green-family-scenario - 2 Introduction Cognitive scientists...

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Unformatted text preview: 2 Introduction Cognitive scientists are embarked on a collective and long-term enterprise to understand the mind scientifically. What does it mean to think scientifically about the mind? How does such thinking compare with everyday thinking about people? Please read the scenario in box 1.1 as we will be referring to it throughout this book with the aim of illustrating cognitive science. Hopefully, you will have no problem understanding what is going on, primarily because, like us, you have a sense of why people do what they do. As social agents, we need such a sense because we need to be able to plan our actions, predict what might happen in certain circumstances and be able to explain events in order to decide what actions to take. So, for example, Lucy, perhaps aware that her father would object to her Visiting her friend, sought her mother’s support. On overhearing Dad’s objection, she tried to placate him with an offering of his favourite jam. What matters to us as social agents is whether our knowledge of the social and physical world, and our methods for handling various problems, are sufficient to allow us to meet our practical concerns. We learn, or infer, the relationship between concepts and observations. Suppose, for example, the following morning, Lucy spoke to Dad without looking at him. Dad might infer that Lucy was angry with him, because when people are angry they either stare at one or look away. He might also infer that Lucy was angry because he did not relent. He based this inference on the fact that people get angry when they are thwarted. In everyday life, we do not go on to ask how such a capacity for inference is possible. In accounting for why she forgot where Granny went on holiday, Mom might say it was because she is forgetful. In everyday life, we do not go on to ask what is involved in remembering or in forgetting things. We rarely seek to explain the normal. We do not ask: how is it possible that Mom is able to read the letter? How is it possible that she was able to remember seeing the tray in the living room? We do not ask: how do we recognize a coffee pot or, assuming a dramatic staging of the scenario, distinguish Lucy’s voice and face from Zara’s voice and face? And yet these are most remarkable achievements! Clearly there are occasions when We do extend our accounts, such as when something unexpected happens or when things break down. Suppose Granny had a stroke and was unable to write. We would attribute her inability to the physical effects of the stroke rather than to some emotional cause. In our everyday explanations, then, we do (but perhaps not as much as we could) distinguish between what someone does and their motives or dispositions. Occasionally, we also appeal to possible physical factors. But our everyday accounts, however subtle, are particular rather than general. As part of our upbringing, we also learn certain methods for achieving our goals. Methods, for example, for coping with difficulties (e.g., ring the doctor if a fever has continued for a period of time). However, we do not generally consider whether a given method is both necessary and suffi— cient. It is whether or not it works that matters, for instance, given a headache, we may reach for the aspirin. The general point is this: our thinking and practical actions are determined by the goals we have in mind. Introduction 3 Box 1.1 The scenario This is a fictional conversation over breakfast between two adults, Mom and Dad, their teenage daughter, Lucy, and, their two and a half year-old daughter, Zara. It is set in a kitchen/living room. The phone rings. Mom picks up the phone, listens, and says: “I'll get her. How’s the coffee?“ Lucy: "Started." Lucy goes to phone. Zara in high chair at the table, reaches forward toward milk carton, saying: “More milk, mommy!” _ Dad: “Here’s some milk." Zara turns towards the cupboard, points and says, “Mommy, — ops!" Mom: “Hm? What darling?" _ r Zara: “Pops! Pops!“ ' , _ Mom: “Oh, can you get her some — I'm seeing to the toast." Lucy: “I’m eating at Jane’s tonight, Mom — OK?" Dad: “I thought it was your homework evening." Door bell rings. Lucy: “I’ll go." I . , Mom frowning: “She's worked every night, John." Dad: “She didn’t work last night. She sat in front of the TV.” Lucy: “For you, from Gran I think.“ Mom struggling to open the parcel. Zara: “Gran send me bear.", _ Mom: “That's right! Granny sent you your bear for your birthday, last month. didn't she?” Mom goes out to the living room. Dad: “Toast! Lucy! It’s Etna in here.” Lucy opens the windows in the kitchen. Lucy: “I’ll make some more." Lucy discovers the toaster is broken. She makes toast heating the bread in a frying pan. Zara: bangs the table “Allgone! Gone!" Dad: “Yes, you’ve eaten it up . . . cleared the bowl. Lucy are you pouring the coffee? Where's the butter? Can you bring it over? And the jam.” Lucy: “Anyone seen the tray?" Dad: “it’s not over here.” Mom comes back with scissors and opens the parcel. Mom: “It‘s a jumper for Zara. Look, won't she look great!" Mom puts down the jumper and starts to read the letter enclosed. “She says she has fixed up something . . . what’s this? ‘nolinay’? Ah! ‘holiday’! Granny’s writing doesn't improve. ‘l’ve fixed up a holiday with friends who have a yacht. We’re sailing to the Polish port of (she spells out the letters) SZCZECIN. I’ve never been sailing before.’ Where did she go last year? I’ve completely forgotten." Lucy: “Mom, have you seen the tray?" Dad: “The Grand Canyon. I remember the postcard she sent us." The cat comes in, stretches, and lies down. Mom: “I just saw it in the living room." Lucy comes across with the toast, butter, jam, coffee pot, and mugs on the bread board. Dad: “Ah you little monster! My favourite jam. You still have to work tonight!" 4 Introduction How then does scientific thinking about the mind contrast with everyday thinking about the mind? In thinking scientifically about the mind we aim not only to generate explanations that allow us to predict observable behavior but we also want these accounts to be general and to use the fewest explanatory concepts possible. As cognitive scientists, we are primarily interested in such matters as how individuals have the capacity to see the world, how they are able to plan actions in the world, and how they manage to understand one another. We also need special methods for testing accounts. These methods need to be valid (i.e., measure what they claim to measure) and to be reliable (i.e., produce data that are replicable). Cognitive scientists also make use of methods aimed at ensuring that ideas are as explicit as possible. Here you might raise a number of objections to the very idea of a science of mind. We have written one such objection below in the form of what we call a self—assessment question or SAQ. Try to answer the question in SAQ 1.1 before reading on. SAO 1.1 How would you reply to someone who said that the mental worlds of human beings are too complex for scientific understanding? The question of how the mind should be conceived is a crucial issue: one possibility is that the mind is modular. The basic notion can be understood by way of an analogy. Faced with preparing breakfast, what do people typically do? They do not try and do everything at once. Instead, the task is broken down into various component tasks: making coffee; making toast; preparing the table. Where more than one person is involved these tasks can be shared out. In the scenario, of course, Lucy seems to have drawn the short straw! The analogy to the mind is this: different mental systems or modules may process different kinds of information relevant to the achievement of a particular task. The fact that we have different organs for seeing and hearing, for instance, suggests that the mind might consist of many special mechanisms adapted to carrying out different tasks. In other words, its design is modular. What other objections could be raised to the enterprise? One concern you might have is that mental events are private. Consider the question posed in SAQ 1.2. SAO 1.2 What methods can you imagine for observing or measuring mental events? A number of methods have been developed. All mental operations take time and so we can observe their influence on the speed of response to specific probe questions just as a physicist might observe the effects of an invisible particle by its effects on other known particles in a cloud chamber. We infer processes from the reports of subjects in experiments making simple judg- Introduction 5 ments (e.g., do they see a particular face as sneering or smiling?) or from the reports or protocols that individuals make during their problem solving. Other distinct methods are also possible: we can infer the nature of mental opera- tions from the kinds of slips and errors that people make. For example, the fact that Mom intended some action (to make the toast) but did not carry it out (Mom let the toast burn) suggests that unless individuals take special precautions, some routine action (making toast) can be overridden by some more salient activity (opening a parcel from Granny). We can also infer the existence of certain mental processes and representations as a result of the performance of individuals who have suffered brain damage, perhaps as the result of a stroke. More recently, in combination with an understanding of the nature of the mental operations, we can use brain—imaging techniques that make visible areas of the brain subserving such operations. Our position is this: we see no fundamental objections to the scientific study of mind. The next step is to characterize the science of mind. ...
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