View Full Version : The Evolution of Mental States
January 15th, 2006, 06:01 PM
I thought I'd post a little about what I'm interested in in order to try and find points of contact with people on this forum. I'm coming from a naturalist / materialist philosophy perspective where philosophy is on a continuum with the natural sciences, and the relationship between philosophy and science is reciprocal. My main area of interest is philosophy of mind (including philosophy of psychology / psychiatry / psychopathology) and I have fairly recently developed an interest in evolutionary psychology / biology / behavioural ecology especially as it may assist us in working out the function of mental states (belief, desire, emotion etc).
I've done some reading on the evolution of belief. I'm not sure how this will compare to other peoples reading: Daniel Dennett (the evolution of consciousness, belief, desire); Ruth Millikan (the notion of 'proper function'); Kim Sterelney (evolution of belief, desire) and really... Thats just about it. (Fairly recent interest...)
My current area of interest is emotion. Are emotions natural kinds? How are emotions different to / the same as / related to other cognitive states such as belief and desire? What different kinds of emotion are there? The idea is basically to start with affect programs and try and build up to the 'more complex emotion episodes of interest to moral psychologists'. Also the notion of Machiavellian emotions (excuse my spelling).
The main text here is Paul E. Griffiths:
And there are a couple papers which develop the ideas too (the following will download the pdf)...
Anyway... Any comments, thoughts, or points of contact?
January 16th, 2006, 07:23 PM
I have looked for the books you mentioned and I'm not having much luck. I found Millikan and Dennett (of course) at Amazon but Sterelney isn't known to them - perhaps he's just writes for scholarly publications and journals.
And for Dennett and Millikan - the books you listed were not there. Did you get the titles right?
Thanks for any help, Margaret
January 16th, 2006, 11:24 PM
Ah. I was listing themes rather than names of books – sorry for not being clearer. I guess I was wondering whether the authors were familiar to people (because they are typically considered philosophers rather than evolutionary psychologists).
“Kinds of Minds”
He has also written a book called “Darwin’s Dangerous Ideas” (which I haven’t read)
The ideas come up in more academic (philosophy) papers too. Philosophers tend to think of those books as a more ‘popularist’ (though relatively accessible) account of his position…
Reprints of his articles (harder going typically) are available from here:
KIM STERELNY (sorry for the typo)
“Thought in a Hostile World”
“Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology” (With Paul E. Griffiths)
Some online papers are available from here:
RUTH MILLIKAN (I have just read one fairly seminal paper on “proper function” – but I probably should read this at some point…)
“Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories”
January 17th, 2006, 12:28 PM
Given a choice between philosophy and my fingertips, I bet on the second. That decision may represent a philosophy but it also reflects the order in which we assembled ourselves. JB
A: "I'm coming from a naturalist / materialist philosophy perspective where philosophy is on a continuum with the natural sciences, and the relationship between philosophy and science is reciprocal."
We differ, I wish you well. I view words and philosophy as derivatives of physics and some juicy stuff (chem & bio) in between. Check Pinker, Blank Slate, for his case that our verbal apparatus is a "spin doctor." (You might enjoy a paper by Lehn on evolution in soups of complex chemicals. Orig published in Science or Nature about two years ago, available at www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.072065599) Also remember Geoff Miller's concept (2000, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. NY: Doubleday) that our thoughts are ornaments that serve sexual selection: expensive, blossoms in early puberty, is disproprotionate the environmental necessities, and is easy to learn and fun to do!
As for "reciprocal," environments and genes modify each other (eg Lewontin, R., 1998/2000, Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment. Cambridge, MA, Harvard, and another eg, Richerson, P, & Boyd, R (2005) Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, or Odling-Smee & his tribe [Odling-Smee F.J., Laland, K.N., & Feldman, M.W. (2003) Niche Construction. The Neglected Process in Evolution. Monographs in Population Biology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press] but I view philosophy as usually having local effects within clusters and most of it superstitions that serve to increase compliance with local traditions and to suppress individual variation. (omigod.)
I know, however, that your interest is more persistent than mine and you may enjoy some of the arcana that Christian Perring assembles along with members of the NYAssoc for Adv Philos & Psychiatry. You can find him on Google...
A: "it may assist us in working out the function of mental states (belief, desire, emotion etc)"
A hot area: check David Smith's group on cognitive psychology and evolution. You might also get into Barabasi's "Linked" (about $15, paper, very clear, almost revolutionary as well as evolutionary. The cognitive people pretend that they discovered networks! Network physics gives us a revised, even-PC definition of "fitness"!) Please hold onto Stu Kauffman's idea (Kauffman, S. (2000) Investigations. NY: Oxford.) that emergent organizations discover self-interest when they discover resources. That is, my love for a bike competes with and shows no mercy to my other responsibilities. Such networks also recruit allies. Similar to Dawkins's 1976 metaphor but with a different level of detail and explanation.)
A: "My current area of interest is emotion. Are emotions natural kinds? How are emotions different to / the same as / related to other cognitive states such as belief and desire?"
Fred shared this obsession two years ago. He LOVED LeDoux's work. ("J" not "Chris"! LeDoux, J. (1996) The Emotional Brain. NY: Simon & Schuster.) Check also Bob Wright (Wright, R. (1994) The Moral Animal. The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology. New York: Pantheon.) and Trivers Trivers, R. (2002) Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected Papers of Robert Trivers. NY: Oxford). I find Trivers to be compelling with his concept of emotions as enforcers for the reciprocity system. Can also be related to Stu Kauffman's ramblings about chaos and stasis (Kauffman, S., 1995, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self Organization and Complexity. NY: Oxford.) Implication: we go through life doing one of two things from instant to instant...we "simplify" or "complicate" our niche by means of emotions and according to content that we assemble or encounter (Brody, 2002, From Physics and Evolutionary Neuroscience to Psychotherapy: Phase Transitions and Adaptations, Diagnosis and Treatment. In G. Cory & R. Gardner (Eds.) The Evolutionary Neuroethology of Paul MacLean: Convergences & Frontiers, Praeger-Greenwood, pp. 231-259)
An individual can be thought of not only as an explorer and builder but as the meeting point between past and future. Past and future are more chaotic than present and present is the phase transition between them. I envy the years that you have ahead. Never think that you're just another F'n phase transition...every damned one of us is unique.
January 19th, 2006, 07:17 AM
> I view words and philosophy as derivatives of physics and some juicy stuff (chem & bio) in between.
You might want to leave a role for mental states (beliefs / meanings / contents) being something like states of a software program that is implemented on the neural hardware of the brain, but yup, I hear you. Thats what I meant by being a 'naturalist' / 'materialist' philosopher.
Peering back from our god-like vantage points, what do we see? Natural phenomena (molecules etc) appeared on the scene long before they managed to arrange themselves so as to produce mental phenomena like beliefs etc. And the emergence of beliefs pre-dates the emergence of theories (if theories are viewed as structured sets of statements / beliefs)
When it comes to offering an explanation for natural phenomena, then philosophy pre-dates the sciences, however. In the beginning there was religion (and appeals to the gods). Next up were the ancient philosophers who attempted to leave god out of it and theorise about the nature of the natural world (among other things). Everything was water, or fire, or composed of atoms, or whatever. Telling a 'just so' story is one thing... But philosophers also turned toward the natural world. Aristotle did work on classifying different flora and fauna, for instance and he may well have been the first biologist.
Then (well, after a long while) philosophers started considering the methods that were suited to the empirical study of the natural world ('natural philosophy'). Once those methods were worked out... Scientists were able to practice routine science by applying those methods to the study of specific phenomena (running experiments and the like). Have you read T. Kuhn at all? He is more a scientist than a philosopher but he writes on the relationship between theory (aka philosophy) and 'routine science' (though apologists consdier he is often misunderstood because he had a tendancy to say things he didn't really mean)...
Crucial experiments are most interesting. When there are two different theories (or philosophies if you like) and they are rivals (cannot both be true). The different theories entail that different phenomena will be observed and a crucial experiment is supposed to determine which of the theories is 'supported' and which is 'falsified'. Though in practice... Things are rather messier than that :-( So here we have theory providing motivation for experiments (because predictions fall out of theories). And once you have your experimental results... The significance of those... Needs to be interpreted. And philosophers aren't too bad at that either ;-)
In the beginning (of academia if you like) there was philosophy. Then as the methods were worked out... Different branches of philosophy broke off and became independent disciplines in their own right. (And typically turned hostile towards their origins and denied their founders were philosophers). Philosophy... Well, stick 'philosophy of' in front of any science (or discipline) you like and it is a legitimate subject matter for a philosopher once more. We study theory. And philosophy (as a discipline) continues to pick up the topics that we haven't really figured out the methodology for yet. We have yet to develop scientific methodology for the study of consciousness (note: I am talking about consciousness as an essentially subjective state that feels a certain special way to the experiencer - I am not talking about objective states like reportability or wakefulness). We have yet to develop scientific methodology for the study of ethics and aesthetics. But maybe one day ;-) Though it might involve revising our conception of science just a little bit...
(e.g., are states of a software program physical / material states?)
How do we differ?
Maybe my conception of philosophy is a little different from yours?
> but I view philosophy as usually having local effects within clusters and most of it superstitions that serve to increase compliance with local traditions and to suppress individual variation. (omigod.)
That doesn't sound like the philosophy I know ;-)
I've heard of LeDoux and have been meaning to read 'The Emotional Brain'. I need to recall it because it is impossible to pick it up off the shelf. But he did some work on the neural basis for fear (in particular) I believe... Aside from that... I haven't heard of the other stuff / people you mention - though I shall have a look. Thanks for passing that on to me :-)
Er... I am a little worried about your conception of philosophy ;-)
Are you thinking it is about the ancient philosophers, or Sartre, or Derrrida, or whoever?
That is continental philosophy. Continental philosophy is to analytic philosophy as psychoanalysis is to cognitive neuro-psychology.
January 19th, 2006, 12:23 PM
Alexandra: My current area of interest is emotion. Are emotions natural kinds? How are emotions different to / the same as / related to other cognitive states such as belief and desire?
Here’s something I posted (in 2002) on the Cognitive Therapy Forum regarding LeDoux’s Synaptic Self, (2001), the best book/science on the biology of emotion available (at least back in 2002, IMHO)—
CT (Cognitive therapy) assumes that the individual's perception and interpretation of situations shapes the emotional and behavioral responses to the situation, and the term “cognition” is used broadly and treated as being synonymous with information processing. The problem is that “information processing” is uselessly broad. What else is there? Physical pain can be viewed as information processing as can virtually any other bodily function of humans, or any other creature for that matter.
Anyway, current neuroscience has pretty much determined how cognition, emotion, and motivation – the mental trilogy – actually work and what they are. In the last pages of Synaptic Self (2001), LeDoux writes the following:
... there is an imperfect set of connections between cognitive and emotional systems in the current stage of evolution of the human brain. This state of affairs is part of the price we pay for having newly evolved cognitive capacities that are not yet fully integrated into our brains. Although this is also a problem for other primates, it is particularly acute for humans, since the brain of our species, especially our cortex, was extensively rewired in the process of acquiring natural language functions.
Language both required additional cognitive capacities and made new ones possible, and these changes took space and connections to achieve. The space problem was solved…, by moving some things around in existing cortical space, and also by adding more space. But the connection problem was only partially solved. The part that was solved, connectivity within the cortical processing networks, made enhanced cognitive capacities of the hominid brain possible. But the part that hasn’t been fully solved is connectivity between cognitive systems and other parts of the mental trilogy – emotional and motivational systems. This is why a brilliant mathematician or artists, or a successful entrepreneur, can like anyone else fall victim to sexual seduction, road rage, or jealousy, or… depression or anxiety. Our brain has not evolved to the point where the new systems that make complex thinking possible can easily control the old systems that give rise to our base needs and motives, and emotional reactions. This doesn’t mean that we’re simply victims of our brains and should just give in to our urges. It means that downward causation is sometimes hard work. ‘Doing’ the right thing doesn’t always flow naturally form ‘knowing’ what the right thing to do is. [From LeDoux’s Synaptic Self, (2001), pgs. 322-323]
LeDoux’s model and in a nutshell explanation of the human brain/mind (the “mental trilogy”) and its shaping by evolution (and resulting weakness of cognitive influence over emotional systems) seems to be the way things actually work. I see it as the only reasonable way to begin to view and explain the brain/mind and the only reasonable way to begin to truly understand human emotion and suffering.
January 19th, 2006, 09:27 PM
Hey. Thanks for your response :)
I will need to get hold of that book. I have heard that a problem with the Griffiths book on emotions is that it was written prior to that one, and thus he doesn't engage with LeDoux’s more recent findings / ideas. Hardly his fault, but it means that there is more work to be done :) . I am between universities at the moment and the book needs to be interloaned (from this end at any rate) so I shall wait until after my move - but I will be sure to get it.
My last project was on delusions. In particular the Capgras and Cotard delusions as they arise in response to cerebral trauma. In the Capgras delusion the person maintains that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor and in the Cotard delusion the person maintains that they are dead. While delusions are typically considered to be paradigmatic cases of irrational belief that seems to preclude us being able to understand them (as a matter of principle). The current idea is to take a 'bottom-up' (data driven) approach. In particular... It has been found that people with the Capgras delusion exhibit reduced SGR (as a measure of physiological arousal) to faces who are familiar to them when compared to non-delusional controls. While perceptually they recognise the person looks just like the original affectively their response system seems to be giving them the message that the person is not that person they shared an emotional connection to.
The splitting of perception and affect.
I was interested in the notion of a fast, low level, unconscious, familiarity mechanism. Maybe it functions as a fast processor of information where the point is that people who are unfamiliar - it is wise to be alert around until their status as a threat / friend is made apparant.
I think there would be an evolutionary function for the priority of affective responses (also drives / motivations / desires) over reason. Drives / motivations / desires would be more likely to track biological needs (when all goes well).
A problem with the 'familiarity mechanism' idea is that people have a reduced (not heightened) affective response to strangers... And thus it would seem to be a little backwards (in the sense that they would be more relaxed around strangers than people who were familiar to them).
Also... Sounds like a 'just so' story... We would need independent reason to believe...
January 21st, 2006, 04:53 PM
One version refers to "the word" and might give some priority to religion and priority is an important thing. (See bios of Darwin & Wallace).
Alexandra echos this biblical truism. "then philosophy pre-dates the sciences, however. In the beginning there was religion (and appeals to the gods)"
Please consider religion as a "flocking thing" and no more: words reinforce ancient survival systems. My reference was not to human evolution but to that of life: action preceeds thought in our emergence in the old days and now both in utero and infancy...
Chapter 5, Rebels, Deviants, & Individualists. nearly done by gawd!, 2006, James Brody, all rights reserved.
February 9th, 2006, 03:37 AM
> Alexandra echos this biblical truism. "then philosophy pre-dates the sciences, however. In the beginning there was religion (and appeals to the gods)"
>Please consider religion as a "flocking thing" and no more: words reinforce ancient survival systems. My reference was not to human evolution but to that of life: action preceeds thought in our emergence in the old days and now both in utero and infancy...
Ah. I take your point and revise my comment thus:
In the beginning of our attempt to explain / make sense of the world there was religion (and appeals to the gods)...
February 14th, 2006, 12:03 AM
Dennett, to me, is the most relentlessly naturalistic of the modern philosophers, and as such his work is essential to understanding how it might be possible to have a scientific account of the mind going forward. The latest incarnation of his approach is the "Fantasy Echo" theory of consciousness. Dennett's "Sweet Dreams" is a collection of essays relevant to his functionalist content-first account of consciousness. It is imperfectly edited, but would be my first choice for a general overview of his approach, and introduces the Fantasy Echo theory. I would also recommend several of the critical volumes on Dennett, because he tends to respond unusually well to critiques, and his views have been clarified more for me by his response to the critiques than to Dennett's own essays.
Kim Sterelny, who has written critiques of various aspects of Dennett's work, is a nice complement to Dennett because he agrees on Dennett's general physicalist approach but differs on some interesting details regarding the "intentional stance" and the representational view of the mind. Sterelny's "The Representational Theory of Mind" is dated, but to my mind is still a classic introduction to the fundamental issues involved in a physicalist theory of mind. I still refer back to it after years on the shelf when I want to get a better understanding of what motivates various physical models for the human mind.
Another good souce is the critical literature on Paul and Patricia Churchland, who like Dan Dennett are very good at responding with clarity to their loyal opposition. THe Churchlands are basically neural eliminativists, they look for models that reduce folk psychology to something neurological. Dennett, in comparison, seems to take a slightly more realist view of intentional psychology, and I find his case persuasive.
Millikan goes pretty deeply into the reference problem and has an interesting and plausible approach based on the skills for re-identifying things from one context to the next. It is useful for realist philosophy of science, an epistemological approach to concepts, but I think scientific realism is pretty much a given if you are following people like Dennett with interest.
If you are looking for philosophy of science, my two favorite modern sources are Susan Haack ("Defending Science: Within Reason") and Ian Hacking's idiosyncratic but wonderful text, "Representing and Intervening."
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