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Variations on a Theme


Despite their differences, models involving levels of brain organization, emotion, signs, and reference suggest consistent underlying themes for each level of cognition. As levels of an emergent system, each theme should relate to a type of interaction. Based on the identified themes, we can organize these interactions into sensory, intuitive, and abstract.

Sensory interactions: instinctive, body, iconic

  • Iconic reference: unconscious substitutions based on physical resemblance between signifier and signified
  • Reactive / Visceral: responses based on instinct, physical sensation
  • Reptilian Complex: instinctive behavior, “lizard brain”

Intuitive interactions: habitual, memory, indexical

  • Indexical reference: remembered mappings based on co-occurrence of signifier and signified
  • Routine / Behavioral: responses based on habits, memory, learned behavior
  • Limbic System: pro-social behavior, “mammalian brain”

Abstract interactions: reflective, thought / language, symbolic

  • Symbolic reference: learned networks of substitution and mapping based on assignment of signifier to signified
  • Reflective: responses based on thought, language, reasoning
  • Neocortex: reflective behavior, “human brain”
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REPRESENTATION: LEVELS AS WHOLES


Each level of interaction gives rise to a type of representation. These representations are higher-level integrations of the patterns of interactions from which they emerge. They are similar to the traffic emerging from the interactions of cars slowing down, the music emerging from the interactions of sounds from instruments, the pie emerging from the interactions of the molecules of its ingredients. As derivatives of the level they represent, we will refer to these representations as perceptions, associations, and conceptions.

Perception: integrated representation of sensory-level patterns

  • Sensory interactions: instinctive, body, iconic
  • Iconic reference: unconscious substitutions based on physical resemblance between signifier and signified
  • Reactive / Visceral: responses based on instinct, physical sensation
  • Reptilian Complex: instinctive behavior, “lizard brain”

Association: integrated representation of intuitive-level patterns

  • Intuitive interactions: habitual, memory, indexical
  • Indexical reference: remembered mappings based on co-occurrence of signifier and signified
  • Routine / Behavioral: responses based on habits, memory, learned behavior
  • Limbic System: pro-social behavior, “mammalian brain”

Conception: integrated representation of abstract-level patterns

  • Abstract interactions: reflective, thought / language, symbolic
  • Symbolic reference: learned networks of substitution and mapping based on assignment of signifier to signified
  • Reflective: responses based on thought, language, reasoning
  • Neocortex: reflective behavior, “human brain”

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THE NEXT LEVELS
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There are all sorts of ways to characterize levels of cognition. Comparing existing models with levels of cognition-related topics gives us an overview of prominent themes. Our description of cognitive levels is a summary of these themes as types of interaction processing.

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LET’S GET PHYSICAL
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The first level of interaction processing is sensory. It involves the interactions of our bodily sensations. Everything we physically experience in the world is processed through this level into perceptions. This is the information we attribute to the body — our ability to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and move.

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MAKING CONNECTIONS
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The second level is intuitive. At this level, we process interactions among perceptions over time and intuitively learn how various perceptions are associated with each other. This information is most often attributed to the heart — our pre-verbal ability to understand relationships.

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SAYING WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND
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At the third level, there is the processing of abstract interaction. This processing depends on words to represent associative interactions, giving form to conceptions which we can then use and manipulate in the physical world. We generally attribute this information to the mind — our ability to use words to communicate with each other but also with ourselves via our own verbalized thoughts.

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THE MORAL OF THE STORY
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Photo Credit: jean-louis zimmermann

We can imagine a fourth level as well. However, it is different from the other three in that it does not necessarily give rise to a fully integrated representation. This is a narrative level at which we process the interactions of conceptions into interpretations. It is the information we may attribute to the spirit — our ability to create context and meaning.

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BEYOND LEVELS


By themselves, emergent cognition’s sensory, intuitive, abstract, and narrative levels simply refer to types of interaction. Beyond the description of individual levels, there is still the question of how the interactions of perceptions give rise to associations, and the interactions of associations give rise to conceptions. To address this question, we’ll need a better understanding of the nature of representation.