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WHY DO WE MINDREAD? Tadeusz Zawidzki, GWU, Philosophy, MBEC, KNEW 2013, Kazimierz Dolny, Poland.

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Presentation on theme: "WHY DO WE MINDREAD? Tadeusz Zawidzki, GWU, Philosophy, MBEC, KNEW 2013, Kazimierz Dolny, Poland."— Presentation transcript:

1 WHY DO WE MINDREAD? Tadeusz Zawidzki, GWU, Philosophy, MBEC, KNEW 2013, Kazimierz Dolny, Poland

2 Overview 1. What I mean by “mindreading” 2. What I mean by “why” 3. The received view and its discontents 4. An alternative proposal 5. Conclusion 6. Addendum on Sellars’s Myth of Jones

3 1.1 The Varieties of Mindreading  Behavioral generalization  Sensitivity to “low-level” mental states, like emotions, perceptions, motor intentions  Sophisticated behavior reading: sensitivity to rational patterns or intentional/teleological stance  Full-blown propositional attitude attribution (“as such”)  Jakub believes/desires/hopes/thinks/wishes that he was napping

4 1.2 Mindshaping  Mameli (2001); Zawidzki (2008;2013)  Mechanisms and practices that make likely interactants more familiar and hence more easily, mutually interpretable  High fidelity imitation  Pedagogy  Norm institution and enforcement  Self- and group-constituting narrative ideals  Distinctive of humans  Enhances the efficacy of relatively simple mindreading

5 1.3 The Intentional Stance Assume system is rational: will pursue goals by most efficient means given available information Dennett glosses “goals” and “available information” as “desires” and “beliefs”, but it isn’t what most mean by these mental states: “I have insisted that far from being most perspicuously treated as (1) discrete, (2) semantically interpretable states, (3) playing a causal role, the beliefs and desires of the folk psychological craft are best viewed as abstracta – more like centers of gravity or vectors than as individualizable concrete states of a mechanism” (1998, 85) Chess (Dennett 1978, 4-7) Infants do it (Gergely & Csibra’s “teleological stance” (TICS 2003)) Chimps do it (Wood & Hauser 2008) A theory of abstract patterns of observable behavior No behavioral appearance / mental reality distinction

6 1.4 Full-Blown Propositional Attitude Attribution  Beliefs, desires, etc.  Focus of most philosophy and psychology of social cognition  False belief task  Epistemology, philosophical theories of practical rationality  To attribute these, one must:  Appreciate modes of presentation (opacity, intensionality)  Appreciate complex, holistically-constrained relation to behavior/observable circumstances  Appreciate behavioral appearance / mental reality distinction  Think of behavior as caused by unobservable, representational states

7 2.1 Answering “Why?” Questions: Evolutionary Raisons D’Être  “Why?” means different things:  An individual’s conscious reason for engaging in some activity  An individual’s unconscious reason for engaging in some activity  Normative constraints on actions: reasons for which, ideally, someone should engage in some activity  Evolutionary raison d’ être  How did some trait/behavior originate, and why has it remained stable against mutations?  Why, e.g., don’t Asperger’s patients take over human populations?

8 3.1 The Received View  Coordination on cooperative projects was key to human evolutionary success  Other primates almost entirely hostile when interacting with unfamiliar individuals  This requires accurate behavioral prediction and free rider prevention  Predicting who will/won’t renege  Predicting complementary courses of action among the cooperative  Individuals capable of accurately attributing propositional attitudes were and are better at this  Policing free riders requires identifying the insincere  Behavioral prediction improved via knowledge of causes of behavior (beliefs & desires)  Kovacs et al. (2010):  Humans are guided by internal states such as goals and beliefs. Without an ability to infer others’ mental states, society would be hardly imaginable. Social interactions, from collective hunting to playing soccer to criminal justice, critically depend on the ability to infer others’ intentions and beliefs. Such abilities are also at the foundation of major evolutionary conundra. For example, the human aptitude at inferring mental states might be one of the crucial preconditions for the evolution of the cooperative social structure in human societies. (1830)

9 3.2 Four Problems for the Received View 1. Holism 2. We’re the only ones 3. Machiavellianism isn’t second nature 4. Attributing propositional attitudes unlikely to help in coordination b/c it generates infinite regress

10 3.2.1 Holism  Belief/desire pairs lead to specific behaviors only against a background of appropriate other propositional attitudes (Morton 1996; 2003; Bermudez 2004; 2009)  Suppose I believe there is tea in the cupboard and I desire a cup of tea; this does not mean I will attempt to retrieve the tea from the cupboard I might believe there is also a poisonous spider in the cupboard, or that I will be punished if I open the cupboard, or I might desire something else more strongly than tea at the moment, etc.  False belief task: even if Sally believes the treat is where Anne moved it while she was away, she might not act on this belief (Apperly 2011)  Raises issues of computational tractability: too time-consuming to rule out all possibilities in time to predict and coordinate successfully  Explains why other intelligent social mammals don’t bother attributing propositional attitudes  Big problem for the received view: attributing propositional attitudes doesn’t necessarily lead to more accurate and timely behavioral prediction

11 3.2.2 Other Intelligent Social Mammals  Humans are the only animal known to attribute full-blown propositional attitudes (Call & Tomasello 2008)  Chimpanzees, Scrub-Jays, possibly cetaceans and other primates and corvids are very sensitive to what others see or have seen, to behavioral patterns (including abstract, rational ones), to emotions  But no evidence that they can attribute full-blown propositional attitudes: unobservable, representational causes, with variable modes of presentation and complex, holistically-constrained connections to behavior  But many other species are intelligent and intensely social  Chimpanzee politics (de Waal)  Enhanced behavioral prediction would be a boon  If propositional attitude attribution exists in humans due to help with behavioral prediction then why doesn’t it exist in other species?

12 3.2.3 We’re Not Good Machiavellians  One version of the received view: Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis (Byrne & Whiten 1988)  Arms race of deception and deception-detection  Predicts human facility with higher-order intentional states  I know that she believes that I want her to think that I don’t know what she plans to do  But such reasoning does not come easily to human beings  Kinderman et al. (1998):  Subjects read stories that required the attribution of higher orders of intentionality, as well as complex, non-psychological causal sequences, and were then tested for recall of such attributions with forced choice questions. Only recall of attributions of the lowest order of intentionality, e.g., attributions of belief about non-psychological states of affairs, showed error rates comparable to recall of correspondingly complex non-psychological attributions.  They conclude that the attribution of higher orders of intentionality shows a great deal of variation in normals, and probably places strong demands on domain-general capacities like executive functioning, working memory, and attention

13 3.2.4 PA Attribution Won’t Help Coordination  Familiar infinite regress for “rational” solutions to coordination problems (Lewis 1969; Gilbert 1996; Bacharach 2006)  Interrupted phone call  I should call back first only if she believes that I should call back first, but she believes that I should call back first only if I believe that I should call back first, so I should call back first only if she believes that I believe that I should call back first, etc.

14 3.2.5 Propositional Attitude Attribution Is Not Obviously Necessary  Keep in mind all the other mindreading capacities that we share with non-human animals:  Behavioral generalization  Sensitivity to low-level mental states  Intentional stance  Add to this sophisticated mindshaping (which we don’t share with non-human animals but which enhances capacities we do share with them)  Given this, and the 4 problems with using propositional attitude attribution as a means of behavior prediction, its evolutionary origin and continued stability is a mystery

15 4.1 What’s the Alternative?  Propositional attitude attribution long recognized to play justificatory as well as predictive/explanatory role  Many philosophers of mind assume the former is primary and the latter derivative (Fodor)  Maybe it’s the other way around  Full-blown propositional attitude attribution arises only in populations that already have normative practices relative to which behavior must sometimes be justified by appeal to non-obvious mental states

16 4.2 The Evolution of Language  Agrammatical proto-language consisting of 2-word, unstructured sequences composed of proto-names and proto-predicates (Bickerton 1990):  “Food bring!”  Origins of grammar?  Recursion, structural complexity  Functions to express prior, recursive, structurally complex thought (Pinker & Bloom 1990)?  Unlikely  Birdsong: a model of near-recursive, structurally complex communication that doesn’t serve such an expressive function (Fitch 2010)  Analog in human prehistory: advertising reliability & competence at coordination on cooperative projects  Costly signaling of commitments to cooperative projects that puts status on the line

17 4.3 Two Interpretive Strategies  Once such a complex signaling system is on the scene, there are two potentially competing interpretive strategies available:  Intentional stance  Taking people at their word  Neither guarantees success, but raises the question:  What do they really think?  Introduces distinction b/w behavioral appearance and mental reality  Being wrong about appearances is different from appreciating reality behind appearances

18 4.4 PA Attribution & In/Exculpatory Narratives  Jerome Bruner (1990):  … when you encounter an exception to the ordinary, and ask somebody what is happening, the person you ask will virtually always tell a story that contains reasons (or some other specification of an intentional state) … All such stories seem to be designed to give the exceptional behavior meaning in a manner that implicates both an intentional state in the protagonist (a belief or desire) and some canonical element in the culture … The function of the story is to find an intentional state that mitigates or at least makes comprehensible a deviation from a canonical cultural pattern. (49-50, original emphasis)  The Knobe effect (Pettit & Knobe 2009; Knobe 2003; 2006):  Did the CEO intentionally help/harm environment? Help: no. Harm: yes.  Indeterminacy about mental state resolved by appeal to normative status  Function in prehistory:  Apparent reneging on commitment (“The herd is north of here”) mitigated by appeal to propositional attitude (“I thought I had been heading north; actually it was east”)

19 4.5 Reason Vs. Causal History Explanations  Why did she do poorly on the test?  Reason: She didn’t have time to study because she wanted to help her grandmother move instead  Causal history: Her dad’s alcoholism prevented her from developing good study habits in childhood  Fact: people much more likely to explain their own behavior in terms of reasons and others’ behavior in terms of causal history (Malle et al. 2007)  Why? 2 hypotheses:  We know more about the mental causes of our own behavior (epistemic function)  We care more about justifying our own behavior in order to maintain status (social function)  Crucial experiments (Malle et al. 2007):  Subjects asked to explain the behavior of (1) persons with whom they were intimately acquainted, like friends or family, (2) strangers the behavior of which they personally witnessed, and (3) strangers the behavior of which they merely heard about  Subjects were just as likely to offer causal history explanations of the behavior of intimates, the behavior of strangers that they had witnessed, and the behavior of strangers about which they had heard  Self-other asymmetry in providing reason vs. causal history explanations disappears when subjects are motivated to portray others’ behavior in a positive light

20 4.6 Culturally Afforded (Self-) Interpretive Narratives & Coordination  When we find ourselves engaged in some behavior, there are neural mechanisms that continually and automatically generate different construals of the imperfect behavioral data to which we have access, searching for interpretations capable of justifying the behavior in the eyes of our community.  Such mechanisms also automatically and continually try out different construals of others’ observed behavior to determine status.  These processes draw on a relatively limited palette of stereotypic, justificatory narratives afforded by the ambient culture, which encode the propositional attitudes that are appropriate relative to certain behavioral patterns.  The stereotypes encoded in these narratives can then serve a regulative, mindshaping function.  E.g., the “crush narrative”

21 4.7 Derivative Predictive Use of PA Attribution  If most of one’s potential interactants self-regulate in complementary directions, coordination is dramatically facilitated.  Explains the ease with which propositional attitude attribution can be used to predict behavior, despite the holism problem:  Because most interactants are shaped to interpret behavioral evidence as implicating the same, or complementary, culturally salient, stereotypic narratives, and then use these narratives to regulate further thought and behavior, the attribution of propositional attitudes expected of characters in such narratives can support reliable behavioral prediction.  Even if quotidian propositional attitude attribution started off performing a non-epistemic, impression management function in prehistory, this does not rule out the possibility that it eventually came to perform an epistemic function

22 5.1 Conclusion  This is offered as a speculative alternative to the consensus view that avoids some of the problems with it  Meant to motivate alternative research program – no definitive proof, just a hypothesis  “Ecumenical” potential:  Naturalizing Brandom  Obvious Foucauldian affinity

23 6.1 The Myth of Jones Revisited: Our Dennettian Ancestors  The implausible features of Sellars’s myth are relatively superficial.  These consist in: 1. The assumption that our ancestors were restricted to a Rylean language capable of representing only concrete, observable properties of behavior. 2. The assumption that theorizing was reliable enough in human prehistory to yield adaptive benefits.  When these assumptions are replaced with empirically defensible alternatives, one can generate a plausible picture of the origins of our concept of mind that maintains the spirit of Sellars’s myth.  Rather than Ryleans, our ancestors were Dennettians: they parsed bouts of behavior into abstract categories like “goal” and “instrumentally rational means”.  Rather than a theoretical psychologist, Jones was an innovative advocate, hypothesizing hidden mental states in attempts to rehabilitate status threatened by failures to abide by discursive norms.

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