ET1 Perception, knowledge and the brain: neurobiological aspects of epistemology.


Epistemology deals with the possibility of justified or “true” knowledge. There are many attempts to solve that problem. These range from critical realism claiming that humans are, at least within limits, capable of acquiring justified knowledge about the world, to skepticism denying that possibility in general. In addition, there are positions like positivism or radical constructivism stating that the quest for true knowledge as well as the concept of truth are meaningless. Furthermore, there is a long-standing debate whether epistemology is a purely philosophical discipline laying the ground for empirical disciplines, or whether empirical disciplines themselves substantially contribute to epistemology. This concerns the neurobiological and psychological study of perception and knowledge acquisition. Such studies demonstrate (1) that the brain has no access to the “outer world” (reality), (2) that sense organs “transduce” stimuli from reality into neural signals that affect brain states but are themselves meaningless, and (3) that the brain constructs an experiential world (actuality) on the basis of these signals. From this follows that the brain can never prove the “truth” of its constructs. This suggests a kind of neurobiological constructivism. However, the ontological status of such statements is unclear since, as being part of actuality, they may imply “objective” statements about reality, which would be self-contradictory. My talk will address possible solutions of that problem.





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Dining Room

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Instructor information.


Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Roth