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The new trick: modularity, automation, and the plasticity of perception

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(Thesis) M.A.
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Jerry Fodor’s modularity theory holds that psychological processes behind basic perception have a property called informational encapsulation that preserves a consistency of experience across individuals and over time. Encapsulation keeps basic perception fixed, mechanical, insulated, and leaves it largely unalterable by the variability of higher-level cognition, as in acquired beliefs, knowledge, imagination, memory, and individual learning. However, encapsulation conflicts with mounting evidence that perceptual processes are sensitive to higher-level cognition under specific conditions. In this thesis, I will argue that modularity cannot adequately account for certain findings about perceptual experience. I will then propose an alternative theory of ‘holistic information transfer’, ‘cognitive information taps’, and ‘adaptive automations’ that accommodates the empirical literature behind observed cases of perceptual plasticity and accounts for the apparent implasticity that motivates modularity theory. Instead of encapsulated modules, we can conceive of perceptual systems as experientially reinforced cognitive subsystems amidst an informationally integrated cognition.
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