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A Virtual Seminar


The Contemporary Scientific View of the Mind, and Some Shortcomings of this View

I tried to present some of the foundational assumptions of Cognitive Science as it is currently practiced and in so doing to suggest why it is so hard to understand how the mind works. I provided 5 conditions that a theory would need to meet but stressed two of them, The first was what Brentano called the problem of intentionality – the fact that behavior is determined not by how the world is but by how it is represented to be, which includes representations of nonexistent things and what things are seen as.

The second major problem that makes understanding the mind difficult is that most of what goes on in the mind is not available to conscious experience and what is available is usually very misleading. For one thing it is not clear what reports of our conscious experience are reports of! I gave many examples of how one is mislead by accepting at face value the content one’s conscious experience. We are misled by our experience when we will our voluntary actions, when we reason (and experience it as inner dialogue or mental imagery) and generally when we use mental images.

Finally I briefly discuss what I believe are some assumptions in Piet’s Life as a Laboratory treatise. I agree that a mature theory of mind will likely look very strange to us and will have many alien concepts. But it will also have to deal with the deep truths that are contained in “folk psychology” where we attribute behavior to what people believe and want. But the story of how these representations connect with the world they represent and how they are transformed into actions is far from understood and may well have to await new conceptualizations. I also spoke about the attempt to reparse the world so as to focus on the subject-object pair, rather than objectify the object as a separate entity. I argued that whatever the correct way of dividing the world up, it is very likely that it will continue to be a binary division and will have one side as the Object of Study and the other side the theory (and of course there is always the third implied entry -- the theorist).

I was a bit disappointed that the Qwaq medium did not encourage a new way of presenting information. On Sunday I gave a lecture with the aid of PowerPoint that is just like a lecture I would give here at home. Perhaps it is my fault for not looking around for new ways of presenting ideas, but the medium really is designed around the usual classroom with boards and screens and projectors. Of course I was able to give a lecture that was watched simultaneously by people in very different parts of the world, so it is an amazing technology for that reason. But I still think it should allow a more radical reformulation of the whole notion of a lecture and I don’t know how to go about inventing such a thing based on the Qwaq infrastructure. That may be worth thinking about and discussing in the WoK forum.

Other relevant papers and documents are available on my personal web site.

Zenon Pylyshyn

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