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Tomasz Komendziński - 2007-03-02, 04:38
Alternative approaches to the minds of others and a way to intersubjectivity

I would like to invite all users of our discussion board to participate in this new thread: “Narrative and “mindreading” theories of mind as alternative approaches to the minds of others and a way to intersubjectivity”. This thread is part of the ongoing debate regarding mindreading and theory of mind. It has been created in relation to a course I teach at the Institute of Philosophy at NCU, “Narration and Imitation: from Text to Person”, and also serves as an introduction to the September conference “Self, Intersubjectivity and Social Neuroscience: From Mind and Action to Society”: September 20-23, 2007, Torun (still, the thread is a self-contained medium and is independent from both the course and the conference). The record of the thread will be included in the conference materials, and the website www.kognitywistyka.net will be among the patrons of the panel discussion in the second day of the conference. The conference webpage will be made available shortly.

Everyone is welcome to take part in the discussion, but please bear in mind that you need to be a registered user. Let me also remind all users about the other two threads, which were started in 2006, but are still active and remain open for discussion:

Origins of Language: Between Nature and Culture

How the Body Shapes the Mind

In April, after the publication of Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind by Evan Thompson, another thread will be started, with Evan Thompson and others as guests of honor:

I also encourage you to send me your papers related to the subject matter of the discussion (please send them to tkomen AT uni DOT torun DOT pl), and they may be included in the discussion.

Our starting point in this thread are two texts by Professor Daniel Hutto. The first of them is attached below and available for download.
Please post your comments and questions.

Our invited guests are:

Stephanie M. Carlson [Department of Psychology, University of Washington]
Jonathan Cole [Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital and Southampton University]
Gregory Currie [Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham]
Hanne De Jaegher [Centre for Research in Cognitive Science, Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, University of Sussex]
Ezequiel Di Paolo [Centre for Research in Cognitive Science, Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, University of Sussex]
Shaun Gallagher [Philosophy and Cognitive Science, University of Central Florida]
Umberto Giani [University of Naples Federico II, Faculty of Medicina, Dpt Preventive Medical Sciences Medical statistics and informatics, Lab of Computational Medicine]
Peter Goldie [Philosophy, University of Manchester]
Daniel Hutto [Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire]
Catriona Mackenzie [Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University]
Flavia Santoianni [BES BioEducational Sciences Research Group, Dep. of Relational Sciences, University of Naples Federico II - Naples, Italy]
Chris Sinha [Department of Psychology, Univerity of Portsmouth]
Jessica Sommerville [Dept. of Psychology , Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences University of Washington]
Jordan Zlatev [Department of Linguistics, Lund University]
Nicolas Bullot [Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto]
Matthew Ratcliffe [Department of Philosophy, Durham University]
Catherine L. Reed [Cognitive Neuroscience Lab., Department of Psychology, University of Denver]

Daniel Hutto - 2007-06-10, 07:52
Dear Tomasz and all,

I wish to thank Tomasz very much for organizing this forum and also to apologize for my slowness in getting involved and making postings.

It has been a very busy year for me. One thing that absorbed my attention is the preparations for the upcoming conference on Narrative Alternatives to Theories of Mind which is to be held 12-15 of July at Hertfordshire. The webpage is posted below for those interested.


I am pleased to say that the contributions to and comments I have had about the conference demonstrate that there is a healthy interest in the role narratives might play in helping us to understand how we undestand others. For those interested I would urge you to at least scan the talk titles (abstracts will be appearing soon).

Traditional approaches to cognition emphasize the critical role played by internal, cognitive mechanisms in enabling the performance of many tasks that are central to human social life ­including our distinctive ability to make sense of intentional actions in terms of reasons; i.e. folk psychology (hereafter FP). Orthodoxy has it that these ‘theory of mind’ abilities are made possible by subpersonal mechanisms - though there is much debate about precise forms and features of such (Fodor, Leslie, Goldman, Nichols and Stich).

In another forum on the Origins of Language: Between Nature and Culture, Slawomir had asked me if the the extra M in the acronym ToMM can be understood as standing for 'module'. I noted that, notoriously, there is much debate about what features define modules (see for example Carruthers 2003, 2004. He proposes something different than Fodor's version which insists on and emphasizes information encaspulation). In my hands the acronym is used to stand for 'Theory of Mind Mechanism', where 'Theory of Mind' denotes a class of abilities and 'Mechanism' refers to any posited device that allegedly makes use of mental state representaitons when doing its work. As such, I have in my sights any kind of Inherited Mindreading Device (or IMD). This would include, for example, the Early/Low-Level Minreading Systems posited by Stich and Nichols (2003) and Goldman (2006). Officially, it would exclude 'smart behaviour' reading as oppposed to mind reading devices - such as those posited by Povinelli and Vonk (2004) as part of their re-interpretation hypothesis. But since I have a master argument against representationalism tout court I doubt the existence of such mechanisms too.

The fact is that many believe that our folk psychological skills are best understood to be a kind of native cognitive endowment, gifted to us by our evolutionary forefathers.

Of late, this line of thought has been challenged by a growing number of researchers from various fields. Empirical work has revealed that the heuristics used in our normal everyday engagements are more diverse and complex than traditionally supposed. This has promoted the idea that while some basic capacities for social navigation may be built-in, others ­ perhaps even the core aspects of FP ­ may be acquired by participation in scaffolded socio-cultural practices in ontogeny (Carpendale and Lewis, Garfield et al).

Inspired by Bruner, I advance a specific non-'Theory of Mind/Non-Simulationist' variant of this idea in a number of recent and forthcoming publications. I have been promoting the view that FP may be acquired and fostered through children’s participating in socially scaffolded narrative practices. This Narrative Practice Hypothesis (NPH), consists of two novel, complementary claims; one concerns the essence of folk psychology and the other its acquisition. These are:

    (A) Our everyday understanding of intentional action is itself an essentially narrative practice ­ ‘folk psychological’ understanding always takes the form of constructing narratives;

    (B) Children acquire the relevant interpretative skills and understanding through their exposure to specific kinds of narratives when they are appropriately supported by others. This is the normal route through which they become familiar with both:

    (i) the core principles of folk psychology;
    (ii) the norm-governed possibilities for wielding it in practice, ­ i.e. their knowing how and when to use it.

This is explained in more detail in my paper "The Narrative Practice Hypothesis: Origins and Applications of Folk Psychology" (attached). It appears in Narrative and Understanding Persons; Hutto, D. (ed). Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Cambridge 60: Cambridge University Press.

If it could be shown that our understanding of others is late-developing and socio-culturally based, then certain prevalent views about the nature of the normal development of children need to be re-thought. This has direct implications for our understanding of the root causes of certain symptoms of autism ­ i.e. those relating to failures on ‘false belief’ tasks and other more basic problems with social interaction. Hence, if the NPH were true, these would not be best explained in terms of faulty ‘theory of mind mechanisms’ and we would have to re-think the cause of this aspect of the disorder. This research might also inform thinking about public health in other areas ­ i.e. by examining the links between folk psychologically-based narratives and schizophrenic self-understanding (Gallagher) and the narrative productions of addicts (Ross). As such, this project has the potential for genuine ‘knowledge transfer’, having ramifications for those interested in the normal and impaired development of our everyday social skills and self-understanding.

Equally, it has methodological consequences for researchers in many diverse fields ­ those interested the nature of our ‘theory of mind’ abilities and how they develop (the list is long but includes developmental and cross-cultural psychologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists). The studies and experiments conducted in these areas are typically framed (and constrained) by the philosophical assumptions of reigning views about the nature and source of folk psychology. Since this proposal fundamentally challenges those assumptions, it requires looking again at the relevance of certain kinds of empirical data and seeking new varieties ­ perhaps even requiring new methods for collecting and assessing it. For example, ideally comparative data on the parenting, schooling and general ‘narrative’ practices and explanatory tendencies of specific cultures is wanted. The need for yet other data is provoked by questions such as: When might the relevant narrative practices have emerged in our pre-history? What form did they take initially and subsequently? How do they relate to our more basic narrative competencies (and what do these look like)? What is the nature and source of the latter? Are these competencies realized in our neurological hardware or are they more soft-wired (and, if so, how)?

In my travels I have found that there are few standard questions/challenges that are typically rasised about/against the NPH. If anyone involved in this forum has similar queries I'd be glad to discuss them.

    1. Is the NPH really incompatible with TT/ST? Why isn't it just a new proposal about how our mentalistic understanding is acquired?

    2. What are narratives anyway? Without a clear account of this isn't the propsoal just too loose and all-encompassing?

    3. Can't we/shouldn't we understand the narrativizing skills as merely adding the final layer or finishing touches to our pre-exisiting mindreading capacities. Isn't this consistent with observing that the latter do the real work in getting us to understand others? (Here one might distinguish modest and radical versions of the NPH, depending on how one responds to this).

    4. Isn't the kind of FP ability that the NPH seeks to explain simply a myth anyway - a philosopher's fantasy? (courtesy of M. Ratcliffe).

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