Two Conditions That a Theory of Mind Must Satisfy


I’ve titled this lecture “Two conditions that a theory of mind must satisfy”, but the more honest title would be “Two conditions that contemporary scientists working in the cognitive science tradition believe a theory of mind and human behavior must satisfy”. But that doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely.

So let me introduce these two conditions, and then I’ve got separate videos that discuss each one in turn, because they’re both interesting and they’re both important.

The first is about the metaphysical foundations for a scientific theory of the mind.

It says that a scientific theory of the mind has to start with the assumption that mental states and mental processes are a manifestation of what is ultimately a physical system.

This amounts to a rejection of metaphysical dualism, as a framework for developing a science of the mind. It’s important for people to understand what this amounts to, and why scientists feel compelled to reject dualism.

The second condition is about an important feature of human cognition that any theory of mind has to account for.

It’s that, as a physical system, our behavior is subject to physical forces and stimulus-response relationships. But our behavior is also special in that it’s reason-following, or reason-respecting.

What does this mean? I’ll give you a quick example.

I see storm clouds coming and I check my phone for the weather report. I see the chance of rain is 80% and it’s going to last for most of the day, so I grab my raincoat and my umbrella before heading out the door.

This behavior, this sequence of transitions from noticing clouds to checking my phone and grabbing my raincoat and umbrella, is a sequence that only makes sense if I’m interpreting the information I’m receiving along the way as offering reasons for action, and the action follows because I had a reason to act that way, I wasn’t just caused to act that way. Or rather, the cause of the action has to analyzed in terms of reasons, which is a different kind of cause than we normally deal with in science.

So, this second principle is that any theory of the mind has to come up with a way of showing how a physical system can be a reason-following system, where the dynamics of the physical system is governed not just by physical forces, but also by the flow of reasons.

As we’ll see, this is where the computer model does some real work, by providing a model for how a physical system could do this.

But in our next video we’ll elaborate on the first condition, which is about the rejection of dualism.