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Article Title: why mental representations evolved


Article Summary

This article focuses on explaining why mental representations evolved. The author says that we make decisions by mentally representing different factors that go into it and act based on these mental representations. One feature of mental representation is that it acts as an intermediary between the world and your reactions to the world. We take actions based on the way things are represented in our mind. Secondly, mental representations have meanings and there can be mistakes about how we represent things mentally. It is unlike chemical reactions which have fixed outcomes, and the biological world generally appears to be much like a chemical reaction.

So, is there even room in the biological world for such a thing as mental representations? Yes, studies by philosophers do suggest that it is possible to ‘naturalise’ mental content. Organisms could also – and often do – rely on reflexes, habits or conditioned behaviours to do the right thing. What do organisms gain by relying on mental content? The author explains that mental representations allow the organism to reason about what the right thing to do is. Very often, organisms that rely on a system of reflexes to manage their interactions with the world have to cope with much redundancy. This requires reflex-driven organisms to deal with a huge number of behavioural dispositions containing many patterns. But, when there is a mental representation, it allows the organisms to directly respond to the patterns. The organism does not have to store a large number of behavioural dispositions but it can just reason about what the right answer is. The ability of the organisms to streamline its decision-making machinery allows for correlation with neurobiological efficiency and enables faster adjustments to change in environments. The author feels that reliance on mental representations can make decision-making more efficient. And this can answer why mental representations evolved.


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Words to learn from this Article:

Conundrum – a confusing and difficult problem or question

Mental representation-  A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, or else a mental process that makes use of such a symbol: “a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this”. Mental representation is the mental imagery of things that are not actually present to the senses.

Reflex – an action that is performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus

Disposition – a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character

Streamline – design or provide with a form that presents increases speed and ease of movement

Neurobiology – a branch of the life sciences that deals with the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the nervous system

Prune – reduce the extent of (something) by removing superfluous or unwanted parts

Synapse – a structure that permits a neuron (or nerve cell) to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron or to the target efferent cell

Cull – reduce the population of by selective slaughter or removal

Ubiquity – the fact of appearing everywhere or of being very common

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