What distinguishes clever computers from stupid people (besides their components)? The author of Seeing and Knowing presents in his new book a beautifully and persuasively written interdisciplinary approach to traditional problems—a clearsighted interpretation of information theory. Psychologists, biologists, computer scientists, and those seeking a general unified picture of perceptual-cognitive activity will find this provocative reading. The problems Dretske addresses in Knowledge and the Flow of Information—What is knowledge? How are the sensory and cognitive processes related? What makes mental activities mental?—appeal to a wide audience. The conceptual tools used to deal with these questions (information, noise, analog versus digital coding, etc.) are designed to make contact with, and exploit the findings of, empirical work in the cognitive sciences. A concept of information is developed, one deriving from (but not identical with) the Shannon idea familiar to communication theorists, in terms of which the analyses of knowledge, perception, learning, and meaning are expressed. The book is materialistic in spirit—that is, spiritedly materialistic—devoted to the view that mental states and processes are merely special ways physical systems have of processing, coding, and using information.
Fred Dretske is Senior Research Scholar in the Department of Philosophy, Duke University.
Dretske's chapter 'Sensation and Perception' in his new book Knowledge and theFlow of Information is superb.... This isthe first time in my experience that I haveclarified my understanding of the psychology of perception and cognition by readingwhat a philosopher has to say on thesesubjects.... For an outsider, Dretske hasan amazingly solid grasp of and sophistication about the field of perception. Hisargument is that sensory experience (perception) should be thought of as information in analog form and the mental activityof classifying, identifying, or, in short,cognizing what we perceive should bethought of as information extracted fromperception and thus converted to digitalform. I will recommend the book to mystudents and colleagues.
The author of this book is a philosopher, and he has written primarily to and for other philosophers. This work, however, is of interest to contemporary cognitive psychologists because Dretske has attempted to extend the concept of information into types of information similar to what we would commonly call knowledge. Indeed, cognitive scientists who are more broadly concerned with the nature of knowledge and language comprehension will be interested in Knowledge and the Flow of Information.