Towards a very Idea of Representation referat

Towards a very Idea of Representation

Review of Vacariu et al.'s Toward a very idea of representation

'the debates in Cognitive Science focus on the problem of representation. Unfortunately, these debates regard either representational format(as in the computationalism-connectionism debate), or the problem of representational content(as in representationalism-antirepresentationalism debate), but they are not concerning with the nature of representation. Thus one question legitimaly arises: how can beyond of these debates? Our believe is that what completely misses in Cognitive Science is an abstract theory of representation by means of wich it is possible to go beyond of these debates'(Vacariu et al. 2001, 290).

'Authors like Mundy, Swoyer, Suppes, Mormann and Ibara, etc., dealt with a general theory of representation. Thus, it is not about creating a new abstract theory of representation, but only to search wich theory is fitting best with the problem of mental representations.

For instance, the concept of Swoyer's structural representation (an isomophism from relational system A regarded as a set of the physical objects to the relational system B regarded as a set of the numerical entities) grasps the aspects of symbolic representations'(291)

'The general theory of representation releases by Mundy is based on structured and unstructured representations. The unstructured representations are different to the structured representations in the sense that the elements of set A are mapped to elements of B by a function f wich is understood to represents the numerical relations of the elements of A, but the numerical and physical relations are not explicitly specified (Mundy 1986). We believe that this concept can capture the aspects of connectionst representations wich can not be isolated, each computing unit being involved in representing several things.

In the case of dynamical systems theory maybe it is improper to talk effectively about the notion of representation. But we can identify some structures that are preserved through the continuous changing within the state space.'(Vacariu et al. 2001, 291).

I will propose a content as the content of the very idea of representation and I will compare the previous three idea with my idea.

For Edelman, representation is not similar with something from environment, but it present similarities between cognitive or conscious contents/informations.

'A representation is a certain stored information wich stands-in for something, its function being that of carrying specific information. However, the bear existence of a correlation between a certain inner state and some bodily or outer parameters is not enough to establish the representational status of that inner state, more important being the nature and the complexity of correlation'((Clark 1997) cf.Vacariu et al.2001).

I think that, there must be first order conscious states. Even if perception is not independent of previous experience. At least temporally, first order conscious informations must to exist. Re-presentation is, therefore, a stored conscious information. That is why, in this conception, representational flow cannot be first order conscious informations flow. The conscious first order flow is the fundamental matter of cognition.

Representational capacity->Store capacity&Recall capacity


By the help of store capacity and recall capacity we can represent some of the previous conscious contents/informations both of first order and 1+x order.

There are people that concentrate their atention on the study of human visual system, because they had supposed that cognitive process advance in the folowing way:

vision, perception, idea(cognition)



However, I think that the first order conscious material of cognition come from all sensorial system, not only from visual system.

On the other hand, is the idea of atom, or that of quanta, just a simple representation?

Humans arrived at this ideas after hundreds and sometime thounsands of years of recalls, new experiments and free processing. And, now will be reduced all this ideas to the very idea of representation?

It is clear that, in the actual scientific cognition we does not start only with pure perception, but also with the fundamental theories and ideas wich we gained until now. We do not start again from 0.

The idea of re-presentation is a compose idea:

it suggest a subjective temporal parameter(present:time)

and a recurrsive phenomenon.

Maybe, in some point of the interval of cosmic evolution many events are repeated without of our cognition about them.

It can be suitable for non-cognitive physical events.

Now, given this two characteristics of

the very idea of representation we find that:

this idea is not covered by the idea of a structual or formal equivalence.

what this idea suggest is not primarly a similarity, as said Edelman.

this idea does not involve the objective aspect of mental representations(Book 1999), though I agreed that cognitiv states or flow had something ojective.

this idea does not imply something cognitive.

this idea does not imply specially a complex correlation, as considered Clark.

All the very idea of representation contain is  the temporal-repetition of something wich is identic non-temporally. The present from re-presentation is only a guiding reference/mark of time of (change).

The same physical type cause, in the same contextual conditions, will always give rise to the same type of efects.

Representational(thing)do not imply Mental(thing)


R(x)do not->M(x)

Is all the human ideas representational? No.

Argument: we can form new individual notions or ideas. This ideas do not result by abstraction of the general features or characteristics from a temporally previous set-category of notions or first order conscious contents. For exemple, when an designer imagine a new race car, he create a new=non-representational individual idea. Of course, he use something from its previous experience as material, but the new idea or image, as a whole, is not a re-presentation. Much more, he can imagine a car that does not asemble with any previous car.

On the other hand, appear a new posibility:

we can have similar first order conscious mental contents.

Thus, it seems that a re-presentation can occur even at the level of first order conscious flow. But, this representation is not of the same individual stimulus, but only of the same type of stimulus.

Only memory can give a re-presentation of the same individual conscious content.

Identity is an idea wich involve indistighuisability.

On the other hand, identity can be absolute or relative.

The idea of representation involve only a relative identity, because suggest a temporal difference.

That is why the idea of representation involve a temporal non-identity.

From a physical point of consideration what is identic in univers is some forms.

For exemple, there are hidrogen atoms but they are not composed by the same physical particles, but only by the same type of physical particles.

That is, some physical processes and some physical structures may have a general-form identity.

A re-presentation is something that can occur both at physical abiogen level and at the cognitive level of univers, but my fundamental idea is:

there can be no an absolute re-presentation of an instant of time.

There are people(maybe Stefanescu*) wich consider that the study of visual system is the most important to understanding mental representations.

I think that, at least first order visual representations cannot exist, because:

the absolute first order visual conscious contents are not re-presentations. Brain's representations have as a condition of posibility a recognition of an identic content or the power to store and recall conscious contents.

if we cut the connection between first order conscious contents and stored contents we can no detect the identity between their type; that is, a first order visual conscious content/information can be a re-presentation only relative to some stored information.

On the one hand, if the same brain's areas are used in creative imagination, however, this imagination is not pure representational, on the other hand, this imagination is not first order vision.

In addition, there can be non-visual re-presentations.

The conditions of the posibility of the cognitive re-presentations are:

the capacity of having actual conscious contents.

the capacity of store conscious contents.

the capacity of recall the stored or coded conscious contents.

Now, I return to the first ideas selected by Vacariu et al. to see if they fit the very idea the representation.

Swoyer's idea mean an isomorphism between something physical and something cognitive.

First, we see that this idea is too narrow, because the very idea of representation not involve only cognition.

Seccond, a correlation between physical and cognitive give a real structure image not re-presentation.

Where is it the fundamental temporal dimension of representation. Even in the cognitive domain we have re-presentations that are unsuitable with the Swoyer's idea. When we recall an old idea we re-present a stored content and here we do not have an isomorphic correlation between physical and cognitive. What is in direct correlation with physical is only sensorial systems, but the proper place of cognitive representations is at relation between present conscious contents and the previous conscious contents; that is, withouth a comparation between present and past conscious contents it is imposibile a recognition of the repetition of the identic. When we reconize a specific shade of colour, what kind of identity we find? A structural isomorphism? We identify a present perception with a stored or coded previous perception, but not structuraly.

Mundy's idea is based on structured and unstructured representation. The structured representation I treated above. In the case of unstructured representations we have a function between unspecified physical relations and unspecified numerical(cognitive) relations. Fundamentally, we again have a functional relation between something physical and something cognitive. If the first order conscious contents have truthly something in common with their stimulus, than, because the apparition of this common involve a minimal time and therefore a temporal difference, this contents are, at least in some limits, re-presentations(e.g., of the same form). But, we can recall an abstract idea, that is there are re-presentation that involve the repetition of a 1+x order conscious content. Therefore this idea is also too narrow.

Finally, we should to consider the idea of cognitive preserved structures. Is this idea equiintensional with the very idea of re-presentation?

When we recall a film that we saw with certain years before, like Terminator II, he have second order conscious contents about the same stimulus.

However, on the one hand, certain images we had forget, that is succesion of images is incomplete, on the other hand, our images are incomplete both structurally and qualitativelly.    That is, some contents that are about the same stimulus and at least one is a re-presentation, but they are non-identical contents, both structurally and qualitativelly.

That is, there are possible partial or incomplete re-presentations.


*Stefanescu Adina is a postgraduate wich received a maximum qualificative for its licence work being coordinated by a proffesor of philosophy of mind, but its work was a synthesis of approaches of the visual representations and visual system from the point of view of cognitive neuroscience (cf. its proffesor Paul Kun).


Mundy, B.:1986, On the General Theory of Meaningful Representatio, Synthese 67, 391-437.

Swoyer, C.: 1991, Structural Representations and Surrogative Reasoning, Synthese 87, 449-508.

Vacariu G., Dalia T., Vacariu M.: 2001, Toward A very Idea of Representation, Synthese, 129, 275-295.

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