All posts by Gordon Waldman

Chimps and Folk Psychology

Like many philosophical texts that I have read in this class Churchland’s article changed my views multiple times in the minutes I was reading. The way many of these texts are written sometimes has you convinced of one thing and then quickly makes you realize how foolish you were for ever believing that idea in the first place. When first reading Churchland’s description of folk psychology I thought that this theory of mind seemed very sensible and seemed to work with my current beliefs of the way the world works. However, after reading his section “Why Folk Psychology might (really) be false” I was completely convinced of the opposite. All of his arguments against folk psychology made sense but one critique that Churchland just barely touched on really caught my attention.

Churhland states “One particularly outstanding mystery is the nature of the learning process itself, especially where it involves large-scale conceptual change, and especially as it appears in its pre-linguistic or entirely nonlinguistic form (as in infants and ani- mals), which is by far the most common form in nature. “ (596) I had not thought of this idea when originally agreeing with the ideas of folk psychology and was especially intrigued by Churchland mention of animals who have no capacity for language. I did a quick Google search for “folk psychology animals” and immediately came up with results. The most prominent results were about a book called Do Apes Read Minds?: Toward a New Folk Psychology by Kristin Andrews. Although I couldn’t get a hold of actual pages from the book I found a  great summary, which I have cited below, that shed light on Kristin Andrews’ argument.

Andrews discusses that modern science and study has made many realize how similar apes and other primates are to us as humans, even in terms of “doing” folk psychology. It seems that chimps track goals as well as perceptual awareness in other chimps. These animals use past experience and memory as well as their current states to understand other chimps they come in contact with. However, the traditional view of folk psychology as we have seen from Churchland has a lot to do with someone being able to understand beliefs. Many people are extremely hesitant to say animals like chimps can understand the beliefs of other chimps or even have beliefs themselves. Even experiments that have been done seem to suggest that chimps cannot understand false beliefs and possibly beliefs in general. So there seems to be a bit of a problem here because chimps are extremely social and complex animals who understand each other and can predict and even foresee the actions of others, yet they seem to not have the capability to understand beliefs, a key part of folk psychology. Andrews goes on to suggest that because of this information and much more that she talks about in her book a new definition of folk psychology or it must be abandoned as a theory entirely.



Attempting to Poke Holes in Descartes’ Argument

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Descartes’ ideas and seeing him struggle to try and rap his mind around these tough questions. I honestly agreed with a lot of what he argued but in this blog post I would like to try to play Devils advocate a tiny bit, even if I don’t actually believe what I am writing. I wanted to start with Descartes’ major idea in these Meditations, “I think, therefore I am.” It seems logical enough especially after he goes into detail about this particular belief. However, one question popped into my head after mulling over Descartes’ argument for a while. When exactly do humans first acquire the ability to think? Or even more so when do humans first become conscious of who they are or what they are?

Like any good member of the millennial generation I took to the Internet to answer this question. A quick Google search displayed a wide variety of results, one of which I have shared with you all below. As I had originally suspected there is a period of human life where we are incapable of thought and that is when we are in our mother’s uterus. The question I would ask Descartes is that if thought was the only evidence he could find for his existence, does that mean a baby who is not yet capable of thought does not truly exist? It is an interesting thing to think about, and I would argue that that unborn baby does exist all though its brain is not fully formed yet, and it is not even close to being able to think of these philosophical questions. I understand that Descartes is using thought as pure evidence that we are in fact something, but it does still beg the question are we something before we can think?

Building off that, I would also like to talk about Descartes’ hypothetical idea that instead of a loving all-powerful God there is a sinister controlling being that could be deceiving us at every point in our lives. I agree that this could possibly be the case or at least there is no proof that this is not the case, however I think Descartes overlooks something that also relates to his hypothesis “I think therefore I am.” If this evil being really was all-powerful and able to control what we see and believe couldn’t he control our very thoughts too? What is so powerful about Descartes’ idea of thinking if our whole consciousness could be entirely controlled by a malevolent force?

Even the very process of thinking about these big questions could be controlled by this evil and could be leading us in a completely false direction. And even more so, if our very thoughts were completely controlled by something else does that really count as thinking? It seems like the very idea of thinking revolves around being independent and free to explore your own mind. If some other being in fact controlled our thoughts I am not sure we could consider them thoughts. And if that is the case, that we can’t actually say for sure that we are thinking, Descartes whole proof of existence falls apart.