, or “hyper reading,” and analysis through machine algorithms are forms of reading as valid as close reading once was. Hayles contends that we must recognize all three types of reading and understand the limitations and possibilities of each. In addition to illustrating what a comparative media perspective entails, Hayles explores the technogenesis spiral in its full complexity. She considers the effects of early databases such as telegraph code books and confronts our changing perceptions of time and space in the digital age, illustrating this through three innovative digital productions—Steve Tomasula’s electronic novel, TOC; Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts; and Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions. Deepening our understanding of the extraordinary transformative powers digital technologies have placed in the hands of humanists, How We Think presents a cogent rationale for tackling the challenges facing the humanities today.
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“One of the most important books I’ve ever read—an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” – Bill Gates

“Hans Rosling tells the story of ‘the secret silent miracle of human progress’ as only he can. But Factfulness does much more than that. It also explains why progress is so often secret and silent and teaches readers how to see it clearly.” —Melinda Gates

"Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases." - Former U.S. President Barack Obama

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.

When asked simple questions about global trends—what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school—we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.

In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens. They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective—from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse).

Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.

It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.

Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world and empower you to respond to the crises and opportunities of the future.

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“This book is my last battle in my life-long mission to fight devastating ignorance...Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software, an energetic learning style and a Swedish bayonet for sword-swallowing. It wasn’t enough. But I hope this book will be.” Hans Rosling, February 2017.

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