Monday, January 25, 2016
Cog-Neuro-Sci Is Mired In The Wired And So Are We All In The Pooh Bear Fallacy
I came across it again, that prevalent and idiotic framing of minds that is so stupid and so clueless that its only value is in showing how far the materialist framing of reality has damaged modern discourse. It accounts for the idiocy of such philosophers as Daniel Dennett, the Churchlands, etc. who don't seem to understand the first thing about the mistake of using an artificially constructed and metaphorical analogy for our minds as if it can, then, serve to give us knowledge about the thing it is merely a model of. Such an intellectual program is fraught with dangers of exactly the kind that the breezy discussion of our "brains being hard-wired" shows. Though one has come to expect such mistakes in basic logic from professional scientists, that philosophy is in on that act is as much of, if not more of a scandal.
As I've pointed out before, using computers as a model of the human minds they were constructed to mimic is about as stupid as believing you have learned something decisive about the operation of a living human body by studying a department store manikin. But not only such "science" as is all the rage these days but virtually everything from economics and politics to peoples' concepts of their personal identity is through the school-boy level logical fallacies involved.
Reification is the least of it, though it is a part of it. William James' Psycholgist's Fallacy by proxy would seem to also be involved. And even that is inadequate to show how stupid the idea is, the cog-sci-neuro-sci guys not only assume their own conception of a mental state is the actual "thing" they are talking about, they believe the bits of coding contained in a machine is the same thing as peoples' conception of it. They impart a human quality of consciousness to the very machines which they, then, believe reveal something about human minds.
William James, at the advent of psychology, understood the potential problem of doing that, he rather brilliantly understood that such thinking had been promoted by Darwin and Galton in their claims of finding things about human minds from the minds of animals as remotely related to us and our experience of life as ants. His critique of the "comparative method" of psychology shows that as early as 1890, he saw the perils of such assumptions and metaphors. From his Principles of Psychology.
The comparative method, finally, supplements the introspective and experimental methods. This method presupposes a normal psychology of introspection to be established in its main features. But where the origin of these features, or their dependence upon one another, is in question , it is of the utmost importance to trace the phenomenon considered through all its possible variations of types and combination. So it has come to pass that instincts of animals are ransacked to throw light on or own; and that the reasoning faculties of bees and ants, the minds of savages [I think Williams is assuming that his readers have read Darwin who used that word, invariably to describe human populations.] infants, madmen, idiots, the deaf and blind, criminals, and eccentrics, are all invoked in support of this or that special theory about some part of our own mental life. The history of sciences, moral and political institutions, and languages, as types of mental product, are pressed into the same service. Messrs. Darwin and Galton have set the example of circulars of questions sent out by the hundred to those supposed able to reply. The custom has spread, and it will be well for us in the next generation if such circulars are not ranked among the common pests of life. Meanwhile information grows, and results emerge. There are great sources of error in the comparative method. The interpretations of the "psychoses" of animals, savages, and infants is necessarily wild work, in which the personal equation of the investigator has things very much its own way. A savage will be reported to have no moral or religious feeling if his actions shock the observer unduly. A child will be assumed without self-consciousness because he talks of himself in the third person, etc., etc. No rules can be laid down in advance. Comparative observations, to be definite, must usually be made to test some pre-existing hypothesis; and the only thing then is to use as much sagacity as you possess, and to be as candid as you can.
That passage, in the chapter, "The Methods and Snares of Psychology" comes right before the invaluable discussion, "The Sources of Error in Psychology", where (in a general discussion of problems that arise through language and use of words) he elucidates
"The Psychologist's Fallacy." The great snare of the psychologist is the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report. I shall hereafter call this the 'psychologist's fallacy' par excellence. For some of the mischief, here too language is to blame. The psychologist, as we remarked above (p. 183), stands outside of the mental state he speaks of. Both itself and its object are objects for him. Now when it is a cognitive state (precept, thought, concept, etc.), he ordinarily has no other way of naming it than as the thought, precept, etc. of that object. He himself, meanwhile, knowing the self-same object in his way, gets easily led to suppose that the thought, which is of it, knows it in the same way in which he knows it, although this is often very far from being the case. The most fictitious puzzles have been introduced into our science by this means. The so-called question of presentative or representative perception, of whether an object is present to the thought that thinks it by some counterfeit image of itself, or directly and without any intervening image at all; the question of nominalism and conceptualism, of the shape in which things are present when only a general notion of them is before the mind; are comparatively easy questions when once the psychologist's fallacy is eliminated from their treatment, - as we shall ere long see (in Chapter XII).
There is some reason to pardon William James from naively believing that just identifying and introducing the name, "The Psychologist's Fallacy" into his infant science would help it avoid falling into those errors. Though, throughout the massive work in which he notes the incredibly daunting problems of turning psychology into a science, his misgivings of its habits and practices are already documenting a situation that was out of hand. Things would only get worse as psychology metastasized into yet other "sciences" and all hell broke loose. Some have noted that James stopped writing a lot about psychology in the next two decades, I think that just as he imagined the forest of polls we see around us today, perhaps he could see it was hopeless.
As it is, today, people believe that human made machines are are adequate models from which we can derive metaphors that accurately and sufficiently describe human minds. What such scientists and philosophers are doing today is exponentially more clueless and illogical than what James described.
It took the invention of computers based in even more naive and schematic concepts of minds by geeks who were predisposed to present their metaphors as biological and psychological truths to amplify the Psychologist's Fallacy to rock concert levels of stupidity and into the common unwisdom that pervades Western culture, today. The decline in the requirement of scientists to study philosophy in the 20th century and the stultification of philosophy as it hankered after the repute of science has made things far worse than they should have been. I'll point out again that James saw these problems developing in the 1890s and tried to warn people in both professions against them.
The best mathematical modeling of human thinking is and will never be anything but a rough estimate of and primitive mimicry of the real thing in its enormous range of variability and creative potential as found in billions of minds, and like in the far simpler phenomenon of snowflakes, unlikely to ever be exactly alike. There, I made a metaphor, why not claim that the variety in both snowflakes and human minds means that the crystalization potential of water under variable conditions is an adequate metaphor of human minds? It has the virtue of not mistaking a human machine for the thing it mimics. If I were a philosopher, I might call doing that the Pygmalion fallacy or, considering the incredibly childish thinking involved, the Pooh Bear Fallacy. Considering the professional, financial and personal investment of huge numbers of scientists, university-based philosophers, the naive and ignorant college-educated classes and those they influence through the media, producing our common received unwisdom about this, I don't expect but things will get worse. And it will have real and catastrophic consequences.
Posted by The Thought Criminal at 9:02 AM