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What Is Core Knowledge?

I talked about the notion of core knowledge in the very first lecture, but since then I have not appealed to the notion. This is deliberate because the notion is tricky; so I thought it would be good to postpone our discussion of it for as long as possible. Now I can put it off no longer.

What is core knowledge? What are core systems?

The first, very minor thing is to realise that there are two closely related notions, core knowledge and core system.
These are related this: roughly, core knowledge states are the states of core systems. More carefully:
For someone to have \textit{core knowledge of a particular principle or fact} is for her to have a core system where either the core system includes a representation of that principle or else the principle plays a special role in describing the core system.
So we can define core knowlegde in terms of core system.

‘Just as humans are endowed with multiple, specialized perceptual systems, so we are endowed with multiple systems for representing and reasoning about entities of different kinds.’

Carey and Spelke, 1996 p. 517

‘core systems are

  1. largely innate
  2. encapsulated
  3. unchanging
  4. arising from phylogenetically old systems
  5. built upon the output of innate perceptual analyzers’

(Carey and Spelke 1996: 520)

representational format: iconic (Carey 2009)

What do people say core knowledge is?
\subsection{Two-part definition}
There are two parts to a good definition. The first is an analogy that helps us get a fix on what we is meant by 'system' generally. (The second part tells us which systems are core systems by listing their characteristic features.)
‘Just as humans are endowed with multiple, specialized perceptual systems, so we are endowed with multiple systems for representing and reasoning about entities of different kinds.’ \citep[p.\ 517]{Carey:1996hl}
So talk of core knowledge is somehow supposed to latch onto the idea of a system.
What do these authors mean by talking about 'specialized perceptual systems'?
They talk about things like perceiving colour, depth or melodies.
Now, as we saw when talking about categorical perception of colour, we can think of the 'system' underlying categorical perception as largely separate from other cognitive systems--- we saw that they could be knocked out by verbal interference, for example.
So the idea is that core knowledge somehow involves a system that is separable from other cognitive mechanisms.
As Carey rather grandly puts it, understanding core knowledge will involve understanding something about 'the architecture of the mind'.
Illustration: edge detection.
‘core systems are: \begin{enumerate} \item largely innate \item encapsulated \item unchanging \item arising from phylogenetically old systems \item built upon the output of innate perceptual analyzers’ \citep[p.\ 520]{Carey:1996hl} \end{enumerate}
\textit{Note} There are other, slightly different statements \citep[e.g.][]{carey:2009_origin}.
‘We hypothesize that uniquely human cognitive achievements build on systems that humans share with other animals: core systems that evolved before the emergence of our species. The internal functioning of these systems depends on principles and processes that are distinctly non-intuitive. Nevertheless, human intuitions about space, number, morality and other abstract concepts emerge from the use of symbols, especially language, to combine productively the representations that core systems deliver’ \citep[pp.\ 2784-5]{spelke:2012_core}.
This, them is the two part definition. An analogy and a list of features.
There is one more feature that I want to mention; this is important although I won't disucss it here. To say that a represenation is iconic means, roughly, that parts of the representation represent parts of the thing represented. Pictures are paradigm examples of representations with iconic formats. For example, you might have a picture of a flower where some parts of the picture represent the petals and others the stem.
\subsection{The Core Knowledge View}
The \emph{Core Knowledge View}: the principles of object perception are not knowledge, but they are core knowledge. And we generate expectations from these principles by a process of inference.

Why postulate core knowledge?

The Simple View

The Core Knowledge View

The first problem we encountered was that the Simple View is false. But maybe we can appeal to the Core Knowledge View.
According to the Core Knowledge View, the principles of object perception, and maybe also the expectations they give rise to, are not knowledge. But they are core knowledge.
This raises some issues. Is the Core Knowledge View consistent with the claims that we have ended up with, e.g. about categorical perception and the Principles of Object Perception characterising the way that object indexes work? I think the answer is, basically, yes. Categorical perception involves a system that has many of the features associated with core knowledge.
[*looking ahead (don’t say):] Consider this hypothesis. The principles of object perception, and maybe also the expectations they give rise to, are not knowledge. But they are core knowledge. The \emph{core knowledge view}: the principles of object perception are not knowledge, but they are core knowledge. But look at those features again --- innate, encapsulated, unchanging and the rest. None of these straightforwardly enable us to predict that core knowledge of objects will guide looking but not reaching. So the \emph{first problem} is that (at this stage) it's unclear what we gain by shifting from knowledge to core knowledge.
domainevidence for knowledge in infancyevidence against knowledge
colourcategories used in learning labels & functionsfailure to use colour as a dimension in ‘same as’ judgements
physical objectspatterns of dishabituation and anticipatory lookingunreflected in planned action (may influence online control)
number--""----""--
syntaxanticipatory looking[as adults]
mindsreflected in anticipatory looking, communication, &cnot reflected in judgements about action, desire, ...
The Core Knowledge view may also help us to resolve Discrepant Findings in other domains too ...

Why postulate core knowledge?

The Simple View

The Core Knowledge View