1 KNOWLEDGE

GAINING NEW KNOWLEDGE

Knowledge can be acquired by humans in many ways. Surely, there are also many ways to classify the means to acquire knowledge. Here are just a few ways.

One’s brain can acquire knowledge during the evolutionary process by successive modifications to the genes. That finally results in fertilization of egg by sperm and the gestation process in the mother. Certainly, all this depends on the sensory–motor “operating system” software that makes the sense organs and muscles work together. But evolution also plays at the level of higher cognitive function. As Noam Chomsky has shown us (Chomsky, 1957), much of the syntactic structure of grammar is evidently built in at birth. What knowledge we acquire after birth is a function of what we attend to, and what we attend to is a function of our motivation for allocating our attention, which ultimately is a function of what we know, so knowledge acquisition after birth is a causal circle.

Learning has to do with how we respond to the stimuli we observe. Perhaps, the oldest theory of learning is the process of Pavlovian (classical) conditioning, where a stimulus, originally neutral in its effect, becomes a signal that an inherently significant (reward or punishment) unconditioned stimulus is about to occur. This results only after multiple pairings, and the brain somehow remembers the association. The originally neutral stimulus becomes conditioned, meaning that the person (or animal) responds reflexively ...

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