Folk Psychology and Cognitive Science

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Folk Psychology and Cognitive Science

Chapter two of the book:
Models and Cognition
Prediction and Explanation in Everyday Life and in Science
Jonathan A. Waskan

Researcher: Orlin Baev, F32250
Professor examiner: D-r Lilia Gurova
New Bulgarian University
Department of Cognitive Science
Sofia, Bulgaria

What Folk Psychology is?

Waskan starts his thoughts about folk psychology citing Paul Churchland, who suggests complete discard of folk psychology due to its inability for correct explanation and prediction of human’s behavior. At least he claims so. Churchland’s filtering the information via his own mind focuses on the fact that folk psychology is unable to explain such phenomena as sleep, mental illnesses, memory, intelligent differences, so on. His critics state it is false even regarding everyday daily behavior. Churchland astonishingly for serious scientist suggests complete elimination of folk psychology from scientific discourse. Is he right? As Waskan says, the role of folk psychology (FP) actually has nothing to do with the above mentioned phenomena. It deals with the desires and believes and is included into the main stream cognitive science in wonderful scientific way.

The second gauntlet thrown in the face of FP is the radical simulation theory, stating that one needs not any desires and believes in order to explain others behavior but does the prediction internally simulating others action. Thus if we do not have hidden underpinnings of behavior such desires and believes, the FP theory is being discarded. Of course, this is just another radical eliminative proposal. According to Waskan the theory of radical simulation is just as much a threat to realism with regard to the folk-psychological ontology. The FP includes so called theory theory (TT) according to which our proficiency at predicting and explaining the behavior of our fellow humans stems from our mastery of a body of laws which specify the relationships between, among other things, particular beliefs, particular desires, and particular behaviors. As Waskan latter claims, the truth is somewhere between these two theories.

Interesting direction of thought is raised by Waskan, as follows:

“Amazingly, even if cognitive science did embrace folk psychology and its ontology, this, in and of itself, would not justify realism with regard to the folk-psychological ontology. After all, as Dennett (1991) points out, we still have the option of various shades of irrealism, including instrumentalism.
Beliefs and desires might, for instance, turn out to be like centers of gravity. As one version of the argument goes, although there are no such things as centers of gravity—after all, they take up no space and engage in no causal interactions we gain a great deal of inferential leverage by acting as if there were. Perhaps a similar set of claims can be supported with regard to the folk-psychological ontology.”
What is real as a matter of fact? Does impossibility of measuring centers of gravity makes them unreal? Is everything as hard and limited as it is in the minds of some so called scientists? I do not thing so. Of course, science needs stable measurable base to proceed forward, but often because of this fact cognitive science attracts researchers denying the enormous human potential bringing it to their own projections of limited understanding. But anyway…let me continue as a modest student and keep thinking within the cognitive railings.

Waskan mentions that there has been argued that contents of mental states have no legitimate role to play in any of the sciences of the underpinning human behavior. If I understand properly, this argument supposes that the sciences about the human knowledge have nothing to do with the states of mind and their content. If this is so, I could argue that such science misses the most important subject, which is presumably obliged to explore. Every unprejudiced observer would immediately see one excessive eliminative materialism in cognitive science. If one honestly track the roots of this hard materialism, it is clearly seen it lays no elsewhere but in the very mind of the scientists. It is observable how these scientists purposely take into account just those authors and approaches that match their own unconscious basic believes – no more, no less. Have you ever met cognitive researcher mentioning Shankaraacharya or Nagardjuna? I have not! Cognitive science claims that philosophy is within its scope and is its base. But which philosophy and authors? Only those satisfying the basic believes of the scientists – the narrow materialism. For me even raising the point about the importance of the contents of states of mind within the cognitive research is preposterous. These contents have to be the goal of every cognitive exploration. I will use metaphor to visualize my viewpoint. Sometimes cognitive scientists and psychologists resemble very much termites quoting just other termites and building their own castles of knowledge that does not take into account any other system of knowledge having broader approach. Introspection might not be the proper method for investigation of inner processes for the average person, but it might has enormous potential in case of specially trained individuals, passing through decades of training. The very fact that cognitive science excludes the eastern philosophical wisdom, intricately interwoven with the eastern religious systems is very demonstrative by itself… But as we see further, Waskan just tosses the opinions on the FP subject and later explains its central role within the cognitive science.

There are two distinctive theories about content fixation in FP – internalist and externalist. There are, on the one hand, internalist theories of content fixation according to which what is inside of an individual’s head fixes the contents of their mental states. There are, on the other hand, externalist theories according to which facts about what is going on, or has gone on, outside of an individual’s head determine what their thoughts are about. The arguments against the scientific legitimacy of contents (and, thereby, of folk psychology) are often directed at specific versions of one or the other of these theories of how contents are fixed. Both theories have opponents. For example Stich (1989) and Fodor (1994), say roughly as follows: “The primary goal of cognitive science—or any science, for that matter—is to formulate laws. Since doxastic surrounding varies from individual to individual, mental contents vary from individual to individual. There can thus be no laws that quantify over mental contents, and so cognitive science must eschew mental contents.” Waskan replies that cognitive research is not necessarily aimed in reaching general laws. I could reply that yes, cognitive science should be focused in reaching general laws stemming as natural conclusions by the research results. But I would disagree that if mental contents and states are hard to be measured and tracked by the so far existing scientific means, it does not mean they have to be eschewed. Here we reach one very basic point of misunderstanding widely accepted in cognitive science: the introspection. In some eastern systems of cognitive exploration introspection is the main contrivance of research. Its degree of reliability can reach complete certainty. The mind itself becomes the researcher, the experimental ground and the experimental means and conditions. This surely sounds strange for some reductive materialistically oriented scientist, but denying it would be simply protective mechanism (denial, dissociation) and tunnel vision. Anyway, it is too broad discussion to start it here… live and let live.

And more “arguments” against the mental states and their contents in FP: “Folk psychology individuates mental states on the basis of their contents. However, contents can differ even while the causes of behavior remain unchanged, so contents do not track the causes of behavior. There is, then, no place for mental
contents in cognitive science. This poses a threat to folk psychology because folk psychology adverts to properties that have no legitimate role to play in cognitive science.” – What an “arguments”, wow… Behavior is the final result, but do we return back to the behaviorism? I hope not! Does not cognition by itself worth the effort of exploration?

Further on, Waskan tries to explain one general mistake (mistake in his view point) of the philosophical wisdom about the relation between cognitive science and FP. He says that philosophers expect cognitive science to make high level generalizations coming out of its research. Generalizations much similar to those typical for the FP approach. According to Waskan philosophers are mistaken. He affirms that the goal of cognitive science is the research itself and the research explananda. He says that cognitive science does not need to resemble FP approach at all, but just uses FP implicitly within its frame.
My own modest opinion on that matter is that Waskan is not completely right. Making high level generalizations stemming from the research would be natural conclusion, just following the natural inductive properties of the thought. The generalizations on their turn would serve as deductive laws, stable stakes for further research. Call it categorization and learning process if you want. If the goal of cognitive research is not reaching general conclusions (laws), but the research itself, it would be break down in the normal cognitive process of human thinking.

Waskan discusses another pillar of the FP: planning. In FP it is described in intuitive manner, as process of adjusting our desires and believes to new ones as they actually become such behaviorally. As it stands, this model is highly schematic. It supplies only a very broad functional breakdown of the underpinnings for certain human behaviors. It entails no commitments regarding the structure of beliefs or desires. It has, however, long since been adopted, refined, and vindicated by cognitive science. Decision making and planning is well studied and included within cognitive research long ago.

Waskan suggests just for a moment to suppose that the mainstream cognitive science is mistaken. If it is so and it requires abandonment of FP, this would strike at its very foundation and necessitate a revolution that spans several disciplines. It would, for instance, require that we give up on the encoding specificity hypothesis, on the idea that short-term memory is the locus of inference, on the proposal that the hippocampus consolidates declarative memories, and on the Wernicke-Geschwind model of language comprehension and production. What the eliminativist advocates, in other words, is the abandonment of decades of fruitful interdisciplinary research on the bare promise that something better is around the bend. The instrumentalist simply overlooks this research.

Further on Waskan comes back to the role of contents in cognitive science and FP as inclusive part of it. The arguments against the FP internalism are clearly premised on the aforementioned misconceptions regarding the predictive and explanatory practices of cognitive science. The first such argument is clearly premised on the mistaken assumption that cognitive science is primarily interested in formulating laws—specifically, laws that specify the relationships among particular stimuli, particular internal states, and particular behaviors. As we have seen, the search for such laws is no part of the ongoing activities of cognitive science. Cognitive science does not deal with the personal differences in the believe systems, but focuses on the underlying cognitive structures. The fact that individuals have different belief networks does not belie the claim that they share mechanisms of belief formation, memory, inference, language production and comprehension, and so on.
The second argument against internalism is that cognitive science is
committed to the computational theory of mind. Well it is not. The computational theory is just one of the streams, no more, no less.

I want to hold my attention on these words of Waskan:

“Kuhn took a step back and caught sight of a process of theory change that was not as cold and rational as it was commonly believed to be. What he saw, instead, were large groups of people unified by their endorsement of broad theoretical frameworks and by their commitment to a distinctive set of research activities. Theory change, as Kuhn saw it, was driven more by the old dying off than it was by any special mode of reasoning employed by scientists. Thus, these broad theories and their concomitant research techniques looked as though they merely afforded different ways of seeing and going about things, where no one way could be said to be preferable to any other.22 Kuhn’s proposals convinced many that science itself is just one of countless, equally viable ways of dealing with the world—that, in other words, there is nothing about scientific thinking that makes it more rational than any other mode of thought, nor anything about scientific theories that makes them better justified than theories of any other sort. This, of course, is a bunch of hooey—reducing, as it does, everything that has transpired in the sciences since the start of the Enlightenment to a series of intellectual fads—but it does force us to ask what it is about science that makes it so special.”
Well, “bunch of hoe” – are these fear words of unprejudiced scientist? Kuhn has his viewpoint and it is as valuable as any other. It really diminishes the enormous role of scientific development, but nevertheless it is interesting view point.
What is so distinctive about the scientific approach? It is the objective logic, the provable results that can be traced and repeated. It is simultaneously advantage and disadvantage. Advantage because the scientific progress is very reliable, stable and gradual. Disadvantage, because the existing scientific means limit up to enormous degree the free thought and very limited scope of hypotheses can be researched and justified through these extremely limited scientific contrivances. Especially in the field of human cognition. Thus the rigid cognitive research often, very often lays insurmountable barrier before the free creative thinking process. Anyway, Waskan is right that the position of Kuhn sets the science among the many other approaches of knowledge grasping and thus belittles its main importance within the human knowledge development. Waskan even claims that certain degree of dogmatism is necessary for stable scientific development. It is may be so. I would like just to mention that this “certain degree of dogmatism” often is too certain and presents an extremely narrow thinking range for the creative thinker. But he is right generally. Otherwise the scientific research would be as uncertain as the heavenly clouds above our heads… Further on Waskan proves that folk inspired cognitive science is not just one of the many cognitive directions of research, but the main one.

Orlin Baev, cognitive psychologist and cognitive psychotherapist

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