Philosophical issues in cognitive science

Many thanks to Kristina and John for inviting me to write. I should say right at the start that most of what I’ll be writing draws heavily on ideas arising from collaborations with Ian Apperly, Guenther Knoblich, Jason Low, Hannes Rakoczy, Natalie Sebanz, Corrado Sinigalia and Cordula Vesper. I hope none of these mind me stealing their ideas too much.

My research is mostly on philosophical issues that arise in developmental and cognitive psychology. For example, what forms of joint action matter for understanding the development of mindreading? What roles do motor representations play in enabling us to track the goals of others’ actions and to act with others? What evidence bears on questions about whether humans can perceive mental states?

Here are the topics I plan to cover over the next weeks:

  • Are There Visual Experiences of Red?
    Philosophers often take it for granted that there are visual experiences not only of particular shades but also of categorical colour properties like red and blue. (A categorical colour property is one that things with quite different shades of colour can share; for example, cartoon tomatoes and strawberries are both red.) But there is some evidence on whether there are visual experiences of categorical colour properties. To date, the evidence I know of uniformly indicates that humans do not visually experience red. This matters for understanding how humans first come to know facts about the categorical colour properties of things, and perhaps also for intentionalism and other philosophical claims about the nature of experience.
  • Phenomenal Expectations and the Developmental Origins of Knowledge of Objects
    In several domains including colour, action, the physical (which is the focus of this post) and the mental, we need to understand how largely informationally encapsulated processes ever nonacidentally operate in harmony with thinking. Phenomenal expectations may be part of the answer. Informally, phenomenal expectations are central to, say, the feeling of familiarity you have on seeing a face you can’t quite place, and to the sense that someone’s eyes are boring into your back. Phenomenal expectations are interestingly different from experiences as usually conceived. They are aspects of the overall phenomenal character of experiences which their subjects take to be informative about things that are only distantly related (if at all) to the things that those experiences intentionally relate the subject to. Maybe only phenomenal expectations connect early-developing, largely informationally encapsulated processes to thought. They are what tie different bits of the mind together.
  • Shared Agency: Parallel Planning and the Simple View
    Shared agency is a familiar feature of everyday life; we play piano duets, organise workshops together, share smiles, and move heavy tables together. To understand shared agency we need (among much else) a notion of shared intention. Shared intentions stand to exercises of shared agency much as an ordinary, individual intentions stand to exercises of ordinary, individual agency. But what is a shared intention? According to the Simple View, for us to have a shared intention that we make a pizza is for us each to intend that we, you and I, make a pizza together. More or less the only thing philosophers agree on concerning shared agency is that the Simple View is inadequate or worse. Has it been ruled out too quickly?
  • The Mindreading Puzzle
    It seems that for many children, there is an age at which:

    1. in performing a false belief task of the kind two- and three-year-olds tend to fail, the child relies on a model of minds and actions not incorporating beliefs;
    2. in anticipatory looking, violation-of-expectation tasks and other false belief tasks which one- or two-year-olds tend to pass, the child relies on a model of minds and actions incorporating beliefs;
    3. the child has a single model of minds and actions.
    These claims are jointly inconsistent, so one of them must be false. But which claim should we reject?

The posts that follow are based on work in progress. I’m aiming to provide the written equivalent of the sort of flash talk you might give to a small group of people to see which ideas (if any) survive.

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