WELCOME to The Catalyst!


With the arrival of the modern concept of information, new avenues to the investigation of the human mind have also become available. As symbolic representation of events in space and time, information enables precise characterization and analysis of the human mind with reference to the objective world. Under the Information Processing approach to cognitive research, the objective world is the source of information, the human senses are information transducers, and the human mind is an information processor. Oversimplified though it may be, such a model enables analysis, even simulation of many basic cognitive processes which had never before been tapped into.

This book is intended to apply the information concept to the study of a particular area of human cognition --- dynamic representations, which can be understood as cognitive representations of mechanical properties of the world. Modern cognitive psychology under the Information Processing approach has so far focused almost exclusively on cognitive processing of spatiotemporal information, mental representations devoid of dynamic content. As a result, little work has been done in this area of research. With the scanty number of papers published, fewer still approached the topic with clarity. It is the purpose of this book to provide a conceptual foundation to research in this area, to clarify some of the confused ideas in the literature, and to present some concrete research results to the reader.

First, let's first examine the concept of information in greater detail.

1.1 The Nature of Information

Since it was first introduced fifty years ago (Shanon, 1948), the concept of information has been greatly expanded from the original purely mathematical formulation to the description of various properties in the natural world. In the broader sense, information can be defined as the description or measure of any entity or event in the world by the organization or pattern of relationships among its components in space and time. In the cognitive sense, information is what perceived by a cognitive system and then represented in the form of concepts. To further characterize the concept of information with the human perception in mind, let's examine it through the following aspects of information:

Information Source: Physical objects occupy space, assuming physical entities and bearing physical relations in space; physical events unfold in time, abiding by the causal principles of the natural world and displaying temporal patterns and relationships among objects; physical energies distribute and transform through the interactions of objects in space and time. The generation of information hedges the causal laws of nature as information embodies the spatiotemporal patterns of objects and events. Then, what is information to a sentient being but the exhibition of force acting in space and time? Information echos the world around us, replays our past experiences within us, and drives us towards our own conceptions of the future. What is the source of all information but the dynamic field of our world, the flux of dynamic movements, action and reaction, and change, a world permeated with the desires and aspirations of the living?

Information Medium: It is in the interaction of objects, in the distribution and transformation of energy, that the generation of information occurs. It is only in contact with energy that information can be perceived. Physical energy is information media or carrier with which information transmits in space and time. However, the same piece of information can be carried in space and time by different information media, i.e., different types of energy. A heavy ball falling onto a wooden floor creates not only a vibration of the floor, but also a vibration of the air; A burning fire not only glows in darkness, but also generates heat. A mechanical event can generate information that travels with different information media: mechanical, acoustic, optical, thermal, etc., all of which are examples of energy very familiar to us. However, what is unfamiliar to us is the concept that all energies are also information media. The concept of information presupposes the existence of information media or energy that carry information. Visual information presupposes light, as audio information does sound and haptic information does mechanical force, etc.. Without energy, neither the formation nor the transmission of information is possible.

Information Content: Energy or force is information media or carrier, NOT information itself. It is the form that the energy takes in space and time which gives us the information content. In other words, it is in the spatiotemporal characteristics of force where we find the recordings of physical events. Though the information content of a physical event can be simultaneously transmitted in different physical media, the information content is always uniform or homologous, i.e., it remains faithful to the physical event. On the other hand, that different types of energy or force can be involved in a single physical event make it possible for the information content of an event to exist in different information media, indicating the multiplicity character of information. For example, we can not only see that it is raining, but also hear or feel that it is raining. The information in each case is carried by a totally different medium, but all generated by the same physical event --- raining --- which is the content of the information.

Perceptibility of Information: The human perception of information is to pick up certain information content in the world and represent it in a new information medium --- the biological medium. Humans are endowed with highly specialized and sophisticated organs for information content pickup and mysterious form of energy for information representation. The perception of information is itself a dynamic event, i.e., it is force-laden, as perception involves both the transmission of information content from one information medium to another and the dynamic re-enactment of an early perceptual event within the cognitive system.

Re-presentability of Information: Information content generated through an event in the world and embodied in one type of information medium can be copied and stored in a completely different information medium and reproduced at a later time, indebted to the uniformity and multiplicity properties of information. "Information processing" is, strictly speaking, the processing of information content, i.e., the representing, reorganizing, and transforming of certain spatiotemporal forms in a completely new information medium. The study of human cognition by the concept of information is essentially to investigate how the human cognitive system re-presents and transforms information content from the world in its own information medium and search for cognitive principles that govern the representations and transformations of information by the cognitive system.

1.2 Capturing Mechanical Information

The focus of this book is human representation of mechanical information. Generated by mechanical events, mechanical information exists in the spatiotemporal patterns of mechanical energy and mirrors mechanical events in mechanical space. It undergoes reconstruction in content as it is perceived and transfers to different information media when represented in the human biological system.

A systematic description of mechanical information is Classical or Newtonian Mechanics. To the extent that Newtonian Mechanics is able to accurately capture, describe, and predict the spatiotemporal patterns of mechanical events, it can be regarded as an objective portrait of mechanical information. Insofar as Newtonian mechanics can be further divided into Kinematics and Dynamics, mechanical information falls into two different levels of description, the purely spatiotemporal and the dynamic. Capturing the essence of Dynamics in Newtonian mechanics is the Newtonian concept of force, which can be described, however, only through kinematic concepts like speed and acceleration.

The historical development of physics reveals that human conceptions of mechanical information were once very different from the Newtonian description, which indicates in fact that Newtonian mechanics is a development in human scientific conceptualization of mechanical information. As the human understanding of the mechanical world approaches more and more accurately to the mechanical reality itself and the scientific conceptualization of the mechanical information more objectively mirrors the mechanical events that generate such mechanical information, alternative conceptualizations of mechanical information, which was once important in human history, had become almost irrelevant and out of date in our scientific understanding of nature.

However, if our interest in science is not in the accurate description of the mechanical world, but in how the human mind conceives, i.e., cognitively organizes and constructs, mechanical information of the world, the alternative conceptualizations could be of extreme value to us as they might reveal to us, more than the Newtonian concepts can, the hidden nature of the human nature itself. What is the natural human concept of the world but a subjective reorganization of information from the world?

Our commonsense knowledge about the physical world is an indispensable ingredient of the human mind. However, since the physical world can also be captured by scientific theories and conceptualizations, the commonsense knowledge about the physical world can be seen as a particular type of physical knowledge characteristic of natural acquisition and development. To be sure, with the discovery of Newtonian physics, the human understanding of the physical world had been greatly deepened in comparison to commonsense knowledge. It is well-known that the mechanical world is lawful, i.e., mechanical events obey mechanical principles, which can often be captured with mathematical precision. However, historically, the discovery of the mechanical laws in Newtonian physics did not occur until the dynamic concepts of mass and force were discovered with their Newtonian, i.e., quantitatively unambiguous, definitions (Jammer, 1957, 1961; Leclerc, 1972). Physics, seen from this perspective, only became scientific as the result of a continuous development of the dynamic concepts of mass and force in history; It is, therefore, a type of physical knowledge characteristic of scientific development.

Thus, distinction must be made as we apply the concept of information to the objective sciences and to the study of the human mind. The capturing of mechanical information in Newtonian mechanics had led us to mechanical principles of the physical science. In the mind of human, however, mechanical information has to be conceived according to the biological and cognitive principles, the laws of nature in the human mind itself.

1.3 Searching for the Dynamic Mind

In Newtonian mechanics, the physical world is described as a world of dynamics characteristic of mechanical properties --- the incessant acting of force and the continuous transmuting of objects in their substantial form. If we accept this dynamic world, i.e., if we see the world not only through spatiotemporal information but also in terms of substance and force or dynamic information, a question naturally arises as to whether a human also has commonsense concepts about the dynamic properties of the world. If the dynamic concepts of mass and force were so critical for the ultimate success of capturing the essence of the natural environment through the science of physics, and, if the human perceptual system is indeed the result of evolutionary adaptation to this natural environment (a fundamental assumption of Evolutionary Biology), should they also be part of our commonsense knowledge?

Recent research in Psychology (Baillargeon, Spelke, and Wasserman, 1985; Clement, 1982; diSessa, 1993; Freyd, 1987; Freyd, Pantzer, and Cheng, 1988; Halloun and Hestenes, 1985; Kaiser and Proffitt, 1987; Leslie and Keeble, 1987; Leslie, 1993; McCloskey, 1983; McDermott, 1984; Pittenger, 1990; Spelke, 1988; Todd and Warren, 1982) suggests that representations in the human cognitive system about the dynamic properties of the world are of fundamental importance in human cognition.

Further experimental evidence will be given here to demonstrate that dynamic representations are components of the human cognitive system. It will be shown, more rigorously and concretely than did other researchers in the field, that the human mind not only represents dynamic information but also complies with strong cognitive principles in the representations of mechanical information.

Experimental evidence provided here indicates that human conceptions of an object and its mechanical behavior are highly dependent upon the human concept of the dynamic attribute --- mass --- of the object. The experimental results reveals a strong cognitive connection between the representation of motion and the representations of mass and speed, i.e., the mechanical state, of an object.

In addition, by experimentally investigating the subjects' responses to mechanical events characteristic of either the sudden interruption of a gravitational equilibrium or the impact of one physical object upon another object, we will find that the human cognitive system is particularly sensitive to an unique type of dynamic information --- dynamic discontinuity --- the sudden change of dynamic relations in a mechanical event.

The experimental findings strongly suggest two basic dynamic representations in the cognitive system, the Continuity Representation and the Discontinuity Representation. In addition, a cognitive primitive --- SUBSTANTIAL FORCE --- will be shown to underlie all dynamic concepts. All experimental results can be theoretically encapsulated in the Continuity-Discontinuity Principle proposed in Chapter 6. A mathematical model is presented in Chapter 7 to further illustrate the central concepts.