Whether or not sensations are innate is the most basic issue underlying theories of knowledge. Roger Sperry (1952) noted that the physical information from the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to the central nervous system (CNS) is like a “common currency” and as such is devoid of qualitative attributes. He concluded that qualitative attributes are elicited by the selectively activated brain loci. This implies that sensations are innate. Sperry proved right. Neural prostheses (e.g. cochlear implants) that were developed for persons who became deaf works equally (if implanted in childhood) for children born deaf. Sperry’s thesis implies that this is the case for all sensations – none are imported from the PNS.
The tabula rasa assumption denies that any sensation, emotion or cognition is innate. This factually false tenet has been the most basic assumption underlying Empiricism for more than 300 years. It is now necessary to replace the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite. Making explicit the implications of such reconstruction would be the most fundamental advance in knowledge in 300 years.
The significance of the new foundation of knowledge is not merely philosophical. From the evolutionary perspective, the function of conscious knowledge is to improve survival and welfare, as tested by adversity. This cannot be done other than deriving what ought to be done from commonalities of human nature and conduct.
Theories of knowledge based on the tabula rasa doctrine have severed this coupling. The result is that normative doctrines are relativistic – dysfunctional doctrines that may prove inconsistent with long-term survival. Yet, the philosophic community, by and large have been unable to accept the verdict of science about the innateness of mental faculties.
For these reasons, it is an urgent social imperative that the current delay is cut short. Outlined below is one such undertaking.
It is based on the implication of the jarring but valid conclusion that since all sensations are innate so is the sensation of light. Hence, neural prostheses that have been developed for persons who became blind would prove effective also for the born blind. It would constitute an empirical proof that the experience of the sensation of light is innate and not an attribute of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Three years ago I urged a group that has developed neural prostheses for the blind to demonstrate that it is effective for the born blind. I expect that this will be demonstrated by 2025. The demonstration that the sensation of light is innate will have an immediate impact. It puts to an abrupt end to the 300-year tabula rasa legacy and to Empiricism and Physicalism that are based on it.
This, in turn, would finally make it possible to make explicit the epistemological, scientific and normative implications of replacing the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite. It would transform humanity.