In this post, I attempt to present two major metaphysical accounts of space by Kant and Leibniz, then present some recent findings from cognitive neuroscience about the neural basis of spatial cognition in an attempt to understand more about the nature of space and the possible connection of philosophical theories to empirical observations.
Immanuel Kant’s account of space in his Prolegomena serves as a cornerstone for his thought and comes about in a discussion of the transcendental principles of mathematics that precedes remarks on the possibility of natural science and metaphysics. Kant begins his inquiry concerning the possibility of ‘pure’ mathematics with an appeal to the nature of mathematical knowledge, asserting that it rests upon no empirical basis, and thus is a purely synthetic product of pure reason (§6). He also argues that mathematical knowledge (pure mathematics) has the unique feature of first exhibiting its concepts in a priori intuition which in turn makes judgments in mathematics ‘intuitive’ (§7.281). For Kant, intuition is prior to our sensibility and the activity of reason since the former does not grasp ‘things in themselves,’ but rather only the things that can be perceived by the senses. Thus, what we can perceive is based on the form of our a priori intuition (§9). As such, we are only able to intuit and perceive things in the world within the framework naturally provided by the capabilities and character (literally the under–standing) of our understanding. Kant then takes our intuitions of space (and time) as concepts integral to pure mathematics and as necessary components of our intuition (§10.91). More
The one day of the year dreaded by the many people in, out of, and between relationships has come and passed. Being a huge neuroscience nerd, I spent much of February 14th searching for articles and scholarly papers about the neuroscience of love, sex, attraction, friend zones, what have you. But nothing really blew me away. In my third year of studying neuroscience, I have a relatively extensive knowledge of the brain. I certainly have heard all about neurochemicals being released during sex, when you’re constantly thinking (to the point of obsessing) about that special someone, and even when you just look at a photograph of them. And sure, it’s cool the first five times you read about how fascinating oxytocin and serotonin are. But I’m over hearing it. More
Dr. Frank Werblin at UC Berkeley has dedicated nearly his entire academic life to the study of the eye and visual processing. More recently Dr. Werblin has completed his model of the retinal processing system he has deemed “The Retinal Hypercircuit”. The Hypercircuit itself is made up of the five classical retina cell types: Photoreceptor, Horizontal, Bipolar, Amacrine and Retinal Ganglion Cells, but more recently, a collaborative effort has identified over 50 morphologically different cell types. Of this vast array of unique cell types the most variance falls in the morphology of the Amacrine cells, which offer horizontal properties in the Inner Plexiform Layer between the Bipolar and Ganglion Cells. Although the mechanics behind the Hypercirtuit are fascinating, what I find arguably more important is the output of the system, a topic which Werblin has indirectly stumbled upon, but which I believe could potentially lead to an incredibly progressive line of research. More
One thing I have always struggled with in reading philosophy is the doctrine of Innatism, which holds that the human mind is born with ideas or knowledge. This belief, put forth most notably by Plato as his Theory of Forms and later by Descartes in his Meditations, is currently gaining neuroscientific evidence that could validate the belief that we are born with innate knowledge of our world.
If you were to ask any reasonable person (or reasonable physicist) how quantum mechanics works, 9 out of 10 times he/she would probably give you the same answer: magic. Yes, the field of quantum physics is known far and wide across academia as being both pretty difficult (lots of math) and pretty confusing (it just seems like it makes stuff up as it goes). However, despite all the tedium and wizardry that surrounds quantum mechanics, if you look hard enough at the many applications that the science has to offer to other fields, you may quickly come to find that it is also pretty dang awesome. Indeed, even the field of neuroscience has experienced some cross over with quantum physics in an attempt to explain many of the mysteries of the mind. But, what specific oddities about the brain are so opaque that they would need something as complex as physics’ black magic to explain them?
Creative artists not only experience the world differently they also view the world differently. Picasso and Kandinsky, two of the well known creative geniuses of our time, both had disorders that forced them to perceive their world differently: could these disorders be one of the underlying factors that facilitated their genius?
Strabismus & Picasso
Stereopsis, the ability to have depth perception, is important for artists in order for them to paint the three-dimensional world realistically but new studies have shown that possibly many great artists did not have depth perception. Pablo Picasso, one of the many artists who had strabismus – abnormal alignment of the eyes – was able to create amazing pieces of art despite his inability to perceive depth. For him, this disorder made it easier for him to reproduce his two-dimensional representation of his subject matter. Margaret S. Livingstone and Bevil R. Conway state that “someone who cannot perceive depth from stereopsis may be more aware of—and therefore better able to capture—the other, monocular, cues to depth and distance, such as perspective, shading, and occlusion.” This can be seen in the painting on the left, Picasso’s The Old Guitarist where his shading skill and lack of depth perception is apparent. Picasso, is largely known for his cubist pieces, it is evident that going the route to cubism was ideal for his skill set due to his disorder.