Charles Gallistel:

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

The nature of intelligence lies in the organization principles that enable living organisms to make rapid adjustments of patterns of action in response to the environment. No movement in nature is random, it always serves the purpose of "adapting" the state of the system to the external conditions. No matter how intelligent a living being's action appears to be, that action satisfies the same general principle. The reason human actions look more complex than the actions of inanimated matter is because of the complexity of the human machine, i.e. of the brain's neural circuitry. The subtleties of goal, intent, purpose are but consequences of the hierarchical synthesis of intermediate units.
The elementary units of behavior (reflex, oscillator, servomechanism, i.e. externl stimulus to internal signal to muscle contraction) are "catalyzed" by units at the higher levels of the system. Gallistel describes the interaction principles that govern the units of behavior (reciprocal facilitation, reciprocal inhibition, chaining, superimposition, acceleration/deceleration, corollary discharge, etc). The goal is to explain how an action that looks like a whole can be decomposed in many coordinated lower-level levels.
Drawing from Paul Weiss' concept of a central program, Gallistel assumes that units are organized in a hierarchy that allows for competition and antagonism. A central program is a unit of behavior that is activated as a whole. A central program "selectively potentiate" subsets of lower-level units according to their relevance to the current goal. The principles that determine the "selective potentiation" of lower-level units are the same that govern the properties of elementary units.
Drawing from Deutsch's theory of learning, which prescribes how representations of the world determine action, Gallistel defines cognition as the representation of the world stored in memory.
Gallistel therefore argues in favor of innate knowledge, i.e. universal principles of behavior.
The book contains reprints of historical papers (Sherrington's study of the reflex, Von Holst's oscillators, Wilson's on coordination, Fraenkel's analysis of geotaxis) and a wealth of experimental data.