Link Search Menu Expand Document


If the slides are not working, or you prefer them full screen, please try this link.


It is time to return to the question we started with. How do humans make the transition from not knowing any simple facts about particular things in a given domain to possessing some such knowledge?

Part of the answer is this. At four- to five-months of age they already have in place a system of object indexes which enables them to track briefly occluded physical objects. Although the system of object indexes operates in accordance with some basic physical principles, assigning indexes to objects is not the same as knowing facts. Indeed infants at this age appear incapable of knowing even the simplest facts about an object’s location. Object indexes are therefore a potential bridge between lacking any abilities to track objects and having full-blown knowledge of them.

To be a bridge, object indexes must somehow influence thoughts and actions. This they can do indirectly, via metacognitive feelings.

If this partial answer is roughly right, development is a process of rediscovery. Many facts about physical objects’ movements and interactions are already implicit in systems that appear early in development. But these systems are inferentially isolated from knowledge states and so the facts implicit in them have to be discovered again.


inferential integration : For states to be inferentially integrated means that: (a) they can come to be nonaccidentally related in ways that are approximately rational thanks to processes of inference and practical reasoning; and (b) in the absence of obstacles such as time pressure, distraction, motivations to be irrational, self-deception or exhaustion, approximately rational harmony will characteristically emerge, eventually, among those states.
inferential isolation : Converse of inferential integration.
metacognitive feeling : A metacognitive feeling is a feeling which is caused by a metacognitive process. Paradigm examples of metacognitive feelings include the feeling of familiarity, the feeling that something is on the tip of your tongue, the feeling of confidence and the feeling that someone’s eyes are boring into your back. On this course, we assume that one characteristic of metacogntive feelings is that either they lack intentional objects altogether, or else what their subjects take them to be about is typically only very distantly related to their intentional objects. (This is controversial---see Dokic, 2012 for a variety of conflicting theories.)
metacognitive process : A process which monitors another cognitive process. For instance, a process which monitors the fluency of recall, or of action selection, is a metacognitive process.
tracking an attribute : For a process to track an attribute or thing is for the presence or absence of the attribute or thing to make a difference to how the process unfolds, where this is not an accident. (And for a system or device to track an attribute is for some process in that system or device to track it.)
Tracking an attribute or thing is contrasted with computing it. Unlike tracking, computing typically requires that the attribute be represented.


Dokic, J. (2012). Seeds of self-knowledge: Noetic feelings and metacognition. In M. J. Beran, J. L. Brandl, J. Perner, & J. Proust (Eds.), Foundations of metacognition (pp. 302–321). Oxford University Press Oxford, England.
Leibniz, G. W. (1996). New essays on human understanding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Locke, J. (n.d.). An essay concerning human understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.