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Help! My Parents Are Gutenborgs!

Presentation at Culture, Communication, Cognition. UMCS, Lublin, Poland, May 8, 2012

Jan Sleutels

on 16 March 2015

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Transcript of Help! My Parents Are Gutenborgs!

The Myth of the Anti-Podeans

In most respects, then, the language, life, technology, and philosophy of this race were much like ours. But there was one important difference. Neurology and biochemistry had been the first disciplines in which technological breakthroughs had been achieved, and a large part of the conversation of these people concerned the state of their nerves. When their infants veered toward hot stoves, mothers cried out, “He’ll stimulate his C-fibers.” When people were given clever visual illusions to look at, they said, “How odd! It makes neuronic bundle G-14 quiver, but when I look at it from the side I can see that it’s not a red rectangle at all.”
Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), p. 71.
God has not been so sparing to men to make them barely two-legged creatures, and left it to Aristotle to make them rational

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), ch. XVII sect. 4.
The concepts of learning, practice, trying, heeding, pretending, wanting, pondering, arguing, shirking, watching, seeing, and being perturbed are not technical concepts. Everyone has to learn, and does learn, how to use them. Their use by psychologists is not different from their use by novelists, coastguards, politicians, detectives, or men in the street.

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949), p. 301
In Erasmus, Copia verborum et rerum (1512), one striking example is 'Semper dum vivam tui memimero'.
Then, little by little, I realized where I was and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not! For my wants were inside me, and they were outside, and they could not by any power of theirs come into my soul. And so I would fling my arms and legs about and cry, making the few and feeble gestures that I could, though indeed the signs were not much like what I inwardly desired...

St. Augustine, Confessiones (397/8), Book I, ch. 6
In the Far North, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zemblya is in the Far North and there is always snow there. What colour are the bears there?

Aleksandr Luria, Cognitive Development (1976)
Sed quid igitur sum? Res cogitans. Quid est hoc? Nempe dubitans, intelligens, affirmans, negans, volens, nolens, imaginans quoque, & sentiens.
René Descartes, Meditationes de prima philosophia (1641), ch. II
There is, so far as I know, no human group that doesn’t explain behavior by imputing beliefs and desires to behavior. (And if an anthropologist claimed to have found such a group, I wouldn’t believe him.)

Jerry Fodor, Psychosemantics (1987), p. 123
3. It is possible that instead of present folk psychology P we could have been using a substantially different one, P*.

4. Our counterparts would be using a different folk psychology, P*, which would be as epistemically privileged vis-à-vis understanding their minds (judged from their vantage point) as actual present folk psychology P is to us for understanding our minds.
Jan Sleutels, Leiden University
Folk psychology is our prime tool for describing, organizing, and communicating our mental stock, featuring mental contents (beliefs, feelings, ideas), states (awareness, understanding, agreeing), processes and episodes (reasoning, dreaming), faculties and attitudes (imagining, remembering, perceiving).
Res cogitans
Folk psychology
Epistemic Practice
Phenomenologically speaking, my use of folk psychology is not a matter of sorting out mental 'givens', but rather one of mental action. Moreover, I feel myself making an effort while running my mental household. I apply my skills and feel myself trying to comply with a set of standards and rules.
Shared Practice
Wenger 1999
Folk psychology is much less reliable in non-standard cases such as young children, autistic persons, weird people, people from ancient cultures or from prehistory, animals, aliens...

Media Landscapes
1. Let P be present folk psychology, i.e. the self-image as mindful beings that we presently rely on for purposes of describing, organizing, and communicating mental phenomena (states, contents, properties, processes, episodes, events, etc.).

2. P holds a privileged epistemic status vis-à-vis understanding the mind.
6. Reconstructions of ancient minds that are based on our current self-understanding as mindful beings, P, are fallacious, unless proven otherwise.

7. In understanding other cultures it is not safe to assume that that their mental economy matches P.

8. Expectations that future minds will be substantially the same as current minds, as captured by P, should be distrusted.
Our minds, the only minds we know from the outset, are the standard with which we must begin. Without this agreement, we’ll just be fooling ourselves, talking rubbish without knowing it.

Daniel C. Dennett, Kinds of Minds (1996), p. 4.
Contingency of P
Epistemic Primacy
Epistemic Parity
5. If the epistemic practices of current folk psychology must serve as starting points for understanding current minds, then deviant practices of deviant folk psychologies (if there are any) must serve as starting points for understanding deviant types of mind.
We are mindreading experts in typical cases
David R. Olson, The world on paper. The conceptual and cognitive implications of writing and reading (1994)
Mary Carruthers, various studies of medieval mnemotechnics.
Medieval supposition theory can be seen as a form of algorithmic hermeneutics
Walter Ong argued that Ramist educational reform greatly contributed to the development of our modern way of handling large chunks of information.
The Asmat people of Irian-Jaya see themselves as trees, and trees as men. Literally or figuratively?
Julian Jaynes, The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind (1976).
Jan Sleutels, Greek Zombies. Philosophical Psychology (2006)
Help! My Parents are Gutenborgs!
Joe Henrich, Ara Norenzayan & Steve Heine, ‘The Weirdest People in the World?’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2010.
W.E.I.R.D. Psychology
Much modern thinking is still based on abilities that evolved long ago. It is very unlikely that the advent of modern humans was marked by a total reorganization of the brain; it is probable that much modern thinking still consists of processes that evolved in earlier times. Many modern human activities place minimal demands on problem solving ability (the overworked driving-to-work example). More likely, the neural change leading to modernity was modest and added to the abilities already possessed by pre-modern populations [such as Neandertals]. If we can identify and peel away this final acquisition, we should be able to describe the Neandertal mind itself.

Thomas Wynn & Frederick Coolidge, ‘The Expert Neandertal Mind’, Journal of Human Evolution 46, 2004, pp. 467-487.
Epistemic Virtues
Presumption of continuity
Flintstones Fallacy
Developmental psychology
Should we be skeptical?
Synaptogenesis and synaptic pruning
The emergence of cave art in Europe about 30,000 years ago is widely believed to be evidence that by this time human beings had developed sophisticated capacities for symbolization and communication. However, comparison of the cave art with the drawings made by a young autistic girl, Nadia, reveals surprising similarities in content and style. Nadia, despite her graphic skills, was mentally defective and had virtually no language. I argue in the light of this comparison that the existence of the cave art cannot be the proof which it is usually assumed to be that the humans of the Upper Palaeolithic had essentially ‘modern’ minds

Nicholas Humphrey, ‘Cave Art, Autism, and the Evolution of the Human Mind’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 8:2 (1998), pp. 165-191.
Greek Zombies
Cave Art
Lascaux cave, France
Horses by Nadia, age 3 yr. 5 months
Cognitive Scaffolding
Eleanor Maguire, Chris Frith et al. 2000
London taxi drivers
Gaser et al. 2003
Musicians' brains
Environmental effects on synaptic structure
Grey matter reduction in CFS
Kozovoritzkiy et al. 2005
Okada et al. 2004
De Lange 2005
Philosophers' versions of folk psychology
Eric Schwitzgebel, ‘Why did we think we dreamed in black and white?’, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 33 (2002), pp. 649-660.
Folk psychology may have its flaws....
... but can we afford to dismiss it wholesale?
James Flynn (1934)
Flynn Effect
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