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Only Phenomenal Expectations Connect Core Knowledge of Objects to Thought

by Stephen A. Butterfill

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Infants have core knowledge of objects, causes, numbers, actions and much else besides (Spelke, 2003; Carey, 2009). But what is core knowledge? There are challenges which apply to the leading theoretical accounts (compare Butterfill, 2007; Keren and Schul, 2009; Adolphs, 2010). A way of responding to these challenges exists for the case of core knowledge of objects, however: several researchers have conjectured that infants’ core knowledge consists in a system of object indexes (Leslie et al. 1998; Scholl and Leslie 1999; Carey and Xu 2001; Scholl 2007). One consequence of this conjecture is the existence of an interface problem. The representations and processes which comprise the workings of object indexes have only limited influences on thought and action. How then could core knowledge play a role in explaining the emergence, in development, of knowledge concerning physical objects and their interactions? One possibility hinges on the notion of a phenomenal expectation, which is approximately a sensation in Reid’s sense (Reid, 1785a,b). You have a phenomenal expectation concerning an object’s movements where these are unperceived in the most straightforward sense (because they are occluded, for example) and yet your overall experience is not neutral concerning the object’s movements either. Perhaps the transition from core knowledge to knowledge proper has such a protracted developmental course because only phenomenal expectations connect core knowledge of objects to thoughts about objects.