All posts by Derek Liu

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.

Skeptic of Skepticism

How do we know that we do not know?

At first glance, meditations 1 and 2 by Descartes seem like the foundation of a skeptical argument. However, when analyzed at a deeper level, his argument is not as much of a skeptical approach as it seems.

To begin, Descartes offers the dream, deceiving God, and evil demons arguments, each building off the premise that our senses can be deceiving. Although Descartes poses a strong argument, each situation can be evaluated for its weaknesses. Firstly, even though dreams can resemble much of what one sees in the real world, there are still notable differences. Seen in the movie Inception, the biggest difference seen in the dream world is a lack in continuity. Therefore, although not obvious, it can be argued that it is possible for one to know that he is not dreaming and in fact present in the real world.

When considering Descartes’s deceiving God, and evil demons arguments, it is a very far possible world. It is just as likely, if not more, that these two things do not exist. Due to the fact that they are very far possible worlds, Descartes does not actually give sufficient evidence to prove that these possibilities are true.

Descartes says that some people or things may be more deceived. However, consider the process of deceiving. According to the JTB account of knowledge and many others, in order to know that one is deceived, one must first believe he is being deceived, and one must also be justified in having that belief.  In order to fulfill these requirements, one must first realize that he is being deceived. Once one realizes that he is being deceived, is the deception still a deception? When applied to the broader term of skepticism, can one still be a skeptic if one realizes that the entire world around him is a deception?

This argument however, leads into Descartes’s second meditation. In this meditation, the hopeful seems to make a more powerful argument. When arguing with the doubtful skeptic, the hopeful says: “for if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed.” (4) Take for instance, that one was actually a brain-in-a-vat. Even if the brain was being stimulated by other sources, the brain itself does actually exist. Therefore, it could not possibly be true that nothing exists. If one is able to have sensory intake, it is very possible that the intake itself is a deception; however, the thing that is taking information, the “I” in the case of Descartes’s second meditation, must exist.

Descartes arguments seem to be very powerful in the questions that it stirs among philosophers throughout the ages. Although many aspects of his arguments, especially in the first meditation, can be used for a skeptical argument, it is very important to realize that that is not the sole purpose that Descartes is trying to convey. Descartes’s arguments should be used by philosophers, to be aware of the world and their knowledge of it, instead of rejecting it as a whole.

Other sources: “Important Arguments from Descartes’ Meditations.” Web.