Monday, January 23, 2012

Theory of Mind and Radical Behaviorism

"Theory of Mind" has been one of the hottest topics in philosophical psychology and developmental psychology for the last 25 years. There are occasional ripples of interest in research at the intersection of ToM and comparative psychology, including a recent ripple generated by the release of a documentary "Project Nim". The documentary covers the story of Nim Chimpsky, who was part of a multi-decade study lead by Herb Terrace, intended to illuminate chimpanzee's linguistic abilities. The documentary focuses on ethical issues and on the narrative story arc of Nim's life. Herb has complained that the documentary under-emphasizes the scientific side of Nim's story --- which they the director interviewed him about extensively, then cut --- and has been attempting to remind people about the scientific importance of the study, emphasizing:
Nim’s inability to learn a language deepened our understanding of the basic difference between human and ape minds. Most important, apes lack a “theory of mind” – the ability to perceive what another ape is thinking.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Beyond the Brain: Review out

I still owe two more posts on Barrett's book, but I have more pressing matters, including the start of the semester and preparing a conference presentation due this weekend. While gathering material for my presentation, I was excited to see that my much more concise review of the book was just published! I am never too sure about how many people read these things, but hopefully it will inspire a few more people to check out the book. Here is the basic info:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thinking, Behaving, and Monkeys with Joysticks

I hope that the "thought" experiment I suggested last week stands on its own. The point was, at the least, to make people wonder how strong the causal relationship is between 'thinking about moving' and 'moving', and wonder if they might be very different phenomenon. Here I hope to demonstrate how the standard assumptions about the relationship between thinking and behaving can lead to some pretty awkward descriptions of phenomenon, and how a more embodied approach might do better. (Full disclosure, I'm still struggling with this, and will do a good, but definitely not great job.) Our case study come from the work of Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, who does ridiculously cool 'neuro-engineering' work down at Duke University. Our awkward descriptions of that work come from an interview on the Diane Rehm Show, aired on National Public Radio. There, Dr. Nicolelis describes research that culminates in a monkey moving a cursor on a computer screen via implants that detect neuronal activity in its brain. Here, roughly, is how the study works:

Friday, January 6, 2012

A 'Do It Yourself' Experiment about Thinking and Movement

For a long time now, one central rule in the Western-psychology game has been this: Mind-stuff makes body-stuff happen. In the olden days, stories using that rule might have talked about how thoughts of motion, enacted first on a Cartesian stage, transfer the vital energy needed to create movement in flesh. These days stories using that rule might be about how frontal-cortex based decisions to move, enacted first in an information-based simulations taking place in your brain, transfer motor-commands through neurons to your muscles. This is certainly a more refined and sophisticated way of envisioning the relationship between mind and behavior, but it retains the principles of the simple rule (i.e., same rule-system, different flavor text). As such, the more refined version also retains the primary problem of the original story. What problem? That 'thinking about moving' and 'moving' are just not related in that manner. Let's drop all the other kooky agendas of this blog for a minute, and just do some experimental phenomenology. Here is a 'thought' experiment you can try yourself and do with others.... 

The Experiment