A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A New Look At New Realism

It is finally out! A New Look at New Realism was officially published two weeks ago, and is now available on Amazon!  This is the first book about the philosophy and psychology of E. B. Holt. It shows convincingly (if Vincent Colapietro's kind words are to be believed) that Holt's work is relevant to contemporary issues, both empirical and theoretical. The book is an edited volume that I began soliciting contributions for 4 years ago, while still a lowly post-doc who could have been gone from the academic scene in a blip. I am still amazed at the quality of the scholars who agreed to contribute, and the quality of the chapters they produced.

To give people an idea of the scope of the book, I am going to paste the chapter summaries from the introduction below. This is quite a bit over the word limit the publisher wants me to give out for free, but as it is just a series of teaser paragraphs, I'm hoping that if they ever notice, they will agree it is fair.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is the Mind ("UnifiedPsychology" Version)

I've been following the Unified Theory of Psychology blog for a little bit. It is written by Gregg Henriques, who works down at James Madison University, and recently published A New Unified Theory of Psychology. His work is incredibly ambitious. In the service of his efforts to explain what psychology is, he creates an elaborate framework to show how psychology fits within the context of all the rest of science and human knowledge. I've been looking for an excuse to link to, and comment on, some of his work, and his most recent post is about the mind-body problem, which seems like a good excuse. The post is long, and a little dense with Gregg's terminology, so I am going to try to give a summary here, and maybe we can generate some discussion in both locations.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some quick diversions

I have a few more posts about Beyond the Brain left to do, but I want to take a quick break to post about some other things. In part, I'm looking for a change of pace for a little bit, in part I have some other ideas percolating to the fore, and in part I promised to loan the book to a philosophy-professor friend and he is getting testy. Topics I hope to cover in the next few weeks:

  • How Holt suggested we think about brain functions (work for the chapter I am preparing with Andrew and Sabrina)
  • Why we need to be suspicious of physiological "explanations" of behavior
  • How the problem of "illusion" goes to the core of psychophysics, social psych, and comparative psychology.

Topics still coming from Beyond the Brain:
  • The interesting discussion about Anthropomorphism
  • Some instances where the ideas were great, but I didn't quite get the metaphors that were supposed to simply/clarify the ideas. 
  • How far should the "extended cognition" idea should be taken? 

A Final Thought

Just so this post isn't a complete wash, content wise, let me add the line in Barrett's book that most made me stop in shock - unsure if I had just read crazyness or brilliant insight. It is a quote from Peter Hacker (on p. 103) that appears in the middle of the discussion of Gibson's system vs. the alternatives, and as cool as the line is just sitting here, it is even better in context. Hacker states:
To argue that since we can see nothing without having a retinal image therefore what we see is the retinal image is like arguing that since we can buy nothing without money what we buy is money.
Having read the sentence several more times, I'm still not sure if it is crazy, brilliant, or maybe even both.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Beyond the Brain: Ecological Psychology

    Continuing coverage of Beyond the Brain, by Loise Barrett. 

    Barrett dedicates an entire chapter of her book to Ecological Psychology, the study of perception originating from the work of James and Eleanor Gibson, and ideas compatible with the ecological approach fill the book. The coverage is excellent, but shares some of the strangeness of what I might call the "standard presentation" of Gibson's approach. To get an idea how intellectually fun the chapter is, it opens with a quote from John Dewey, goes briefly into Alva Noe's work, then has quotes from James Gibson and Maurice Merleau-Ponty all in the first two pages!

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Beyond the Brain: Embodied Minds and Descriptive Mentalism

    Continuing coverage of Beyond the Brain, by Loise Barrett.

    William James and John Dewey claim that "things are what you experience when you experience those things". Pretty similarly, a basic way of explaining Charles Sanders Peirce's Pragmatism was that "things are what things do" (e.g., to be a 'vector' is to do what vectors do, to be a 'bigot' is to do what bigots do). Both of these ideas were alive and well during the berthing years of Behaviorism, and at least a few of the early behaviorists 'got it' (though notably not Watson). In more modern terms, you could call the resulting synthesis Descriptive Mentalism.The thirty-second version is: A descriptive mentalist asserts that mental terms are, first and foremost, descriptions of behavior, not explanations for behavior. For example, to say an animal intends to do X is to describe something about the way the animal is acting. To connect this approach more explicitly with W. James and Dewey (and Gibson)... If we can identify the things that we experiencethe things that we are attuned towhen we experience an animal as "intending", then we have identified what "intention" is.  

    While there will be several posts on this blog trying to explain descriptive mentalism better, here I hope to show how adopting such a view could have helped Barrett.  

    Embodied Minds

    As I mentioned previously, Barrett does not give the most hardline presentation of embodiment you can find, and overall that is a strength, making the book much more accessible. However, it is still worth noting a few places where Barrett struggles, and a more aggressive view on embodiment could help.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    Tool Use in Fish = Good, Future Planning in Fish = Bad

    As I was working on the next embodiment post, my attention was drawn to the recent report of tool use in fish (for example, this). As this report was exactly on topic with the issues Beyond the Brain is dealing with, it didn't seem a bad idea to take a minute to think about.

    Basically, researchers found a fish that digs small clams out of sand, then swim around with the clam in their mouths until they find an 'appropriate' rock sticking up out of the sand. Then the fish hurl the clam at the rock to break it open and get to the yummy meat inside. My background is in animal behavior, so this all seemed very plausible and very cool. I had never heard of fish doing something exactly like this, but there are species fish do related things, like gathering stones to make 'nests'. So, the argument that fish 'use tools' seems strong, especially if we are willing to accept a graded notion of tool use, and are merely accepted that fish do something on the low end of that spectrum. However, the authors of the report also seem to believe that they have found evidence that the fish plan ahead. That last part seems problematic.