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The Sensory Order

The Sensory Order, first published in 1952, is a book of F. A. Hayek.

QuotesEdit

  • It is important not to identify the distinction between the phenomenal and the physical order with the distinction between either of these and what in ordinary language is described as the ‘real’ world. The contrast with which we are concerned is not between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’ but between the differences of events in their effects upon each other and the differences in their effects on us. It is indeed doubtful whether on the plane on which we must examine these problems the term ‘real’ still has any clear meaning.
    • 1.11
  • The relation between the physical and the phenomenal order raises two distinct but related problems. The first of these problems presents the task of the physical sciences while the second creates the central problem of theoretical psychology. The task of the physical sciences is to replace that classification of events which our senses perform but which proves inadequate to describe the regularities in these events, by a classification which will put us in a better position to do so. The task of theoretical psychology is the converse one of explaining why these events, which on the basis of their relations to each other can be arranged in a certain (physical) order, manifest a different order in their effect on our senses.
    • 1.13
  • We shall eventually find it in the fact that these organisms are able within themselves to reproduce (or ‘build models of’) some of the relations which exist between the events in their environment.
    • 1.20
  • What we call ‘mind’ is thus a particular order of a set of events taking place in some organism and in some manner related to but not identical with, the physical order of events in the environment.
    • 1.49

Quotes about The Sensory OrderEdit

  • Half the time I read [Hayek's The Sensory Order] with amazement at the extent of his reading and comprehension … he is right … most of the time.
    • Edwin Boring, "Elementist Going Up", The Scientific Monthly (March 1953), p. 183.
  • I feel sure that no one has done this particular kind of job [i.e. a physicalistic system of psychology, mind, and consciousness] nearly so well.
    • Edwin Boring, "Elementist Going Up", The Scientific Monthly (March 1953), p. 183.
  • I do not for a moment believe it is the last word on this matter [i.e. a physicalistic system of psychology, mind and consciousness], but it is . the best word I have ever heard spoken from this platform.
    • Edwin Boring, "Elementist Going Up", The Scientific Monthly (March 1953), p. 183.
  • Hayek’s early work as a student in psychology (mostly before Wittgenstein’s Tractatus was published) led him to ask himself the questions:“What is mind?” and “What is the place of mind in the realm of nature?” Hayek essentially adopted a Kantian view of the nature of the world. He saw mind as implanting order on the world rather than the world necessarily having any properties of, as it were, itself.
    In The Sensory Order, Hayek wrote that if the “account of the determination of mental qualities which we have given is correct, it would mean that the apparatus by means of which we learn about the external world is itself the product of a kind of experience.” Hayek did not ultimately ascribe much significance to the brain as an accurate (whatever, in this circumstance, accuracy would be) receptacle of reality. Reality, such as it is, is what brain makes of it.
    This Kantian ontological (theory of being) perspective had, in Hayek’s view, significant philosophical consequences or repercussions for epistemology. Since there is no ultimate reality apart from what brain makes of it, knowledge is not of ultimate essences but merely of mental states that themselves are liable to change during the lifetime of an organism or over the evolution of a species. Hayek’s ontology ultimately reduces the role of absolute knowledge absolutely.
    • Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003), Ch. 10. Epistemology, Psychology, and Methodology
  • I must say that I have been deeply gratified by reading a book [Hayek's "The Sensory Order"] of which I had not been aware when I wrote my little essay on group selection theory … I was deeply impressed … I recommend this book to your attention [i.e. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences], as an exercise in profound thinking by a man who simply considers knowledge for its own sake. What impressed me most is his understanding that the key to the problem of perception is to comprehend the nature of classification. Taxonomists have struggled with this problem many times, but I think von Hayek considered this problem in a broader sense.
    • Gerald Edelman, in "Through a Computer Darkly : Group Selection and Higher Brain Function", in Bulletin — The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, (October 1982), p. 24.
  • [Hayek] made a quite fruitful suggestion, made contemporaneously by the psychologist Donald Hebb, that whatever kind of encounter the sensory system has with the world, a corresponding event between a particular cell in the brain and some other cell carrying the information from the outside word must result in reinforcement of the connection between those cells. These day, this is known as a Hebbian synapse, but von Hayek quite independently came upon the idea. I think the essence of his analysis still remains with us.
    • Gerald Edelman, in "Through a Computer Darkly : Group Selection and Higher Brain Function", in Bulletin — The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, (October 1982), p. 25.
  • [Donald O. Hebb] placed the Law of Effect at the synaptic level by proposing a correlation model of synaptic modification similar to that of Hayek (1952). This work was seminal in providing a basis for many subsequent theoretical studies.
  • Consider the two lines in the Wudt-Hering illusion … This rather banal exercise serves to demonstrate that there is only a rough correspondence between what has been called the sensory order (Hayek 1952) and the physical order. Furthermore it bears upon point … that the perceptual world is a world of adaptation rather than a world of complete veridicality.
  • My eventual aim [in Neural Darwinism] is to show the bearing of this [structural] diversity [of individual nervous systems] upon the problem of generalization and upon phenomena that point up the difference between the sensory and the physical orders (Hayek 1952).
  • Since [the idea that modification of synaptic function can provide a basis for memory arose shortly after the first anatomical description of the synapse] a number of models (Hebb 1949 … Hayek 1952 … Kendel 1981) have been proposed in which various cognitive activities are represented by combinations of the firing patterns of individual neurons.
  • Ehrenhaft came well prepared. He set up a few of his simple experiments in one of the country houses of Alpbach and invited everyone he could lay hands on to have a look. Every day from two or three in the afternoon participants went by in an attitude of wonder and left the building (if they were theoretical physicists, that is) as if they had seen something obscene. Apart from these physical preparations Ehrenhaft also carried out, as was his habit, a beautiful piece of advertising. The day before his lecture he attended a fairly technical talk by von Hayek on 'The Sensory Order' (now available, in expanded form, as a book). During the discussion he rose, bewilderment and respect in his face, and started in a most innocent voice: 'Dear Professor Hayek. This was a marvellous, an admirable, a most learned lecture. I did not understand a single word. ...' Next day his lecture had an overflow audience.
  • Most theoretical work since the proposals of Hebb (1949) and Hayek (1952) has relied upon particular forms of dependent synaptic rules in which either pre- or postsynaptic change is contingent upon closely occurring events in both neurons taking part in the synapse.
  • Ehrenhaft came well prepared. He set up a few of his simple experiments in one of the country houses of Alpbach and invited everyone he could lay hands on to have a look. Every day from two or three in the afternoon participants went by in an attitude of wonder and left the building (if they were theoretical physicists, that is) as if they had seen something obscene. Apart from these physical preparations Ehrenhaft also carried out, as was his habit, a beautiful piece of advertising. The day before his lecture he attended a fairly technical talk by von Hayek on 'The Sensory Order' (now available, in expanded form, as a book). During the discussion he rose, bewilderment and respect in his face, and started in a most innocent voice: 'Dear Professor Hayek. This was a marvellous, an admirable, a most learned lecture. I did not understand a single word. ...' Next day his lecture had an overflow audience.
  • The first proponent of cortical memory networks on a major scale was neither a neuroscientist nor a computer scientist but … a Viennes economist: Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992). A man of exceptionally broad knowledge and profound insight into the operation of complex systems, Hayek applied such insight with remarkable success to economics (Nobel Prize, 1974), sociology, political science, jurisprudence, evolutionary theory, psychology, and brain science (Hayek, 1952)."
    • Joaquin Fuster, Memory in the Cerebral Cortex : An Empirical Approach to Neural Networks in the Human and Nonhuman Primate (1995), p. 87
  • The main reasons for dwelling … on Hayek's model is simply that it has certain properties, absent from most others, that conform exceptionally well to recent neurobiological evidence on memory and that make it particularly suited to the current discourse."
    • Joaquin Fuster, Memory in the Cerebral Cortex : An Empirical Approach to Neural Networks in the Human and Nonhuman Primate (1995), p. 89
  • It is truly amazing that, with much less neuroscientific knowledge available, Hayek's model comes closer, in some respects, to being neurophysiologically verifiable than those models developed 50 to 60 years after his."
    • Joaquin Fuster, Memory in the Cerebral Cortex : An Empirical Approach to Neural Networks in the Human and Nonhuman Primate (1995), p. 89
  • Friedrich Hayek … seems to have been the first to postulate what is the core of this paper, namely, the idea of memory and perception represented in widely distributed networks of interconnected cortical cells. Subsequently this idea has received theoretical support, however tangential, from the fields of cognitive psychology, connectionism and artificial intelligence. Empirically, it is well supported by the physiological study and neuroimaging of working memory.
    • Joaquin Fuster, "Network Memory", Trends in Neuroscience, Vol. 20, No. 10 (October 1997), 451
  • Hayek posited spontaneous order in the brain arising out of distributed networks of simple units (neurons) exchanging local signals, […] Hayek was way ahead of his time in pushing this idea. It became popular in cognitive science, beginning in the mid-1980s, under the names 'connectionism' and `parallel distributed processing.' Remarkably, Hayek is never cited.
    • Steven Pinker, quoted in Virginia Postrel, "Friedrich the Great", Boston Globe (January 11, 2004)
Friedrich Hayek
Concepts and career business cycle theory · dispersed knowledge · extended order · spontaneous order
Books Prices and Production (1931) · The Road to Serfdom (1944) · Individualism and Economic Order (1948) · The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) · The Sensory Order (1952) · The Constitution of Liberty (1960) · Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967) · Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973) · The Denationalization of Money (1975) · New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (1978) · The Fatal Conceit (1988)
Notable essays "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945) · "Why I Am Not a Conservative" (1960) · "The Pretence of Knowledge" (1974)
Commentators Alan O. Ebenstein · Bruce Caldwell
Other topics evolution · dictatorship · John Maynard Keynes