The first variant takes cognitive philosophy, most of it anyway, to be doing exactly what science does now, only not very well.
Introduction: Philosophy in and Philosophy of Cognitive Science
The second takes it, some of it anyway, to be doing something that science does relatively rarely, namely, integrate results in a bigger picture. Reichenbach and then Popper captured this picture in the distinction between the context of [hypothesis] discovery and the context of [hypothesis] justification. To these two add a third activity, namely, interpretation. Put in the language of these distinctions, the first variant views much of philosophy as generate without test, that is to say, discovery without justification. Nor is it clear that the two things of which philosophy stands accused here are entirely bad things.
We need to build big, generative theories that can tie together the thousands of effects that we have now identified. The baffled form recognizes that often philosophical work in cognitive science at least appears to be quite different from other kinds of work on cognition, indeed from science in general—and is puzzled.
Not infrequently the reaction will focus on the techniques used in cognitive philosophy that are the most unlike those used elsewhere in cognitive science.
Thought experiments are a leading example. The reaction then goes something like this:. Why are philosophers interested in thought experiments, intuition pumps as Dan Dennett calls them? Thought experiments at best explore possibilities. Why worry about what is possible? How could such a worry contribute to the generation of knowledge? What we should be doing is discovering what is actually going on in cognition.
For this work, thought experiments are useless. The people reacting this way do find something distinctive in philosophical work in cognitive science—but do not see why anyone would want to do these things or think that doing them might contribute to progress in cognitive research. Here is a variant of this reaction, to do with concepts:. Philosophers spend their time worrying about concepts.
The concepts of cognitive science are mostly just fine. What we need is to get on with discovering the facts. I have treated these two as variants of a single reaction because thought experiments are often used as a tool for investigating concepts. For the second variant to hold water, it would have to be possible to do good investigation of the facts without paying attention to the concepts with which one is describing and categorizing the facts.
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Often such a separation is not possible. But if it is not, thought experiments are more closely linked to investigation of the facts than is generally thought. Again, it is not clear that exploration of thought experiments and analysis of concepts are bad things. We will consider thought experiments separately later. It is widely recognized that the conceptual apparatus of cognitive science is not in good shape.
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We have dozens of terms for memory, for attention, for consciousness, and for many other things of central interest to us. Each approach to cognition has its own proprietary terminology that is often mysterious to other approaches. Our concepts are just fine? Not likely. Some of the methods that cognitive philosophers use are baffling for good reason.
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Philosophy in cognitive science does not do experiments, it is not computational, it seldom makes use of detailed findings about the brain—it seldom does any of the things that other cognitive researchers do most of the time. So how does it proceed? Concerning methods in philosophy, there is something to all four of the reactions that we just explored. Yes, some philosophical work, especially in the philosophy of mind and language, generates and argues for hypotheses.
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In connection with the mind, this work goes back to Descartes the mind is not the brain , indeed even to Aristotle the mind is the living form of the body. And yes, some philosophers have not had as much interest in testing as one would like, preferring to look to arguments and intuitions to support their claims. In philosophy, sometimes imaginative appeal actually counts for more than justification.
Yes, some philosophical work consists of broad integrative interpretations. Yes, thought experiments play a central role in some philosophical work, especially in the philosophy of mind, and it is true that the nature and merits of that role are none too clear. And yes, people with philosophical training tend to pay more attention to the conceptual toolkit of cognitive science than is common in those with other kinds of training.
Speculative hypothesis generation. There is nothing wrong with speculative hypothesis generation as such. Indeed, as all hypothesis generation consists in the application of the imagination to some group of facts, all hypothesis generation has a speculative element to it. If so, there is also nothing distinctive to those with training in philosophy in this work.
There is little speculation in the context of justification but the context of discovery is full of speculation. Integrative interpretation. The activity of interpreting tested hypotheses is a large part of what the philosophical contribution to cognitive science consists of. The results of these activities are theories and models offered by philosophers similar to theories and models offered by others in cognitive science. The main difference is that philosophers tend to go after bigger and sometimes more abstract objects than researchers with other backgrounds: in cognitive research, representation as a whole rather particular kinds of representation, rationality as a whole rather than particular activities of reasoning well, the nature of explanation in cognitive science as a whole rather than how to explain a given phenomenon before us.
So far, except for level of generality and abstraction, there is nothing distinctive to this methodology. This sometimes confers advantages of breadth and objectivity.
Exploration of thought experiments. Thought experiments consist of imagined manipulations of imagined scenarios. Philosophers and, as we will see, others sometimes claim that one can reach substantive conclusions by using them.
We will return to this topic. Analysis of concepts. Philosophically grounded work in cognitive science has spent a lot of time clarifying concepts and making recommendations for how concepts should be used. Here is an example that shows why. Pylyshyn and Storm have shown that humans can track a number of objects at the same time. They suggested that we use what Pylyshyn calls visual indexicals to do so. How does such tracking relate to attention? There are two options: a It is itself a kind of attention, albeit less focused and less conscious than a lot of attention.
Which is best? Notice two things. First, this is not a trivial issue. If we say that tracking is a form of attention, then there is a form of attention that is dispersed over a number of objects and not fully conscious. And theory of attention will have to account for it. If on the other hand we say that only something subsequent to the kind of object tracking that Pylyshyn has in mind is attention, then we are free of these burdens.
Second, the issue does not concern the facts and could not be settled by reference to the facts. It is about the best way to group observed phenomena under a word. Which better captures what us interests here, our reasons for using the word? Which alternative is more neutral in the light of possible theories in the neighborhood? And so on. Philosophers do a lot of this kind of work.