BOOK REVIEW: Cognitive Mechanisms for Acquiring Experience


Some scientists claim that all implicit learning does is provide "algorithms" by means of which the conscious mind can "implicitly" acquire new learning. (See: Pavel Lewicki, Maria Czyzewska, and Thomas Hill; "Cognitive Mechanisms for Acquiring 'Experience': The Dissociation Between Conscious and Nonconscious Cognition," in Scientific Approaches to Consciousness (above), p. 164.

These scientists refer to the existing state of our tacit knowledge, whatever it may be, as constituting our "inferential encoding algorithms."

This is not right. Everything we know we learn via implicit learning. The idea of explicit cognition is just a misapprehension.

"Explicit learning" is a way of understanding supposed "knowledge' which another person claims to have. If "cognition" is one's personal knowledge of reality, "explicit learning" is not cognition. It is not a way to increase one's personal store of "tacit knowledge." Anyone who carefully watches his structure of "tacit knowledge" when "learning from someone else will clearly see that this is true.

Try to define a familiar word without reference to a dictionary. Where do you look? At your tacit knowledge of some aspect of the "outside world." This knowledge is contained in some kind of wordless structure (the so-called "cognitive unconscious," which in fact is available for conscious inspection at any time!).

Now go to the dictionary and look up the same word. Has the act of looking at this definition changed anything about the understanding of the world which is contained in your tacit knowledge structure? After grasping the "official" definition, you may decide to adjust how you use that particular word in trying to describe your tacit knowledge to someone else. But the tacit knowledge structure itself will not have changed in the slightest degree.

The "cognitive unconscious" is not unconscious. It is merely wordless ("tacit") and it is always subject to change, and must be reviewed constantly. It is due to this structure that we see a tree or a leaf instead of a green blotch. But we can also look inward and perceive exactly the same thing, not as a particular manifestation of a tree or a leaf, but as some kind of abstraction, a "conceptual structure" which holds everything we have ever learned about the "outside world." We can observe this structure inside our mind, and we can also observe the structure in the "outside" world which we perceive through the same structure. it is the same knowledge in both places.

This structure is not "learned encoding algorithms that impose preexisting categories or prototypes on encountered stimuli" (Lewicki, Czyzewska & Hill, above, p. 163). It is just knowledge. Tacit knowledge does not impose itself on the "outside world." It is always subject to unpredictable change by any given experience, contingent on the person keeping his mind open to "implicit learning." Of course, he doesn't have to do this, and if he doesn't, his mind will see things in the outside world in terms of his existing tacit knowledge structure, which will remain the same and not change. But if he keeps his mind "open," his tacit knowledge structure will actually change to accommodate the new experience.

If one closes his mind and thus makes his tacit knowledge structure impervious to change, he will always have to consciously fit any new experiences into his fixed "categories and prototypes." "Encoding algorithms" are the defining characteristic of a closed mind.