Theories of Human Cognition

For many years philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have all struggled with the concept of mental states and the truth about what happens inside of the human brain. With ongoing breakthroughs in each of the fields, bridges have been created in hopes of gaining insight towards the mysteries of the mind.  In 1981, philosopher Paul Churchland proposed the idea of eliminative materialism, which posed an attack on folk psychology and suggested that mental states simply don’t exist. This extreme theory poses a radical argument with many strong points; however, some believe it to be too drastic to be precise.

Churchland begins his argument by suggesting that folk psychology is simply just a theory and not fact. Through examining a number of mental states that psychologists have struggled with explaining for years, he states, “FP (folk psychology) has been a stagnant or degenerating research program, and has been for millennia.” (567) Although I am not arguing that folk psychology is completely accurate in all of it’s claims, I do believe that it is at least sufficient in explaining very basic fundamentals behind human behavior. Surely, it is not the case that folk psychology can explain all of human cognition a microscopic level just yet; however, with the current breakthroughs in neuroscience, folk psychology simply needs to revise its claims instead of completely reject them.

Aside from Churchland’s refutation of folk psychology, his radical theory of the elimination of all mental states seems a bit too hard to believe. How can one possibly be mistaken about his own mental state? Mental states are the basis of human cognition and to say that they simply don’t exist seems quite absurd. If one were in pain, it would not make sense for an eliminative materialist to say that he is not because mental states can be experienced first-hand.

Furthermore, take for example the famous case of Phineas Gage. In a tragic railroad accident, the man’s brain was impaled with a metal rod. The after effects clearly showed a change in behavior and mental states when the biology of the brain was altered. Of course, exactly what happened may or may not be able to be completely explained with folk psychology; however, the causal relationship between the mental states before and after the accident could not have been a coincidence

In a sense, Churchland was correct in believing that folk psychology was not the only answer; however, I believe that folk psychology is definitely a part of the answer in determining the truth behind our cognition. Just as philosophy advanced to generate eliminative materialism, folk psychology will also change with the ongoing discoveries in modern day neuroscience.

6 thoughts on “Theories of Human Cognition

  1. I feel like you’re trying to argue for reductive materialism with your claim about Phineas Gage in that you’d revise Churchland’s argument by replacing his claim of eliminative materialism with reductive materialism. As modern day neuroscience has more or less proved reductive materialism false, this does give Churchland’s argument some support, yet I like you don’t want to accept his argument in its entirety. I agree with your sentence, “In a sense, Churchland was correct in believing that folk psychology was not the only answer; however, I believe that folk psychology is definitely a part of the answer in determining the truth behind our cognition” (Liu Post). Folk psychology is how we go about associating behavior with mental states, but that can’t just be the sole factor that defines our mental states now can it? In this sense I agree with both you and Churchland, yet disagree on his eliminative materialism point of view. I believe there is some causal connection between brain states and mental states and that mental states do exist for individuals, yet the answer to the mind body problem is not eliminative or reductive materialism. It is something I cannot at my current understanding of the mind body problem solve; I would have to research it for years to come to fully understand the truth.

    1. I too agree that folk psychology definitely cannot be the only explanation for our mental states because it has a good amount of holes, many of which Churchill addressed. I do think it is interesting that many of us have already formed beliefs even without hard evidence to back it up. Like Bradely said I also agree that there has to be some kind of connection between brain and mental states, although I have no neurological explanation for it at this point. Based on my experience of the world I see it could be no other way.

  2. These are all great points. The example of Phineas Gage is interesting. Clearly his mental states were altered by the accident that caused damage to his brain. Folk psychology plays an important role in this situation. However, I too agree that it is not the only explanation for our mental states, which by the way, do exist. The brain and mental states are connected, as also seen in the example of Phineas Gage.

  3. I believe that folk psychology can’t possibly be the sole explanation for mental states because, as Churchland mentioned, there are still some inconsistencies and gaps. However, I also think that there’s a causal relationship shared by brain and mental states, and disagree with Churchland’s thoughts on eliminative materialism. The Phineas Gage example you shared was good as it demonstrates that his mental states were obviously changed due to the rod, which resulted in a change in his behavior.

  4. While I don’t completely understand Churchland’s argument as to why Folk Psychology is a theory, but I think it’s a legitimate claim. A theory is a supposition and the result of speculation. A theory is an imperfect idea. Considering the many gaps associated with it and the lack of scientific data and support, I would say that not only is Folk Psychology a theory, but philosophy in general is as well. Neither of these things should constitute a science and focusing on Folk Psychology, there are many related flaws with its ideology. Folk Psychology being considered valid is not very plausible as it argues that humans are capable of explaining intelligent behavior solely based on theoretical things.

  5. Although I think your argument defending folk psychology brings up some good points regarding the radicalness of eliminative materialism, I wanted to address the statement “…however, with the current breakthroughs in neuroscience, folk psychology simply needs to revise its claims instead of completely reject them” (Liu)

    Church brings up in his argument the all encompassing nature of folk psychology as an attempt to dismiss it as over simplifying. He claims that folk psychology involves the explanation of most of the major topics regarding the philosophy of mind: behavior, the semantics of mental predicates, action theory, other-minds problem, the intentionality of mental states, introspection, and the mind-body problem. Churchland challenges that any theory that could be so extensive: “Any view that can pull this lot together deserves careful consideration” (Churchland, 594).

    I agree with Churchland that it seems kind of far-fetched that a theory can explain so much and then be accepted as true. And as such, I think it’d be quite hard to try and revise it all. Additionally, even if you were to revise it all, I think that would undermine the authenticity of the theory in general.

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