Hi Brainers. I’m writing to again promote an online reading group. The last one, which was on Daniel Hutto’s “Folk Psychological Narratives,” was a fantastic success, and we’d like to continue doing such groups. The new subject is Tad Zawidzki’s manuscript, “Mindshaping: Linchpin of the Human Socio-Cognitive Syndrome,” which is forthcoming with MIT Press. If you’re interested in joining our reading group, here is a link to the google groups page.
Here is an abstract for Tad’s manuscript:
Consensus has it that human social cognition is distinct from that of other primates in at least the following four ways: we are capable of (1) sophisticated mindreading, (2) sophisticated mindshaping, (3) complex, large-scale and pervasive cooperation, and (4) structurally complex and semantically flexible communication. Consensus also has it that the linchpin of this socio-cognitive syndrome is sophisticated mindreading: without it, none of our other socio-cognitive feats would be possible. The central contentions of my book are (1) this latter consensus assumption is false, and (2) rather than sophisticated mindreading, sophisticated mindshaping is the linchpin of the human socio-cognitive syndrome. Sophisticated mindshaping consists in an array of practices, like flexible, fine-grained imitation, pedagogy, norm institution and enforcement, and narrative self-constitution, of which all and only human populations appear capable. Sophisticated mindreading consists in the capacity to reliably attribute full-blown propositional attitudes. Following Bermudez (2003; 2009), I understand full-blown propositional attitudes as mental states with tenuous, holistically constrained causal influence on behavior. For example, any belief is compatible with any observable behavior, given appropriate adjustments in other mental states: this is what it means for propositional attitudes to have only tenuous, holistically constrained causal influence on behavior. My central argument is that attribution of such mental states cannot be the linchpin of the human socio-cognitive syndrome because there is no way such mindreading can be reliable enough in dynamic, quotidian contexts without prior practices of sophisticated mindshaping. Such practices insure that interactants are sufficiently familiar with each other for mindreading and other forms of interpretation to be computationally tractable and reliable. The crucible within which this socio-cognitive strategy was forged, I argue, was the peculiar socio-ecology of our prehistoric ancestors, in which cooperation was the central challenge. Sophisticated mindreading could not help meet this challenge without prior, sophisticated mindshaping, and structurally complex and semantically flexible communication. Given this phylogenetic sequence, the attribution of full-blown propositional attitudes can be understood as the tracking and undertaking of discursive commitments, expressed paradigmatically in linguistic performances.