The primary obstacles to progress in understanding cognition are conceptual: the set of perspectives through which we approach the topic is misleading from the very start. Is it a good idea to question the nature of reality without first having an accurate interpretation of how we perceive and interact with it? Once that question is asked, it becomes clear that many problems of an apparently metaphysical character actually concern the structure and mechanics of our cognitive machinery--not the nature of reality. However, due to their tendency to tangentially relate to cognition, even if misdirected, these problems provide a set of useful starting points for understanding it--and should be shifted from their initial metaphysical context into a cognitive one.
Instead of considering concepts as independent phenomena which ought to be examined on their own, in isolation, we ought to regard them as components of a wider social process with an essentially materialist character. I will provide an example of such an approach starting from a frequent entry-level metaphysical discussion: that of the nature of 'numbers'. The metaphysical misdirection consists of placing the focus of inquiry a priori outside of experience, so the concepts whose nature is being examined are reified without justification (and often, without intent).
By focusing on human experience and interaction with them instead of 'their nature' and 'their relation to reality', much clearer questions can be asked:
- How do numbers and their relations form in human minds initially?
- How are they interpreted in different contexts?
- How are basic arithmetic operations--an experience closely related to numbers--realized?
- How do numbers interact with other identifiable elements of the mind?
These questions are ahistorical--they relate to the formation and function of concepts in general, not their genesis in a socio-historic sense.
This type of shift from metaphysics or another philosophical discipline into cognition can be applied more broadly as well, and is essential to developing a more general theory of cognition: affect machines.