Explanations in the Social Sciences

By Daniel A. Kaufman

I want to sketch some ideas on explanations in the social sciences and how they differ from their counterparts in the physical sciences.  The point is to start a discussion, which I hope will further sharpen my own views on the subject and pave the way for a subsequent, academic paper, as well as a dialogue, with my good friend, Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher and biologist, at the City University of New York.

Clearly, this is a much-discussed topic, and a number of classic works inform my views here, including Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949), Peter Winch’s The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (1958), Jerry Fodor’s “Special Sciences (or the disunity of science as a working hypothesis)”(1974), and of course, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (1953).  That said, for the sake of brevity – and hopefully, clarity – I will not explicitly cite any of these works, here, though they will loom large, in the background.

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1. In the social sciences, we are not interested in explaining/understanding human motor movement, per se, but rather, human action, which consists of motor movements conceived under various intentional descriptions. Thus, in abnormal psychology, we are not interested in, say, the movements of peoples’ eyes and the dilations of their pupils, but in voyeurism.  In social psychology, we are not interested in the tensing and flexing of arms, legs, and hands, but in mob violence.  In economics, we are not interested in the making of ink marks or the pressing of buttons, but in trading practices.  In each case, then, it is the interpretation – and thus, the meaning and significance – of the various, underlying physiological events that provide the impetus for our social scientific investigations, not the physiological events, in themselves.

2. The social sciences seek to identify reasons for the sorts of human actions that I have just described. The question is how we should understand those reasons.  In the physical sciences, the reasons we seek for the behavior of animate and inanimate matter are causes, and beyond the pleasure inherent in discovery, our main reason for wanting to know the causes of things is so that we can predict and thereby, exert some degree of control over our material circumstances.  Of course, ‘cause’ is itself a problematic notion, for which there are competing and thus, controversial accounts (whether probabilistic, counterfactual, or in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions), but I trust that we all have enough of an intuitive sense of what is commonly meant by the term that we will be able to contrast the idea of reasons as causes with the very different conception of reasons that I am going to claim are the bread and butter of social scientific accounts.

How should we understand the sorts of reasons sought in the social sciences?  Imagine that we are told by a clinical psychologist that the reasons for a particular young man’s voyeurism are the feelings of sexual shame and the beliefs concerning his own sexual inadequacy that he acquired, over the course of an abusive childhood; or that a social psychologist says that the reasons for the mob violence we have just observed lie in a list of longstanding, unaddressed grievances on the part of the rioting group, combined with the manipulative rhetoric of their charismatic and demagogic leader; or that an economic analyst tells us that the reason for this particular investment firm’s current trading practices is that its senior partners’ share the belief that we are about to enter a bearish market.  Do these sorts of reasons provide causes, in the sense of ‘cause’ meant in the physical sciences?  I’m not sure and am increasingly inclined to think not.  (More on this a bit later.)

Something that they clearly do is render the behavior in question intelligible in a certain way, by providing us with a series of relevant rationales.  If the identification of lawful cause-effect relationships makes it possible for us to predict future physical events, being given a relevant rationale for something someone has done makes it possible for us, in a sense, to infer it; to see it as rational.  Even when the behavior in question is aberrant and (in another sense of the word) completely irrational – such as that of the voyeur, whose behavior is paraphilic – being provided with reasons of the sort we find in the social sciences enables us to see that the behavior makes a certain kind of sense, within a specifically drawn context.  (It is worth noting, in this vein, that social scientific accounts inevitably require a sensitivity to specific contexts that it is the ambition of genuinely causal accounts to abstract from.)

3. The understanding that results involves the ability to fit the behavior we see in our fellow human beings into a rational story or narrative that is necessary if the human world is to make sense, and it is important to us – very important, I would maintain – that the human world should make sense. Do causes provide us with this sort of understanding?  Does knowledge of causes render the material universe intelligible, in the way that knowledge of rationales renders the human world intelligible?  I don’t think so, but can only give the barest sketch of why, here:

(a) Intelligibility, in the sense of “fitting into a narrative” that I have described, is clearly rationalistic and teleological, and if anything defines the modern revolutions in the natural sciences, it is that they have abandoned a rationalistic and teleological view of nature, in favor of a purely mechanical one.

(b) With every new revolution in the natural sciences, we seem to be moving further and further away from a rationalistic story or narrative about the non-human world, rather than closer to one.  Evolutionary biology tells us that the purpose we perceive in nature is illusory, and quantum mechanics casts doubt on whether classical laws of rationality, like bivalence and the excluded middle, hold.  Thus, the natural world makes less and less sense, rationalistically and teleologically-speaking, as our scientific understanding increases, not more and more.

(c) It is precisely because causal explanations do not render the world intelligible, in this sense, that so many people seek to embed the causal, scientific picture of the world into a larger, supernaturally-infused picture (religion) that will provide that sense of the reasonableness and purposefulness of the non-human world that modern science denies.

4. The theist and the eliminative materialist are thus, mirror images of one another: the theist can’t stand the thought of a material world that cannot be construed as reasonable and purposeful, and the eliminative materialist can’t stand the thought of a human world that can be so constructed.

5. The remaining question is whether the sorts of reasons given in the social sciences – that is, intentional reasons – are also properly deemed causes. Beyond rendering human actions intelligible – beyond helping us to see why peoples’ myriad behaviors make sense – do intentional reasons (what I have been calling “rationales”) also give us the causes of human action, such that we can accurately call the resulting accounts “explanations,” as the term is meant in the natural sciences?

This question is most commonly addressed in the debate over whether Folk Psychology should be thought of as a science and whether folk psychological explanations are properly causal and thus, properly scientific explanations.  (Folk psychological explanations are cast in the intentional idiom.) This is unsurprising, given that psychology is fundamental, relative to the social sciences, much in the way that physics is fundamental to the natural sciences.  Part of the difficulty of construing intentional explanations as causal lies in their irreducibility to physical explanations, though this difficulty is hardly decisive – Fodor, who is responsible for one of the most well-known critiques of inter-theoretic reduction is also one of the strongest advocates for the idea of intentional causation.  The bigger problem, to my mind, is a Wittgensteinian one that concerns the very nature of both intentional states and actions.

The idea of intentional (“reason-action”) causation is supposed to be analogous to that of neurological-motor movement causation.  We understand what it means to say that a particular series of neurological events caused the fingers of my left hand to curl up into a fist.  The neurological causes are clearly identifiable as discrete, localizable events in the brain that make certain other discrete, localizable events in the hand occur.  The problem is that there is no clear, analogous story that we could tell about an intentional reason and an action.  A reason, whether a feeling of sexual inadequacy or the belief that a bear market is coming, is not a discrete, localizable event; unlike neurons firing, one’s feeling of sexual inadequacy or belief that a bear market is coming, are not things inside one’s head, to which we can point.  Intentional states are inherently linguistic, insofar as they involve our representing states of affairs in various ways, and are thus necessarily rule-governed. For reasons that I am not going to state explicitly here, rule-following is an inherently public activity, from which it follows that one cannot follow a rule (and thus, employ language) from “inside” one’s own mind.  To speak, then, of beliefs and desires and feelings and all other manner of intentional states as discrete, localizable things or events “in” the mind or brain can be nothing but a kind of nonsense or at best, a highly misleading, metaphorical way of speaking.

Actions also are not properly identifiable as discrete objects or events, for they too are as much a matter of interpretation – of how things are represented in the public language – as they are a matter of motor movements.  In the Investigations, Wittgenstein famously asked what is “left over,” when I subtract the fact that my arm goes up, from the fact that I raise my arm, and the answer that tempts us is that what is left over is a prior, mental act of intending to raise my arm.  We’ve seen, however, that such an answer must be a mistake – that we cannot construe intentional states like “intending,” “wanting,” “hoping,” and the like as discrete, localizable, internal events – and that there must be something else that makes these motor movements count as raising one’s hand, asking a question, requesting permission to go to the bathroom (the latter two of which, notice, can also be effected by one’s hand raising).  That something else would seem clearly to be various interpretations that are warranted, given relevant features of the context and the linguistic rules and conventions of the speaking community.  But this means that the action of raising your hand is no more a discrete, localizable event in the world, then your desire to ask a question or go to the bathroom is a discrete, localizable event inside your head.

Summarizing this point and wrapping up this “sketch,” for α and β to be related as cause and effect, at a minimum, α and β, must be discrete, localizable, events.  One trouble with the idea of the intentional causation of action, then, is that neither intentional states nor actions can be properly characterized as discrete, localizable events, and to think that they are is to commit what Gilbert Ryle has called a “category error,” one that is easy to make, for the sorts of reasons that Wittgenstein devoted a good portion of his philosophical work to describing.

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I look forward to what I hope will be a rigorous (and vigorous) discussion and to further developing my thoughts on this fascinating and important topic.


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98 responses to “Explanations in the Social Sciences”

  1. Kouts90260

    I hope I can start by stating that the act of reasoning or what is really referencing, can be referenced to be anything. The way of inferring that Wittgenstein would have it, the case is made stronger for those who are familar with the concept of synaesthesia or even more profound for those who have experienced this. Going on in a certian way, there may be, or is no reason for? What I think is a mystery is that we can infer something made reference to in any number of ways. But why? And I mean to phrase more phenomologically than epistemic. Though I understand this a metaphysical problem.

  2. Per Lundberg

    There is no querstion that the natural (physical) sciences are different from the social sciences and the humanities in many respects.
    Here is a recent and rather amusing illustration:
    http://backreaction.blogspot.se/2016/01/free-will-is-dead-lets-bury-it.html

    When I come to my office to do my work as an evolutionary biologist, I don’t pay “desires”, beliefs” or “intention” much attention when I contemplate how and why plants and animals do what they do.
    When I spend time on my sideline project in art history those very notions and concepts are central.

    I think that there isn’t a single, universal definition of “explanation” and it is well illustrated by the standard discussions about “reductionism”. Knowing that collapsing wave functions dictate (“cause”) the inner workings of neurons doesn’t help much when seeking the “causes” of animal behaviors, say.

    On the other hand, I’m not a good enough philosopher to fully appreciate this discussion.

  3. Per Lundberg:

    Not good enough? I think your comment is spot-on!

  4. mpboyle56

    Well, this is really a fine piece. I think the point about intentional action not being a localizable event is very important. Reminds me of Wittgenstein’s admonition of pictures holding us captive.

  5. Hi,

    Good article. I would make a couple of responses.

    In the Investigations, Wittgenstein famously asked what is “left over,” when I subtract the fact that my arm goes up, from the fact that I raise my arm, and the answer that tempts us is that what is left over is a prior, mental act of intending to raise my arm.

    The answer that tempts me is that the difference is that I would, in one case, be bewildered about why my arm was going up. But here Wittgenstein’s curious use of language obscures his response to this:

    And now I do not mean you to ask “But why isn’t one surprised here?”

    Why not? After all it seems to be the relevant question. Does he feel that this will be covered in the discussion that follows? Surely every one has, in our childhood and long before we ever heard of Wittgenstein have realised that we do not know exactly what is going on when our arm goes up. We asked each other, “when you moved your arm, do you know how you moved your arm?” Of course we don’t.

    Do we know why we move our arm? In the light of the first question we must know that answers to this question are now restricted.

    If I am talking on the phone and a family member is leaving the house I raise my arm in farewell. It is because I am talking on the phone. It is because he is leaving. It is because this gesture has developed as the recognisable symbol of a farewell.

    All these seem perfectly good answers to why I raised my arm, what other kind of explanation would one want?

    If I am talking on the phone an my arm goes up and I have no such explanation for it, I am surprised. I can’t see why that is not a perfectly good account of the difference.

    On the other hand I might be in a room and someone goes to high five me and I, without actually wanting to high five them but my arm goes up for the high five in any case. Suddenly I am embarrassed because this gesture has implied agreement to something with which I strongly disagree, but my unconscious mind had fulfilled my part of this gesture without my conscious knowledge.

    So, again, there is a difference between this and the raising my arm in farewell. The difference is that I would have stopped myself doing it if I had realised what I was doing. Raising my arm in farewell might be a similarly automatic reaction, but I would not have stopped myself, the gesture.

    Wittgenstein’s discussion that follows this is not relevant in this case, because in none of these cases did I predict that my arm would go up and still, even without a prediction, there is a difference that can be stated.

    Then I can look at the difference between prediction and intention.

    At school I punched a boy in the corridor as we lined up for class. Everybody assumed that it was an immediate reaction of anger, but in fact I had been planning that punch for over two weeks. I had picked out the place, the time and thought carefully about how hard I would hit him and on what part of his body. I had planned my approach, so it would not be a sucker punch, he would have time to prepare. I had thought about the consequences, he would hit back and a lot harder than I hit him. And that I would be taken to a teacher or the principal and given a talking to and probably given detention, but probably not a suspension.

    It was one of the most intricately planned actions of my life, I knew exactly what I intended this action to achieve.

    But the plan would not have worked unless he had said a specific thing to me at that specific time and place.

    My intention was to punch him at a particular place and time in a particular manner. My prediction was that he would say a particular thing to me at that particular place and time.

    But I could not say that my prediction was that I would punch him at a particular place and time in a particular manner. Because I had no idea whether I would have the courage to go through with it, (he being much larger and fitter than I). So my prediction was not that I would do it, but that I would go through with it.

    So these things seem to fit the bill for explanations. Explanation for the punch. Explanation of why it was an intention. Explanation of the difference between intention and prediction and so on.

    So that is just setting up for the question. Are these explanations categorically different to explanations in the physical sciences. Which I might leave until tomorrow.

  6. 4. The theist and the eliminative materialist are thus, mirror images of one another: the theist can’t stand the thought of a material world that cannot be construed as reasonable and purposeful, and the eliminative materialist can’t stand the thought of a human world that can be so constructed.

    And it might be construed that the rest of us want to have a bet each way.

  7. brodix

    Dan,

    Necessarily a lot of issues. Two that come to the surface are the trigger, versus the energy. We tend to mentally focus on the trigger as cause, but it wouldn’t have caused anything, if there hadn’t been a build up of energy to be released. So we try to frame it is the linear sequence of cognitive perception, but there are lots of non-linear feedback building up to it and released by it.

    Also a point I keep bringing up about time. We think in terms of those sequences of events, such as a batter hitting a ball and running around the bases as it flies away. Yet the real dynamic isn’t the forms our minds extract, as it is the energies flowing through this process, leading from one event to the next. Such that is what is causal isn’t the form, but the energy.

    For instance, there is no physical entity being transferred from the bat to the ball, only kinetic energy and that is what is causal. Yet our nervous system isn’t designed to process energy. That’s for the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. The mind extracts static configurations from this process, then reconstructs the function of motion from them, like a movie consists of a series of stills.

    Necessarily our mind will always be several steps behind the actual events, since its purpose is analysis, while the instinctive motor functions deal with immediate reactive actions. Such that our minds are records of past patterns, while the energy moves onto future actions. Opposite directions of time, as structure recedes into he past, as energy moves to the future.

    So if you want to create a basic paradigm for causal action, it would be the wave. Much like an elemental wave will travel through a quite complex and varied medium, so too will impulses travel through minds and societies, building and receding, like a wave.

    Then you get into more complex patterns, like thermal feedback, as different energy fields interact. Given that the mind is based on stable/static forms, the effect on larger social institutions can be more like plate tectonics, rather than more dynamical weather patterns, with the earthquakes and volcanos around the edges.

    Keeping in mind that all of terrestrial biological existence has evolved in this thermodynamic environment, on the surface of this planet and it is safe to say the essential mechanisms are deeply ingrained into our existence.

    Just as the sequence of thought might resemble a clock, the more non-linear aspects of emotion and intuition function similar to thermostats and pressure valves. Which then gets back to those triggers and the energy build ups.

  8. davidlduffy

    I kind of like Woodward’s definition (which I think is recursive rather than circular): X is a cause if X can act as an intermediate variable in a causal chain, and there is a possible intervention on X. So your three examples all point to possible interventions that will be at the intentional level. And so ties back to scientific knowledge, that is repeated “objective” (at the behavioural/physical level) failures of prediction of a given “high level” cause-effect model are taken as evidence that the model is inadequate – ie cause and effect knowledge is contingent. Defenders of folk psychology would argue it has survived such tests over history, though with considerable accretions – I would argue multiple psychoanalytic concepts (starting with the idea of the subconscious) are now Western folk ideas.

    Coming back to nonlocalizability of causes: in economics for example, what is the cause of a market price? Surely economists would argue the current price arises from the total network of agents and history of transactions.

    Regarding linguistic nature of intentionality – I think many would argue that there is plenty of cause and effect in nonlinguistic conceptual thinking eg your example of sexual shame as simple Pavlovian conditioning at a critical period of development. This is relevant to discussions about the poverty of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology – are there prelinguistic, genetically influenced causes of behaviour about which introspection and dialogue are relatively uninformative?

    Randomly taking one paper in a controversial area:
    http://www.nber.org/papers/w10894
    – the hereditarian explanation does not (cannot) describe any specifics (which genes etc) of the mechanism, merely analogizes with other meristic traits. But if placement effects can be excluded, then other social explanations are hard to find.

    Regarding causation and physics, I suspect that this type of model
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1306.2756.pdf
    suggests causation can be seen as transfer of Shannon entropy between systems. There are a whole series of recent papers that clear up the relationships between different conceptions of information, including how the information inherent in the set-up of a
    physical system is a cause eg setting up a mechanism so it “passively” carries out a useful action. This may or may not generalize to other domains.

  9. DanK,

    Good read; agree with most of it. Not a lot of time now, hope to write more next couple days, especially on the issue of contextualization (which cannot be properly addressed as discrete variables in statistical analysis).

    davidlduffy,

    While the importance of social conditioning cannot be denied, no behaviorist worth anything would ascribe to a “simple Pavlovian” explanation anymore. (Indeed, my understanding is that even Skinner is considered too simplistic generally.) A mechanistic explanation of behavior is impoverished by an inability to account for the many variables that occur in actual behavior. “Sexual shame” is a nice box, but billions of people experience it in billions of ways, overflowing the box until it’s not a box but a sieve through which we pour experience, hoping that enough experiences clump together so that we can make generalizations about them.

    “Surely economists would argue the current price arises from the total network of agents and history of transactions.”

    Possibly; and possibly they would be wrong, especially if they fail to account for individual greed, marketing practices (some intentionally devious), peer pressure, consumer gullibility – etc., etc.

    Too many variables! Even my dog refuses to salivate at the ring of a bell (but she barks when she’s hungry, no matter what time of day; and, well-trained, I feed her).

  10. What I have thought is an ‘explanation’ turns out to match (having rejected other accounts) Nancy Cartwright’s simulacrum* account of explanation – an explanation is a model that fits in a patchwork/framework of other models. “The explanation of a phenomenon requires the construction of a model. The law holds for the objects of the model, not the phenomena themselves. The objects carry only the form or the appearances of the real thing, not the substance and qualities. Therefore they are only simulacrum.”
    * http://www.thur.de/philo/project/cartwright.htm

    With that account, the contrast of explanations in social science with explanations in other sciences becomes the contrast of models.

  11. My son asked me why bubbles form in boiling water and why they rise up. I explained as best I could and I can explain the formation of the bubbles and their shape using local events, but in order to explain why they rise I have to bring in gravity and all the matter above that pot right up to the edges of the atmosphere.

    If I was to go deeper, I might ask why the particles interact as they do, why do they transfer energy, why do the behave in a more or less orderly fashion.

    In other words I cannot explain bubbles forming in boiling water in terms of discrete localisable events. I am not sure if anything can be explained that way.

    And when I say, of a physical system, this causes that or this describes that, am I not just describing the thing in more detail?

    So I am wondering if an explanation in the physical sciences is really categorically different from an explanation in the social sciences. In neither case can we say “this caused that” in terms of discrete localisable events.

    Certainly, knowing the details of how a neuron operates is of no use in knowing how the fight at my school started, but that just means that those reasons are not reducible to the level of neural architecture in any meaningful sense, not that it is a categorically different kind of explanation.

    In neither case can there be one or even a discrete set of things which we could call “the cause”. In each case there are a whole set of factors contributing to the observed events.

    If I say that the causes of the fight were his bullying, his unresponsiveness to any request to desist, or the schools refusal to help or my carefully formed intention to start that fight, I don’t think that I am using the word “cause” wrongly with respect to any of those, because “cause” does not really have a precise enough meaning, either in the social or the physical sciences.

  12. Robin:

    Well, I am claiming — or at least proposing — that the sort of account you’ve given of the punching is not a causal account, for all the reasons I mentioned in the essay. Whether we want to call it an “explanation” depends on how much we want to restrict that term to causal accounts. Certainly, it is not restricted this way in ordinary language, but in philosophy, it really functions as a technical term, so we’ll need to decide how wide or tight we want to keep it. I generally prefer to keep the definitions of technical terms tight and would restrict “explanatory” accounts to causal ones. So, intentional reasons of the sort you describe provide an *account* of your behavior — one that allows it to “make sense” to us — but does not provide an explanation.

    Davidlduffy: I don’t think there is any “non-linguistic” conceptual thinking.

  13. ‘Sue hit Joe,’ the story goes, ‘because he insulted her.’

    If the audience to this sentence knows both Sue and Joe, that may be the end of it, since their personalities are presumed to be understood. Yet greater explanation may be desirable, especially if there are aspects to the personalities of Sue or Joe of which those who know them are unaware.

    Let’s enrich our narrative, with different scenarios.

    ‘Sue hit Joe, because he called her an ugly bitch.’ (Two variations in background: the general consensus is that Sue’s not attractive, or the general consensus is that she is.)

    ‘Sue hit Joe, because he called her a feminist dyke’ (including evident variations in background).

    ‘Sue hit Joe, because he called her a cockteaser.’ Let’s pause here, because the background variations to this rely less on general consensus or social fact concerning the two, and more on their internal motivations and personal boundaries. Joe might have said what he did because he’s contemptuous of Sue; or because he’s sexually frustrated in his longings for her. But Sue may be lashing out because she has unadmitted desires for Joe. She may also have personal gestures that are not flirtation, but may be seen as such by others, and strong personal boundaries; and she is motivated in lashing out to protect those boundaries.

    But let’s go back to the ‘feminist dyke’ example. Joe’s insult hinges on the pejorative nature of the word ‘dyke;’ but there are social and personal facts the insult references: either Sue is a feminist or she is not; either she is a lesbian, or she is not. That seems cut and dried. But now the context demands to be opened up. In what situation did Joe insult Sue? Are they students at the prom? Are they in a barroom after a few drinks? Are they at a feminist political rally? Are they at a gay-lesbian rights rally? If so, are there camera’s recording them (enlarging their audience and providing them with a public stage)? Now they need not be presumed to know each other. They might be engaged in differing political signifying practices – Sue isn’t simply lashing out, she is making a statement.

    A court would determine whether Joe’s provocative speech warranted physical assault in response. However, possible explanations of the event are now beginning to multiply, possibly beyond our powers to merge them into a single narrative. Was Joe drunk when he decided to attend a rally concerning a cause he was hostile to? Was Sue? did either of them recently break up with a loved one? Had either suffered a death in the family; the loss of a job? What if one or both of them happen to be in the military?

    Remember: if we’re talking about a political rally, especially one attended by the media, we’re talking about a possibly national social context, getting interpreted by millions of people with differing political, social, cultural motivations.

    I’ll next address how the social sciences discuss these issues.

  14. But let’s go back to the original narrative, and change its presuppositions:

    ‘Sue hit Joe, because she was drunk.’ Now we no longer bother with Joe’s behavior, but decide to explain Sue’s in the light of her possible drinking habits (and if the court sends her to rehab, that’s exactly the explanation the therapist will be concerned with).

    I start here because it’s important to recognize that the way a social science discusses any behavior has to do with the focus of attention the science presumes. Psychologists researching alcoholic behaviors, or sociologists studying the increasing likelihood of violence from people who are inebriated, aren’t really going to be that interested in any presumed provocation for the behavior – which is not to say that they will be uninterested: for instance assume, for the moment, that Sue and Joe are related, in a family with a history of alcoholism and/or abuse. Then the provocation will take on increased importance – especially when brought before the legal system.

    We should consider, then, that different social sciences having differently focused interests will develop different explanations for the same behavior. A researcher in political science may note whether at a rally, either Joe or Sue had been drinking, but only as an aside. The study will concern the volatile nature of personal confrontations over political issues, and the implications of the media broadcast of these conflicts for the coming election. A sociologist might be more concerned with the ways in which Sue and Joe identify with their different social groups, and why these groups come into conflict. And so on.

    This ‘same behavior, different explanations’ phenomenon we find in the social sciences is actually enrich the value these sciences have for us. Human behavior is extraordinarily complex, and understanding it cannot be reduced to ‘unified theory of everything,’ without doing injustice to the individuals and groups involved.

    But therein lies the weakness of the social sciences, because, as sciences, they need to come up with generalized explanations, even within their specialized focus. Usually this takes the form of statistical analysis and probability predictions derived from these: ‘60% of women named Sue will behave violently, when a man named Joe utters words perceived as insulting, under conditions X, Y, Z.’ The problem with this is, what about the other 40% of women named Sue? Are they now to be held under suspicion that that meetings with any Joe might lead to violence?

    Unlike the natural sciences, where, at least at macro-levels, event B follows event A with complete regularity, as long as all subjects remain of the exact same class under exactly the same conditions, the social sciences can, at best, give us ‘rules of thumb.’ But these have importance, insofar as such ‘rules of thumb’ inform the intuitions that guide our judgments, and can provide us with a picture of ourselves almost as broad, as deep, as variable and complex, as we humans actually are.

  15. Hi Dan,

    Yes, but what I am saying is that there are no causes, in the way you define it, as involving discrete localisable events, in the physical sciencesany more than there are in the physical sciences. See my example.

    I.am doubting that “cause” could be defined in a way so as to make a categorical distinction between a cause and effect described by physics and, for example, the statement that a plan is the cause of it’s successful implementation.

    I think the same goes for “explanation”.

  16. Burton Voorhees

    Re: point 4: This uses polarization into straw men, leading to an at least implicit misapplication of excluded. Obviously, this is to make a point, but it does tend to overlook the important element, namely that many theists have no problem with a mechanical nature (indeed, the mechanistic philosophy was thought by many of its founders to provide a means of saving religion from criticism by Renaissance naturalism: if nature possessed “occult” powers as the naturalists proclaimed then miracles could be explained away as instances of these powers manifesting; if nature was instead completely mechanical then the only explanation for miracles would be God intervening in the mechanism). Modern, scientifically oriented theists have found various ways to reconcile a mechanistic nature with their beliefs, and their conflict with materialist reductionists centers on the nature of man and the human capacity to be aware of non-material realities. Materialists, on the other hand, do not have a problem so much with a human and social world that can be seen as having meaning and purpose, their complaint is that this meaning and purpose must arise through human means, as a matter of human activity rather than through reference to some supernatural deity. In other words, these two streams of narrative disagree at bottom on how meaning and purpose arises, not on their existence or non-existence.

    Much of modern science, both in the “hard” sciences and the social sciences rely on a Newtonian explanatory paradigm, arising from the famous F = ma equation. This tells us that if we see a deviation from a state of equilibrium (uniform motion in a straight line, for example) then we can attribute this deviation to the action of an external force. For example, in population biology if gene frequencies in a population are seen to change over time this is attributed to some form of selection, genetic drift, or other environmental or statistical “force.” This is what is being questioned here—is it possible to treat explanation based on giving intentional reasons in these sort of causal terms? Or, is there a distinction between “cause” and “because?”

    It doesn’t seem to me that causal explanation fails to render the world intelligible. For example, saying that the earth goes around the sun because the solar mass alters the nature of space-time so that the earth follows a natural (geodesic) orbit seems quite intelligible, it appeals directly to understandings of efficiency, least action, economy of motion, and so on. Likewise, being able to explain the energy levels of the hydrogen atom through application of quantum mechanics may lead to questions of why they are as they are, but this becomes intelligible in terms of the laws of quantum theory and the properties of electrons and protons. The narrative used for explanation may be highly mathematical but it is not unintelligible. I think that the actual distinction is that mechanistic explanation rejects use of intentional purpose while explanation of human and social behavior must make reference to belief and intent within a perceived context. In such cases, explanation can only make sense of an event if it includes the psychology of the actors involved and how that psychology influences both their intentions and beliefs about what actions are necessary. And this isn’t a matter of external forces being inferred as causes; rather it is a case of discovering what sort of function can be understood as connecting external context, internal beliefs and perceptions of context (which may be influenced by beliefs), and intended goals. And this may end up leading to self-referential cycles of interaction.

  17. Point 4 does make assumptions. An eliminative materialist may long for meaning and purpose but simply not think they are justified by the facts. A theist might long for the comforts of nihilism but not believe it is warranted.

  18. Hi Dan,

    “I don’t think there is any “non-linguistic” conceptual thinking.”

    Are you sure that this is not just from the perspective of your own mode of thinking? Does Temple Grandin’s ability to think in pictures count as linguistic thinking?

  19. I’m not understanding the question. The possession of a concept is itself linguistic in nature, so there can’t be any non-linguistic conceptual thinking.

  20. This is something that puzzles me about a lot that I read in philosophy. For example in Kripke’s “Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language” he says of the “sceptic” “In particular he can claim that by ‘count’, I formerly meant quount where to ‘quount’ a heap is to count in the ordinary sense, unless the heap was formed as the union of two heaps, one of which has 57 or more items”

    But why does he assume that when I have counted something in the past I needed to think the word ‘count’ in order to count something? Obviously I don’t, if I count something I just count it – I don’t have to preface the operation by thinking or saying the word ‘count’.

    So what I formerly might have meant by the word ‘count’ is not relevant and the sceptics objection, stated like this, does not make any sense. I then wonder if Kripke (and Wittgenstein) are strong verbal thinkers who do need the words when they employ concepts.

  21. “I’m not understanding the question. The possession of a concept is itself linguistic in nature, so there can’t be any non-linguistic conceptual thinking.”

    That seems to presuppose a particular meaning of ‘linguistic’. A child who has no expressed language and only very rudimentary received language is not allowed in a particular room and the latch to it is beyond his reach. So he takes his push car, when no one is looking, and pushes it up to the door, climbs on it to unlatch the door and then, before he goes in, he pushes the car into an entirely different room so that no one can see how he has opened the door.

    That seems to involve quite a lot of reasonably advanced concepts that are nowhere in the child’s expressed or received language.

    So would you then say that the child has an internal language with which he can internally express these concepts to himself?

  22. That seems to involve quite a lot of reasonably advanced concepts that are nowhere in the child’s expressed or received language.

    ———————————

    I don’t see why it requires any concepts at all. Crows exhibit behavior as complex — or more complex — than this.

    As for your last question, as a Wittgensteinian I obviously would never embrace any sort of notion of “mentalese” or internal languages, insofar as all language is essentially public.

  23. brodix

    Robin,

    I think cause boils down to the transfer of energy. The problem is that as we think in terms of sequence, we confuse narrative with cause. In the sense of one event leading to the next. Yet yesterday didn’t cause today, rather the sun shining on a spinning planet creates this effect of days. Which is the energy being transferred.

    It isn’t that a seed causes a tree, but all the energy flowing into and out of it.

    Similarly, I think that if you peel away the forms of most any process, it is the underlaying flow of energy which is fundamentally causal.

    As Deepthrout said of Watergate, “Follow the money.”

    As much as we like to think of ourselves as knowledgeable, the mind’s primary function is to navigate, which is why plants don’t need one. From this we extract narrative, stories, history, civilization. So then we go back and try to construct a physical theory of reality from that and find the dominant paradigm is atomization, that of discrete entities bouncing around. From multiverses, to vibrating strings. Even the universe is assumed to follow a distinct start to probabilisitic finish timeline.

    I think we need to go back and sweep out the closet of our primal assumptions.

  24. brodix

    ps,

    Even the universe is assumed to follow a distinct start to probabilisitic finish timeline, with little regard to the enormous amounts of proposed energy, from the initial singularity, to inflation, to dark matter and energy, required to patch the holes. All that matters is the mathematical patterns need to seem to work.

  25. mpboyle56

    @Robin Herbert:

    “But why does he assume that when I have counted something in the past I needed to think the word ‘count’ in order to count something?”

    He does not assume this. “Count” here refers to a word in the earlier explanation of the rule. One need not per se cogitate the word during the activity- this is why Kripke refers to the internalization of the instructions.

  26. davidlduffy

    Dan K comments: “I don’t see why it requires any concepts at all. Crows exhibit behavior as complex…”

    I will just reiterate that others would disagree with your contention that concepts must be language based, but this may be just terminology. Daniel et al [2015] state “an abstract concept is a relationship that is learned between at least two stimuli that is not bound by perceptual features”, and that even bumble bee colonies can form this type of abstract concept. To my way of thinking, if the crow examples of causal reasoning hold up, this will involve the crow having a concept in mind.

    Early acquired visuospatial concepts are another example, I would argue, that we share by sharing basic neurological structure and a world rather than language eg

    http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~jean/abstract/FoundationsPublished10.pdf

    These basic concepts are used metaphorically to discuss much that is otherwise inexpressible eg music.

    Hi EJ: “a nice box, but billions of people experience it in billions of ways”. This claim can be made for all human experiences, but doesn’t get us very far. What are the commonalities? Let’s make it simpler. Say I am fearful of dogs because I was bitten by one as a small child. I have a unique experience of this phobia with many memories of subsequent dog encounters and an elaborate mythology of which animals or breeds are most to be feared and avoided, and a vivid dream life about them. Now we come to the criticism made of the “deep talking” therapies (as opposed to eg brief supportive therapy) – all of this is superfluous to the reduction of my ongoing suffering, which is best made by a simple structured learning experience (such as systematic desensitization, flooding etc), which works just as well for an anxious dog as it does for me. Were there overall features of my personality that might have predicted me to be vulnerable to developing such a phobia? The Pavlovian school recognized central nervous system properties (strength of excitation and inhibition, mobility) in animals that reflected how easily conditioning could be set up. These can be shown to map onto the human big 5 personality factors. A genetic component to anxiety disorders is widely recognised, although again mechanism is not well specified.

    Returning to causation in the social sciences, is personality a cause of behaviour? I can make a prediction along the lines of “X is particularly phlegmatic, so he will do well under stress”. In the ways I am used to thinking, this would make it a cause – in terms of intervention, I can think “Y has a more anxious temperament, this is the main relevant difference between X and Y; Y would not do as well under stress”. I know implicitly that these predictions are noisy ie fallible but better than chance.

  27. Daniel it is nice to think that we might help you explore this paper that you’re proposing to write.

    I wonder if you’re defining “causality” such that it concerns everything beyond conscious function, and then using “explanation” to complement this for the social sciences? Here black holes would have “causes,” while my own anger would have “explanations.” (But then in either case we humans can have only imperfect “accounts” of such dynamics.) Given your conversation above with Robin however, I wonder if you’re confining the cause/explanation line not to “consciousness,” but rather further up to “language”? Thus I suppose that a human “feral child” would have “causes” (like a black hole) rather than “explanations” (like me) for its anger.

    I consider it the reader’s job to accept the writer’s definitions (since no definition is “true”), and then try to assess the merits of what these definitions are being used to show. Thus I would never question your (or any) definitions, but rather try to assess what is being done with them.

    Here my thought is that you’re trying to explore and theorize the seperate ways in which we learn about ourselves as opposed to physical dynamics. Does that sound about right?

  28. davidlduffy,

    From my understanding, talking therapies and behavioral therapies actually tend to have the same success rate (although those vary over time, suggesting as yet unaccounted for social-historical contingencies); but that’s largely irrelevant to the present discussion, which concerns how we explain behavior, not what we do with it.

    Notably, in your remark, you did not incorporate response to my later, more detailed discussion of the problem of context in social, and social-science, explanations of behavior. Mapping neurostimulation to ‘personality types’ doesn’t really get you the kind of explanatory force needed, regarding the wide variability of human behavior. It also doesn’t address a secondary point I was making, namely that differing social sciences provide differing explanations (equally valid) for behaviors, due to their differing focuses of attention.

    It sounds as if you want it all boiled down to a ‘unified theory of everything,’ which I noted was not likely for reasons I suggested (and a myriad other as well). I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it, and I certainly wouldn’t bet that ‘it all started with Pavlov’ (unless the past 90 years of research and debate count for nothing). I personally prefer plenitude and diversity.

    Finally, if personality be acknowledged a ’cause’ of behavior (ie., generative of behavior norms for an individual) , that pretty much blows out of the water your hoped for reduction of behavior to specific ‘mapped’ components, because ‘personality’ is a holism that includes many tendencies (often conflicting in the one person).

    Frankly, Thomas Aquinas had a more sophisticated explanation of behavior than the one you’re offering; it was highly generalized, and yet also provided for specific differences between the personalities we have and the choices we make. It may have been wrong, and uninformed by modern science; yet it was richer, and stronger in explanatory force, than Pavlov’s, by quite a long mile.

  29. chaosmogony

    Hi Dan,

    “The idea of intentional (“reason-action”) causation is supposed to be analogous to that of neurological-motor movement causation…The problem is that there is no clear, analogous story that we could tell about an intentional reason and an action…Intentional states are inherently linguistic, insofar as they involve our representing states of affairs in various ways, and are thus necessarily rule-governed.”

    If you haven’t already, I’d suggest a look at Anscombe’s *Intention* for her development of a theory of reasons for action that addresses exactly this problem. Her position follows from Wittgenstein’s insight that any action or event can fall under potentially infinite descriptions, but can nevertheless be described as an action in a particular circumstance in accordance with (grammatical) rule-following. Her concern lies with the conceptual investigation of our use of terms like “reasons” and “explanations”, and in good Wittgensteinian form she’s concerned with the use of these concepts rather than any metaphysical meanderings. Her aim is to set out a kind of reason that does the job, answering a certain kind of “Why?” question, that we need to distinguish cases of intentional action from mere behavior.

    Also worth a look are Philippa Foot’s and John McDowell’s work on reasons for action. Both of them criticize “hydraulic” theories of mind that rely on (what they take to be) mistaken presumptions that reasons for action require a causal mediation between “the will” and the behavior. Foot critiques this premise in “Locke, Hume, and Modern Moral Theory” (collected in *Moral Dilemmas*), and McDowell goes after it in quite a few papers (Essays 4, 5, and especially 10 in *Mind, Value and Reality* at a bare minimum).

    The key idea I think they are trying to get across is that intentional *causation* as such isn’t really on the table, but this isn’t a problem unless we adopt a mistaken premise in the philosophy of mind, which posits that there must be a mediating causal relationship between a state of the will and the corresponding action. If we do away with that presumption, an action can nevertheless explainable under the description of intentional action according to a reason.

    To shift gears slightly, I’m also going to name-drop two sources that will perhaps be of value for your general project.

    The first is Charles Taylor’s work on explanation in the human sciences. At the bare minimum, reading the intro to *Human Agency and Language* might kindle your interest. If you like what you see, section I and II (and section I in volume 2, *Philosophy and the Human Sciences*) will be a goldmine. Taylor’s project inherits the distinction betwee Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften from the hermeneutical tradition, and his aim is to argue against reductionist positions in philosophy of mind and action as well as social science.

    The second is Habermas’s theory of communicative action. The eponymous two-volume book takes up the problem of reconciling action-based theories and third-personal functionalist theories in social science. Since this is a monstrosity of a read, however, it might be more economical to look at the development of the theory and its situation in the Western tradition, especially in chapters 11 and 12 and the excursus on Luhmann in *The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity*.

    Both Taylor and Habermas are relying on theories of action and theories of meaning that would be congenial to a Wittgensteinian, and they’re directly concerned with the problem of explanation and understanding in human sciences, so I’d highly recommend them getting what you’re up to.

  30. Dan,

    Crows decide to hide evidence? Do you have a cite for that?

    As for yourpoint about language. I am not sure what you mean. Temple Grandin says she can develop advanced concepts using only internal images and no words. So if concepts are inherently linguistic then she must have an image only language, or else she is mistaken about what she is doing.

    Which of these are you suggesting?

  31. @mpboyle56

    “He does not assume this. “Count” here refers to a word in the earlier explanation of the rule. One need not per se cogitate the word during the activity- this is why Kripke refers to the internalization of the instructions.”

    If it refers to a word in an explanation that has just been given in response to the challenge, then clearly it is present language and meaning, not former meaning. When we use language in the present we use words as we currently understand them, even when recounting a recollection of the past.

    So that still does not work.

  32. What (e.g., concepts) is “linguistic” depends on what is included in the range [1,2,3] of “languages”.

    [1] http://www.research.ibm.com/software/IBMResearch/multimedia/IJCNN2013.corelet-language.pdf
    [2] http://devblogs.nvidia.com/parallelforall/understanding-natural-language-deep-neural-networks-using-torch/
    [3] Bracketing the Beetle: How Wittgenstein’s Understanding of Language Can Guide Our
    Practice in AGI and Cognitive Science

    http://home.wlu.edu/~levys/publications/agi_2014_levy.pdf

  33. Chaosmogony:

    Yes, I am quite familiar with much of the literature you cite. As mentioned at the beginning of the essay, this really is intended just as a sketch, in order to point in a number of directions that may be fruitful and not all of which may have been the primary focus in past literature. (I may ultimately conclude that a position can be cobbled together out of existing literature.)

    Also, my main stalking horse is precisely those like Fodor who think that intentional accounts are causal and that consequently, social scienctific accounts are explanatory, in the same manner as the physical sciences, albeit, autonomously from them. Certainly Charles Taylor’s brand of interpretivism is going to play heavily in any fully fleshed out version of my argument.

    ———————————————

    Robin: I think it is as much a mistake to speak of “internal pictures” as “internal words.” I discussed these issues at length with Ian Ground in our discussion on Wittgenstein and The Philosophical Investigations.

    ————————————————–

    Eric: Yes, in part what I am interested in is the difference between the accounts that we give in the physical sciences and the accounts that we give in the social sciences. But, no, I don’t think that the social scientific accounts are causal in the way accounts in the physical sciences are, and thus, I don’t take them to be *explanations*, a term that I reserve for causal accounts. (Treating it, therefore, as a technical term, rather than as it is used in ordinary language.)

    —————————————————

    DavidlDuffy: Well, yes, I am presuming that to have the concept of an X or of Q-ing, one must, at a minimum, know what X and Q-ing are.

  34. DanK,
    First, I apologize for my lengthy two-part post; I wanted to approach the topic from a different perspective, esp. concerning how social sciences deal with contextual issues; but I admit I got carried away.

    I would like to raise the question whether the distinction you are making between ‘explanation’ as a technical term relating to causality properly speaking, and whatever it is we conceive the social sciences do in providing reasonable accounts of behavior ‘making sense,’ can be maintained beyond the discourse of philosophy – especially given that most social scientists would likely say they are developing explanations, and given that, derived from the common understanding of the term, most people are expecting explanations from the social scientists. (Which is not to say that the distinction you’re making ‘should not’ be maintained, but rather whether that effort has much chance of success.)

  35. It seems impossible that the rich and subtle cultural world in which the human animal moves, replete with all those human pains and pleasures, could arise, unassisted, through mechanical processes. This seems to be the basic thesis here; there are additional factors outside of our head that direct us. This would eliminate the possibility that neural firings, i.e. physical processes, are all that are needed. Culture, indeed, seems to have a life of its own, it evolves, and is so vast that no one person can encompass its totality. This is an inspiring and beautiful idea.

    Unlike a physical or mechanical cause, a “reason, whether a feeling of sexual inadequacy or the belief that a bear market is coming, is not a discrete, localizable event; unlike neurons firing, one’s feeling of sexual inadequacy or belief that a bear market is coming, are not things inside one’s head, to which we can point.“

    The problem with this dualism is that nothing human ever happens without the firings of billions of neurons. Culture is dead, non-existent, without the firing of neurons. This is the ugly scientific fact that will slay the beautiful theory.

    How can this be? The answer is that we have always grossly underestimated the double miracle of life and consciousness, leading us to think that we could not possibly do all of this inside our little heads. It seems that we can. 🙂

  36. The problem with this dualism is that nothing human ever happens without the firings of billions of neurons. Culture is dead, non-existent, without the firing of neurons. This is the ugly scientific fact that will slay the beautiful theory.
    ———————-
    This seems to me little more than a version of the genetic fallacy.

    As for “doing things inside our heads,” this is precisely the sort of error that Ryle and Wittgenstein address at length. I see nothing here that even remotely begins to counter their arguments, on this front.

  37. EJ: Given how rarely scientists of any stripe listen to philosophers anymore, I certainly hold out no serious hope that any distinctions I may want to make will be accepted. Still, it seems worth going on record, and the hope, perhaps, is that after scientists realize they have been running down a rabbit-hole, there will already exist some substantial literature as to where they went wrong.

    These sorts of category errors have real consequences. A good portion, if not all of the field of cognitive science, exists, because people mistakenly think that thoughts, beliefs, hopes, acts of will, and the like are things or events in peoples’ heads. That one error has caused a stampede of people to go searching in the brain for these things, like people might dig for buried treasure.

    Whether or not it is successful, it seems to me that this sort of error needs to be pointed out and repeated, again and again, given how short our intellectual attention span seems to be. Hell, we’re still, in many ways, having the same arguments we were having in the Enlightenment.

  38. (1) He went north because he believed the oasis lay in that direction.

    If I’ve understood you correctly, Dan, you think that statements like this are not causal explanations. I find that position peculiar. It seems to defy our ordinary appreciation of language.

    The following assertion seems central to your argument:
    “…for α and β to be related as cause and effect, at a minimum, α and β, must be discrete, localizable, events.”

    If I may say so, this seems a surprisingly reductionistic conception of causation. We employ all sorts of abstractions in our causal models of the world, and there’s no particular reason why they should all be “discrete” and “localizable”. (I would add that those two concepts are difficult ones requiring some clarification.)

    I’m not denying that intentional concepts have some significant differences from physical concepts. I broadly agree with Dennett’s account of how we take a “physical stance” and an “intentional stance”. But both stances are used to predict and explain observations, and those explanations include causal explanations.

    I also have some problems with your talk of “reasons” and “rationales”. To abbreviate one of your examples:

    (2) The reason for his voyeurism is his sexual shame.

    Isn’t this roughly equivalent to saying:

    (3) He is a voyeur due to his sexual shame.

    Or:

    (4) His voyeurism is caused by his sexual shame.

    I don’t think we would call his sexual shame his “rationale” for being a voyeur. Nor would we call it his reason for being a voyeur, though we might call it the reason for his being a voyeur. By “rationale” I think we usually mean an argument or justification which we think he has given (to himself or to others) for his behaviour. He may have no rationale for his voyeurism. I would say the first sense of “reason” is not a causal sense. To ask about his reason seems similar to asking for his rationale, and will probably have more to do with his (presumed) justification than with the speaker’s explanation. The second sense of “reason” seems causal. In any case, there are certainly two senses of “reason” that arise in such contexts, and we need to be careful to distinguish between them.

  39. mpboyle56

    @Robin Herbert:

    “If it refers to a word in an explanation that has just been given in response to the challenge, then clearly it is present language and meaning, not former meaning.”

    There is no such temporal compression in Kripke, who merely refers to “past usage” and “some earlier time.” From his description it is clear that the explicit rule (which, per Wittgenstein, is a public agreement) was learned in the past (meaning: initiated into that particular public agreement) and that the rule only really comes to mind when one is specifically asked about one’s behavior. Otherwise, as with many other things, we follow the rule/agreement without necessarily thinking of the rule or when we learned it.

  40. Richard: I appreciate your disagreement, in the first few paragraphs, but I don’t see any arguments as to why I should accept it. I gave quite a few arguments as to why I don’t take intentional accounts to be causal, and until I see some sort of substantial counter-argument, I’m inclined to stick with it.

    It also is not some weird idiosyncracy of mine — this generally is the view of “interpretivists” re: the social sciences, of which Charles Taylor is a notable example. It also is likely not far from Max Weber’s view.

  41. I am a visitor short on time, and that is a long winding piece to me, with assumptions, so I just quickly pull apart the last bit.

    “… explanation can only make sense of an event if it includes the psychology of the actors involved and how that psychology influences both their intentions and beliefs about what actions are necessary. And this isn’t a matter of external forces being inferred as causes; rather it is a case of discovering what sort of function can be understood as connecting external context, internal beliefs and perceptions of context (which may be influenced by beliefs), and intended goals. And this may end up leading to self-referential cycles of interaction.”

    More or less you start by saying “moves” are better considered as “actions” with sensible “intentions”, so to speak. So you divide motor outputs and sensory inputs, and you say in between there is an intention and that is what is important, rather than the outputs or inputs separately. That’s sensory-motor neural flow, fair enough. Read my book if you want to know about that http://1drv.ms/1tnKM6f and more.

    This is definitional stuff that you need to get right from the outset, which I do in my book. And it is science and not social science, because your sensory-motor flow “action” or “intention” by your definitional exercise (which I do not like) is a brain event constrained entirely by your biology.

    Your much valued psychology is entirely encased within a biological interface of entity and world at all times from conception. You continually get everything to survive from the world, process it biologically to breed, grow, and function. Psychology is an ongoing brain event representing biological interfaces with a world, vision, sound everything, as interfaced by a world.

    Its fine to value contained psychology as an event of feelings and thoughts by sensory-motor finalization in a brain, but it is just a representation of real biological interfaces at the end of the day, and prone to serious error.

    As for you main “point” (after defining this & that, this way and that way) that so-called “action or intention” is most valuable, I just assume you mean the event itself or the experience. As I said, the experience is fine, like a well produced movie, but if the story is a mish mash disaster, what’s the point? Biology causes psychology, not the other way around. Matter causes mind as an ongoing “well produced” event we all experience, but some experiences bare just a well produced mish mash, from reading their product on the page.

    If you want to get into the so called “content” of that sensory-motor “intention”, read my free book above. It is biologically constrained, entirely.

  42. The piece is less than 2000 words, so I don’t see how it’s “long and winding.”

    As for the rest of your critique, I’m afraid I don’t understand most of it I was pretty clear about what distinct value derives from causal explanations as opposed to intentional accounts and certainly don’t see anything in your critique here that contradicts what I’ve said on this front.

  43. Dan

    Don’t get side-tracked by my view of it as long and winding. Its not what I am used to. I like pithy writing, and that winds around setting up definitions, and I do think its done badly for the reasons I stated.

    You can avoid acknowledging that I made any points at all, because you don’t understand them, although you don’t see anything that contradicts your critique. I don’t understand either of those comments by you. It looks like you are just avoiding responding to anything whatsoever I wrote, because I obviously have no trouble understanding it. So let me explain for you.

    Your reply was quick so let’s broaden a little and give it a little time. Not time to wind around, but time for effective thinking.

    I do clearly fundamentally contradict you valuation of psychology, and the status you give it.

    Psychology, as I said using clear example of brain flow to and from biological interfaces with a world, is within biology to represent it. What are you valuing? How do you define that interface? What are the biological limits to psychology from interfaces? These are only a few of the key issues that open up from my approach.

    And they are all answered by deconstructing anatomy itself for its basic capacities creating your psychological experiences. Your intentional stance is a literal anatomical frame of biological capacities represented by psychology.

    This is how to progress. To move of from defining terms (badly in my view) to defining them properly and in doing so, exposing the real landscape to be explored.

    You gave yourself so little time to reply, you could not have read any of my book, but saying you understood nothing obviously means you would not bother.

    I hope not everything I wrote above, or write here is impossible to understand to the extent of replying to any of it at all, but I leave it to you. You are primarily the one I am helping.

  44. The shortcut answer for you is to look at how the human anatomy is structured for cause & effect biologically in my diagrams in my book, and then get into definitions of causation I provide, which are rock solid. Your answers are there if you make an effort..

  45. I think this a good essay.

    I’m not a philosopher and this topic covers some area’s I’ve been thinking about yet explores them in ways I wouldn’t have considered. The comments also provide some nice resources to follow-up on. I have just done some preliminary looking into Charles Taylor. These are the reasons I check up on this blog 🙂

    I think issues of causality and explanation also arise as the physical sciences become more fundamental. Non-locality in quantum physics would be an example. I think the primary difference is simply that in the physical sciences the assumptions being made a far easier to identify as compared to the social sciences where the web of influences is vast and not reducible.

    Thanks for the essay.

  46. @mpboyle56

    There is no such temporal compression in Kripke, who merely refers to “past usage” and “some earlier time.” From his description it is clear that the explicit rule (which, per Wittgenstein, is a public agreement) was learned in the past (meaning: initiated into that particular public agreement) and that the rule only really comes to mind when one is specifically asked about one’s behavior. Otherwise, as with many other things, we follow the rule/agreement without necessarily thinking of the rule or when we learned it.

    Yes, the rule was learned in the past. But the sceptic’s challenge very clearly refers to past usage of language and specifically past usage of specific words such as “count”.

    Since no such past usage of language or of these words is alluded to, then what could the sceptic possibly be referring to by the “past use of language” or past usage of words, such as “count”?

  47. Dan,

    “Robin: I think it is as much a mistake to speak of “internal pictures” as “internal words.” I discussed these issues at length with Ian Ground in our discussion on Wittgenstein and The Philosophical Investigations.”

    But I am trying to get at what you mean by “language”. Forget about the “internal” part. Temple Grandin says that she develops advanced concepts using only images. Does Temple Grandin have and image only language? Or is she wrong about her thinking process?

  48. marcus60911960

    I am having trouble seeing how Daniel could have said that using fewer words. And it works towards setting up definitions. Whether that qualifies as “winding around” setting up definitions depends on how you are defining “winding around”.

    Whether it is “pithy” or not seems to be a subjective judgement.

  49. But I am trying to get at what you mean by “language”. Forget about the “internal” part. Temple Grandin says that she develops advanced concepts using only images. Does Temple Grandin have and image only language? Or is she wrong about her thinking process?

    ——————————————-

    Given that part of what it is genuinely to have a concept is to know things like it’s inferential role, I would say she’s probably “wrong” in the sense that she is speaking somewhat loosely.

    But it doesn’t really matter, re: my argument. The same point that applies to language applies to pictures. Both are representational and must be interpreted, and all interpretations are rule-governed and hence, public. Just as there cannot be a private language, there cannot be private pictures, either. This was something I also discussed at some length with Ian in our dialogue on Wittgenstein.

  50. brodix

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

    But both are static constructs, used to frame dynamic processes.

    Structure goes future to past, as process goes past to future. For instance, in a factory, the product goes start to finish, while the production process consumes material and expels product. Often simply to generate energy, in the form of wages and profits.

    We too consume food, to generate the energy to live and create. We consume information carrying energy through our senses, to form and express ideas and actions. Yet they too fade into the past, as the energy, conserved, moves onto new expressions.

    Follow the energy, whether it is coalescing into form, or radiating out in new directions.

    Even galaxies are form falling in, as energy radiates out.

    Youth out/age in.

  51. But all I wanted to know was, when you talk of something being a language, you might mean something that involves no actual words. I think that is important context.

    But, as I said, I don’t think there are any any discrete localisable events in physical sciences any more than there are when talking of mental events. In physical sciences we can use a simplification which acts like a discrete localisable event and I don’t see why the same thing cannot be done with mental events.

    If intentional states are public, I don’t see this as any bar to speaking of them as causes as long as we are able to make meaningful statements about it. It is not strictly true to say “the fire was started by the lightning strike” or “the billiard ball’s movement was caused by the cue ball hitting it” or “the heat at the bottom of the pan causes the bubbles to form”, but they will do for certain purposes. So to say that a certain thing was caused by a person’s intention to do it might not be strictly true either, but will also do for certain purposes.

  52. brodix

    Not trying to be obscure here, but debating causality in terms of static framing devices, words, pictures, etc, misses the actual reality.

    Maps are handy, but they really do only exist as references to the territory. If they become entirely divorced from it, they are meaningless.

  53. Robin:

    I don’t know what to tell you, at this point. I’ve pretty much made the clearest, best case that I can. If you still can’t see it, then I’m afraid I can’t explain it any better than I already have. Where you see no relevant difference, I see an enormous one.

  54. Daniel,

    I am not aware that I asked you to say any more. You made your case, I disagree. I don’t think there are any such things as discrete localisable events, except in models which are a simplification of reality. I don’t think that anybody can point to anything at all which is a cause or an effect given that definition.

    That is all. We disagree.

  55. davidlduffy

    Hi EJ. I did choose specific phobia for a reason: exposure therapies are more successful. Since I mentioned the idea that causation implies manipulation, the fact that therapies based on particular models are successful is taken as evidence that the underlying models are more likely to be correct. I fully agree that social contexts have large causative cum explanatory effects. I am trying to present examples of explanation and causal reasoning from a particular approach to the social sciences, the quantitative. It underlies your comment that “talking therapies and behavioral therapies actually tend to have the same success rate” – that is, there is something measurable across individuals that is relevant, reliable and replicable in pen-and-paper psychometric instruments like the Beck Depression Inventory (created by the CBT crowd, btw), which we can plug into linear equations and perform statistical tests on, just like physicists (and economists ;)).

    Regarding holistic phenomena like personality, psychologists from Spearman onwards have used mathematical methods to reduce these to multiple quantities (factor analysis etc). The point is not a theory of everything, but whether there are bits we can measure and then understand.

  56. Robin: Got it. I was under the misimpression that you were probing for more arguments, and I don’t have any…at least, not now. =)

  57. mpboyle56

    @ Robin Herbert:

    “Since no such past usage of language or of these words is alluded to, then what could the sceptic possibly be referring to by the “past use of language” or past usage of words, such as “count”?”

    It is alluded to, as a reconstruction of what the rule must have been (hence the use of the phrase “I may suppose” by Kripke when referring back to the rule as originally taught). Part of what this involves is the question of justification of the interpretation of rules, which according to Wittgenstein come to an end with public agreements, since there is no deeper level than this.
    ____

    “But, as I said, I don’t think there are any any discrete localisable events in physical sciences any more than there are when talking of mental events. In physical sciences we can use a simplification which acts like a discrete localisable event and I don’t see why the same thing cannot be done with mental events.”

    This conflates two entirely different things. The descriptions in the physical sciences are neutral, value-less, and non-teleological. They are mechanical, so to speak. Descriptions in the social sciences are about human behavior, and thus inevitably involve explanations that are not simply neutral and mechanical, but are shot through with interpretive features keyed to value-judgments about whatever the particular behavior is taken to be under that particular value-inflected explanation. Given that the natural world is described in neutral mechanical terms and descriptions of the human world are not neutral and mechanical but vary according to the public agreements of a particular community in terms of what the behavior *means*, it is perfectly just to ask whether both describe causation in the same sense. The fact that physical explanations are general and not at the atomic level is completely irrelevant. They still describe causes in a neutral mechanical sort of way, regardless of the zoom factor. Descriptions of human behavior are completely different and thus the notion of cause is, too.

    Suppose one tree is destroyed in New Guinea and an identical tree in New York City, for the same basic reason. The explanation in terms of both will be generally the same. Now, suppose one young person engages in a motor movement in New York and another in the depths of the Amazon engages in the exact same motor movement. In terms of human physiognomy, both will be described as the same. But we still want to know what both mean (in terms of, e.g. anthropology), since human behavior involves networks of meanings, not just mechanical movements. If the first person’s movement is dancing at a wedding and the second person’s is the same motion as part of some sort of apotropaic exorcism ritual, they will mean very different things and hence the reasons why both engaged in the exact same motor movements will vary. They will thus have different causes in this sense (which is the sense of cause the social sciences use). Unlike the tree in New Guinea and the tree in New York, the movement of the two people cannot be explained by a neutral, scientific uniform language of mechanical causes. What “caused” one human motion and what “caused” another (in the sense of what they mean per why the person did what they did) cannot simply be explained mechanically but must appeal to the conventions of the community and the network of public agreements within which each event occurred (hence why the two senses of causation in the natural vs. the social sciences are not the same). And, per Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument, that network of public agreements simply *cannot* be a discreet neural firing. As Dan K. pointed out:

    “Intentional states are inherently linguistic, insofar as they involve our representing states of affairs in various ways, and are thus necessarily rule-governed. For reasons that I am not going to state explicitly here, rule-following is an inherently public activity, from which it follows that one cannot follow a rule (and thus, employ language) from “inside” one’s own mind.”

    Again, from the essay:

    “Actions also are not properly identifiable as discrete objects or events, for they too are as much a matter of interpretation – of how things are represented in the public language – as they are a matter of motor movements. …there must be something else that makes these motor movements count as raising one’s hand, asking a question, requesting permission to go to the bathroom (the latter two of which, notice, can also be effected by one’s hand raising). That something else would seem clearly to be various interpretations that are warranted, given relevant features of the context and the linguistic rules and conventions of the speaking community. But this means that the action of raising your hand is no more a discrete, localizable event in the world, then your desire to ask a question or go to the bathroom is a discrete, localizable event inside your head.”

  58. Mpboyle56

    It is alluded to, as a reconstruction of what the rule must have been (hence the use of the phrase “I may suppose” by Kripke when referring back to the rule as originally taught). ”

    No, because you have already said that there is no assumption about the language that was associated with the past usage of the rule. So what past usage of the word ‘count’ is being.referred to?

    “This conflates two entirely different things. “,

    No, my statement does not even refer to those things you are talking about. I am saying one specific things – that there are no such things as discrete localisable events

  59. How are social science models different from other science models? This might suggest a difference (for economic models):

    Models in Economics Are Not Nomological Machines: A Pragmatic Approach to Economists’ Modeling Practices
    http://rationalitelimitee.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/models-in-economics.pdf

  60. mpboyle56

    @Robin Herbert:

    “No, because you have already said that there is no assumption about the language that was associated with the past usage of the rule. So what past usage of the word ‘count’ is being.referred to?”

    I clearly stated that the word count referred to the earlier explanation of the rule and that the word need not be cogitated in subsequent instances of rule-following. Viz.:

    “He does not assume this. “Count” here refers to a word in the earlier explanation of the rule. One need not per se cogitate the word during the activity- this is why Kripke refers to the internalization of the instructions.”

    “From his description it is clear that the explicit rule (which, per Wittgenstein, is a public agreement) was learned in the past (meaning: initiated into that particular public agreement) and that the rule only really comes to mind when one is specifically asked about one’s behavior. Otherwise, as with many other things, we follow the rule/agreement without necessarily thinking of the rule or when we learned it.”

    ____________

    “No, my statement does not even refer to those things you are talking about.”

    That’s right, because it incorrectly assumes that the same model of explanation can be used for both, which it can’t because of the reasons I gave.

    “In physical sciences we can use a simplification which acts like a discrete localisable event and I don’t see why the same thing cannot be done with mental events.”

    The above statement elides the distinct difference between explanations of human behavior and physical events, even in terms of a pragmatic shorthand. Arguing that we can do the same in both cases ignores that both are fundamentally different. In the case of the physical sciences, the shorthand is a stand-in for highly complex lower level physical processes which are nonetheless explicable in scientific terms consistent with the shorthand. In the case of “mental events,” the shorthand comes nowhere close to even approximating what’s happening. What is happening is different in kind altogether and the shorthand is thus completely and utterly misleading.

  61. mpboyle56

    I clearly stated that the word count referred to the earlier explanation of the rule and that the word need not be cogitated in subsequent instances of rule-following. Viz.:

    “He does not assume this. “Count” here refers to a word in the earlier explanation of the rule. One need not per se cogitate the word during the activity- this is why Kripke refers to the internalization of the instructions.”

    And I pointed out, just as clearly, that said explanation is not “earlier”, it is given in response to the challenge and is therefore couched in present language

    By the ground rules the sceptic is not doubting present language.

    And you have clearly stipulated that there is no assumption about any specific word used with respect to any past usage of the rule, which would include the point at which the rule was internalised.

    So these possibilities have already been dealt with.

    So, again, what is the past usage of the word ‘count’ being referred to that is:

    1. Not a reference to an explanation given in response to the sceptics challenge
    2. Not a reference to any past usage of the rule
    3. Not a reference to the point the rule was internalised.

    That’s right, because it incorrectly assumes that the same model of explanation can be used for both, which it can’t because of the reasons I gave.

    I am not sure how that even refers to what I said. Here it is again “there are no such things as discrete localisable events“.

    Now if you will read the part of Dan’s article that you cut and paste, you are essentially saying that the claim “there are no such things as discrete localisable events” makes the assumption that some things are discrete localisable events.

  62. brodix

    mp,

    Isn’t rule following a form of inertia?

  63. Here is what I am saying:

    1. There is no such thing as a discrete localisable event
    2. If there is no such thing as a discrete localisable event then there can be no distinction based on one class of things being discrete localisable events and the other not.
    Conclusion: there can be no distinction based on one class of things being discrete localisable events and the other not.

    I am not sure why that is even controversial. You can’t treat the consequent in 2 as though it were a stand alone claim. In particular, if you claim that the consequent of 2 is false on the basis that the antecedent of 2 is false, then you have simple restated 2 in the contrapositive form and we are in complete agreement.

    If you want to abandon a distinction based on one class of things being discrete localisable events and the other not, and decide upon an entirely new distinction, then you cannot treat my argument as addressing what is an entirely new claim.

    As I understand the new claim, it appears to be based upon “cause” being misleading because you have decided to overloaded the term with assumptions about complex lower level physical processes.

    OK, but that goes for every single word we use. If you mean one thing by a term and I mean another then we will mislead each other. Obviously I can only counter that we can use “cause” in both cases just as long as we don’t overload the term with all those extra meanings that are not strictly implied by it.

  64. mpboyle56

    “And you have clearly stipulated that there is no assumption about any specific word used with respect to any past usage of the rule, which would include the point at which the rule was internalised.”

    Here’s what I said:

    “From his (Kripke’s) description it is clear that the explicit rule (which, per Wittgenstein, is a public agreement) was learned in the past (meaning: initiated into that particular public agreement) and that the rule only really comes to mind when one is specifically asked about one’s behavior.”

    “Part of what this involves is the question of justification of the interpretation of rules, which according to Wittgenstein come to an end with public agreements, since there is no deeper level than this.”

    Kripke:

    “The justificatory element of our use of conditionals…is unexplained. If we take into account the fact that the individual is in a community, the picture changes…. When the community accepts a particular conditional…, it accepts its contraposed form: the failure of an individual to come up with the particular responses the community regards as right leads the community to suppose that he is not following the rule. On the other hand, if an individual passes enough tests, the community…accepts him as a rule follower, thus enabling him to engage in certain types of interactions with them that depend on their reliance on his responses.”
    _________

    “I am not sure how that even refers to what I said. Here it is again “there are no such things as discrete localisable events.”

    You asserted that the idea of discrete localizable events is, essentially, a useful façon de parler in the natural sciences and saw no reason why the same could not be done with mental events, irrespective of the fact that you believed in both cases they were “a simplification.” This misses the central point- what the explanations are about is entirely different in kind, and that difference is above and apart from any notions of whether there are or are not localizable events.

  65. @mpboyle56

    You seem to have forgotten what we were talking about.

    This is how it began. I said:

    “But why does he assume that when I have counted something in the past I needed to think the word ‘count’ in order to count something?”

    You disagreed, you said (my underlining).

    He does not assume this. “Count” here refers to a word in the earlier explanation of the rule. One need not per se cogitate the word during the activity- this is why Kripke refers to the internalization of the instructions.

    My assumption is that you are still standing behind this statement of yours.

    So you have stipulated that there is no assumption that my use of this operation in the past was associated with the word “count”

    Now, as for the “explanation” Kripke puts this in the account beginning “Well, say, to take it in it’s most primitive for, suppose we wish to add x and y …” Are you going to say that this is an accurate recount of a set of words he gave to himself as an instruction in the past? Obviously not. He is describing it in the language of the present.

    Since the sceptic is not, by his ground rules, doubting any present language, this cannot be the past usage of the word he is talking about.

    And you have stipulated, in your words I have quoted above, that there is no assumption that my past usage of the rule was associated with this word.

    It is no use skipping ahead and quoting any conclusions that Kripke has drawn on the basis of this, I am asking a very specific question about a very specific step:

    So, again, what is the past usage of the word ‘count’ being referred to that is:
    1. Not a reference to an explanation given in response to the sceptics challenge
    2. Not a reference to any past usage of the rule
    3. Not a reference to the point the rule was internalised.

    You asserted that the idea of discrete localizable events is, essentially, a useful façon de parler in the natural sciences and saw no reason why the same could not be done with mental events, irrespective of the fact that you believed in both cases they were “a simplification.”

    You are skipping around to different things I said. It makes no sense to talk about a conclusion that I drew from an earlier step, as though it were a stand alone statement.

    Again: here is what I am saying.

    1. There is no such thing as a discrete localisable event
    2. If there is no such thing as a discrete localisable event then there can be no distinction based on one class of things being discrete localisable events and the other not.
    Conclusion: there can be no distinction based on one class of things being discrete localisable events and the other not.

    The conclusion follows from these premises. Which premise do you disagree with?

    This misses the central point- what the explanations are about is entirely different in kind, and that difference is above and apart from any notions of whether there are or are not localizable events

    Now I am confused. So you are saying this distinction has nothing to do with whether or not there are discrete localisable events?

    Here is Dan’s last paragraph:

    Summarizing this point and wrapping up this “sketch,” for α and β to be related as cause and effect, at a minimum, α and β, must be discrete, localizable, events. One trouble with the idea of the intentional causation of action, then, is that neither intentional states nor actions can be properly characterized as discrete, localizable events, and to think that they are is to commit what Gilbert Ryle has called a “category error,” one that is easy to make, for the sorts of reasons that Wittgenstein devoted a good portion of his philosophical work to describing.

    So you are saying that the sense of this does not depend at all on there being discrete localisable events? Right?

    Dan, do you agree?

    If so, I am confused by this last paragraph. Surely if, for for α and β to be related as cause and effect, at a minimum, α and β, must be discrete, localizable, events, then either there is such a thing as discrete localisable events or else there is nothing at all that can be related as cause and effect.

  66. Robin: Yes, *one* of the arguments that intentional reasons are not causes and actions not effects is that neither constitutes a discrete, localizable event. Of course, that isn’t the only argument, so how much focus one should put on it might be a matter of dispute.

  67. mpboyle56

    Robin:

    The word “count” occurs at the beginning (“the earlier explanation of the rule”) but is not necessarily called to mind thereafter per the learning of rule following behavior (the internalization). I don’t think about all the rules for driving when I drive and yet I learned them at some point in the past.

    You assert that physical events are not discrete and so the distinction fails. I am saying (and I’m going beyond what Dan wrote, I think) that even if you are right and they aren’t discrete, physical events (say, some energy field network or whatever) they still aren’t the same and thus your assertion that we can describe both with a useful fiction fails to see that social science explanations would still be fundamentally different.

  68. Daniel,

    You appear to put a lot of stress on it, it was the whole of your summary.

    I am not disagreeing that such a distinction exists and that it makes a category error to ignore it. One only need read Michael Shermer’s “evolution caused the Mutiny on the Bounty” article http://www.michaelshermer.com/2004/02/bounty-of-science/ to see what nonsense one can talk to have these confused.

    But, as I said, I don’t think there is such a thing as a discrete localisable event and therefore such a thing cannot be the basis of such a distinction, nor for the ruling out of using “cause” in one circumstance or another.

  69. Also, the claim that “the shorthand is a stand-in for highly complex lower level physical processes which are nonetheless explicable in scientific terms consistent with the shorthand.” implies the hypothesis of the unity of science.

    If our hypothesis is the disunity of science then it cannot be regarded as a stand in for any lower level processes.

  70. @Mpboyle56

    The word “count” occurs at the beginning (“the earlier explanation of the rule”) but is not necessarily called to mind thereafter per the learning of rule following behavior (the internalization).

    Again, there is no “earlier” explanation of the rule referred to. There is the explanation of the rule, given in response to the challenge and therefore in present language, which is not to be doubted.

    If this refers to the time in the past, when the rule was initially internalised, then the claim that the word ‘count’ was involved is clearly an assumption, as I originally stated.

  71. One feels that the sceptic would like to say “Oh, come on, stop being so difficult – you know what I mean, even if I can’t express it exactly”. But unless he would extend the same leeway to me, why should I extend it to him?

    My scepticism is towards him – I doubt that he really has a challenge that he can understand if he cannot put it exactly into words.

    I can say to him “Each word I use in my discussion with you right now is used as I understand it in the present. When I speak of my recollection of the past, I do so in the language of the present. Thus, if you are saying that I might have used a word differently in the past, I say ‘What of it?’. I am speaking to you now in the language of the present. Unless you can identify any instance when I have used the word ‘count’ or ‘plus’ or anything else in the past, then you really have no point’.

    So, my response to the first part of the challenge goes:

    “My correct and therefore complete recollection of my prior usage of the operation I currently call ‘plus’ accords exactly with my current understanding of the operation . In particular I did not test the condition which would necessarily have been part if any correct usage of the operation you call ‘quus’.

    By the ground rules the sceptic must agree that I have this correct recollection of my prior usage of the operation.

    So if I had previously used quus then either :

    a. I did not test the condition and used quus wrongly and therefore my mathematical ability is in doubt

    Or

    b. I used quus correctly and did test the condition and forgot about it and therefore my memory is in doubt.

    By the ground rules neither my memory nor my mathematical ability is in doubt, therefore I did not use quus.

  72. Robin: It was simply the last in a list of “sketch” points. The “summary” was only of the last point and not of the whole.

  73. Hi Dan,

    You state that the concept of billions of firing neurons giving rise to human (or animal) behavior is “little more than a version of the genetic fallacy.”

    A fairly standard theory of the genesis of consciousness, human thought and culture is as follows: life evolved out of the matter of the cosmos, based on DNA, competing for resources in order to survive. After billions of years, neurons developed, the most complex of cells. Since then increasing complexity apparently accelerated. Homo is now at the pinnacle of complex social orders, characterized by outrageous abilities to communicate through language, music, art, emotions, fashion etc. This is in fact the glue that keeps the whole thing going for us. Our penchant for disagreement on any complex question is also unique, often with tragic results.

    In spite of mountains of investigational evidence, the details of this story are still unknown. It is generally agreed, however, that the increasing size and complexity of the cerebrum parallels the complexity of behavior. Different parts of the brain have different functions as can be seen on intra-vital study. Damage to specific parts of the brain, with loss of electrical activity, give rise to specific abnormalities in thought, sensation or behavior. The brain is the central processor that integrates inputs with outputs, both internal and external. Most of its activity is not ‘conscious’, i.e. is not identified in conscious thought.

    On the other hand, it is pretty straightforward to realize that all cognitive learning is public or cultural, i.e. learned from others: language, rules, values, mores, style, accent. Even modules of behavior can be copied, in toto, from parents and other influential figures. So sometimes it is correct to say that a decision was totally conditioned by public expectations. However, in each and every case, the actor has the ability to critically evaluate any anticipated behavior and then decide to modify or veto it. Most of the time the critical evaluation is pretty sloppy. This is fairly well documented by psychologists and social scientists.

    Anyway, genetic arguments are not necessarily fallacious. The above scientific arguments seem valid but woefully incomplete. Also, I would be very interested in a summary, if it is available, of Ryle and Wittgenstein’s argument that it is wrong to think that everything really happens inside our bodies. Where else could cultural information processing occur, other than in the brain*? There is a huge amount of interesting but inert cultural information existing outside of our individual bodies waiting to be processed, by one individual at a time. Quite amazing.

    *Advances in AI complicate matters nowadays.

  74. Liam: The problems for the “inside our heads” view lie in the Private Language and Rule Following arguments, which Ian Ground and I discuss in some detail, in our dialogue on Wittgenstein.

  75. Liam: The two talks by Raymond Tallis and Peter Hacker also describe the sort of view I am advancing. Relevant part begins at 28:19.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZx93eov5i4

  76. Hi Dan, as you know I have lived in both camps and so this is of strong interest to me, which makes it frustrating that I didn’t have time to comment.

    I agree with your message in general. I think it should be obvious that there must be differences with regard to “cause” and “explanation” given that most physical sciences study relations/systems of inanimate objects, which move inertially (whether independently or in aggregated group activity), and almost all social sciences study relations/systems of dynamic beings whose only relevant motions (actions) to those fields are goal-oriented or intention-based. The only thing I would want to point out is that not all physical sciences use the same concepts of those either, and would agree with what Per Lundberg said, that “… there isn’t a single, universal definition of “explanation”.”

    Now I will move to areas of disagreement.

    All sciences must choose a window of space, time, and range of subjects for the model they are building, meaning arguably all of them study “discrete, localized things or events.” The question is of magnification: how far one “zooms in” to the phenomena.

    The criticism then cannot simply be that “… neither intentional states nor actions can be properly characterized as discrete, localizable events”. Rather, it is that the phenomena most social scientists are concerned with studying cannot properly characterized at the specific discrete, localized level appropriate for subject matter concerning most physical scientists.

    At some point (even in physical sciences) there can be such limited returns for zooming in, that one is no longer treating the original phenomena under study. For example by the time you are looking at vibrations and rotations in complex molecules you are no longer treating the concerns of macroscopic level thermodynamics. Even in my own work there are places I would be saying to people in other fields of neuroscience…whoooah there! What they study tells me nothing, even if the phenomena must exist deep within the entities I am studying.

    However, none of this bars physical scientists from approaching subjects treated by social scientists, as long as the limitations are expressed properly. For example the neurochemist cannot claim to have found that “love” is a specific (set of) neurochemicals, or the neurophysiologist a specific set of neural functions. But it is not invalid for them to claim they have found physical components which underlie processes that are necessary for humans (assuming a human brain) to manifest or experience that emotion… that such necessary components are restricted to the brain, or all happening “in the head”.

    I want to highly recommend that talk you linked to (and I will like it despite disagreeing with some of what was said). There were a lot of important things discussed. Hacker’s speech in particular (after Tallis) and questions at the end being extremely useful to the debate going on here. I will address it in my next post (maybe later today, but maybe tomorrow), as well as Wittgenstein’s raised arm problem you mention in your essay.

    The distinction Hacker and Tallis made between “necessary” and “sufficient” when discussing brain versus what is a human being or person I think can be used in other places where research interests at one level are not properly addressed by reductive explanations (even within physical sciences).

  77. it is not invalid for them to claim they have found physical components which underlie processes that are necessary for humans (assuming a human brain) to manifest or experience that emotion… that such necessary components are restricted to the brain, or all happening “in the head”.

    ——————————————————

    I agree with this. If what I’ve said suggests otherwise, then I need to revisit how I phrased things.

    All that I was trying to say with my “discrete, localizable events” point was the following:

    1. Intentional states are not identical with states of the brain.
    2. Actions are not identical with motor movements.
    3. It makes perfect sense to say that states of the brain *caused* — in the efficient sense — various motor movements.
    4. It does not make analogous sense to say that intentional states caused — in the efficient sense — actions.

    The *reason* for this is that just as the mind is not a thing, but rather, “mind” is a name for any number of capacities and dispositions, so beliefs, desires, and actions are not things or events, but rather, complex states of affairs that have both “internal” and “external” components. What makes some set of brain states *count* as a specific belief or desire is that they involve representing things in various ways, representations that involve following rules that are inherently public/social in nature; likewise, what makes certain physical movements count as a specific action, is that they are interpretable in various ways that likewise involve following rules that are inherently public/social. Thus, it makes no sense to speak of the belief as being “in” a person’s brain and it makes no sense to speak of the action as being identical with a certain set of physical movements.

  78. Hi Dan, in my first reply, I was sort of acting as a grammar or word police, which in all fairness I believe Hacker can also be accused of in some of his criticisms of neuroscientists. The “discrete, localized” terminology you had used was not as useful (from the point of view of a scientist) as the explicit statements you just gave here.

    So I do appreciate your reply to me, which I think makes your own position that much clearer.

    And I should say I thought the video cleared up a few other questions since I assume you are arguing what they argued, which is why I really recommend it. Of course they also started by talking in ways I wasn’t sure about… until the question period where their answers (one it seemed to a neuroscientist) crystalized their meanings for me. It often feels like scientists and philosophers are talking past each other until forced to compare notes about the legends on their maps.

    Two issues remain, which I will address in a larger reply tomorrow. These touch on points 1 and 4 above, as well as your final sentence. Some of it may seem a bit like more word policing, but one I think is a logical issue. The logical issue being with Wittgenstein’s arm problem. You may very well have adequate answers for what I will raise, but right now it remains unclear. Again for the most part I agree with what you are arguing. This is a job of kicking tires and pointing out things that can be tightened.

    I’d write more tonight but the intentions of my gf will be controlling the rest of my actions for the evening 🙂

  79. These are very subtle arguments that are quite difficult to articulate clearly. Hacker, I think, is particularly good in this regard, which is why I always recommend him, on these topics.

    The basic category errors and fallacies that are involved in the move from this kind of folk language to the technical languages employed by the sciences strike me as very important to identify. Otherwise, it is unclear what, exactly, our sciences are telling us — and what they are not telling us (and cannot tell us) — and this engenders frustration, when we find that even when they are at their most successful, they haven’t told us what we thought they would.

    These problems are the most egregious with those sciences that positions themselves right at the line between the folk and the scientific — Ev Psych, Ev Soc, Cog Sci., and the like. It is almost as egregious in those on the folk side who suffer from science envy, examples of which are legion in the social sciences.

  80. davidlduffy

    What makes some set of brain states *count* as a specific belief or desire is that they involve representing things in various ways, representations that involve following rules that are inherently public/social in nature; likewise, what makes certain physical movements count as a specific action, is that they are interpretable in various ways that likewise involve following rules that are inherently public/social.

    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.135.1244&rep=rep1&type=pdf

    “the honeybee dance language is a formal apparatus which itself is context-free, in such ways that it can, in local instances of its operation, be sensitive to and exhibit its sensitivity to various parameters of social reality in a local context.”

    Searle (“What is Language” 2009) puts his finger on some of the differences between prelinguistic and linguistic intentionality, but following inherently public/socially agreed rules is not one of them. He is also happy to use the terms belief and desire as summaries of the internal states of dumb animals that lead to subsequent purposeful actions.

    I think the causation seen in the bee language collection is just as complicated to talk about as human social causation, but I think it’s useful when we start discussing evolution of bee language, genetics etc/

  81. Searle is wrong. But I’m glad he’s happy.

  82. Hi Dan, I agree with your assessment, the dangers lie particularly where sciences treat subjects that are at the line (often crossing) between the folk and the scientific. Hacker and Tallis were good, Hacker being better in that particular video clip because he went into more expanded explanations. He certainly revealed some of the errors committed by those in the sciences, with either careless thinking or careless word choice. However he revealed some errors of his own. I think this is where philosophy and the sciences really need to get together to work out a common “legend” so we are not talking at cross purposes, often making false assumptions of what the other is saying, and basically confusing everyone in the public in the process.

    In trying (and failing) to write three concise replies, I think I will skip to assuming the possibility of a semantic/conceptual difference is at the heart of my “issues” and make very brief statements which you can clarify.

    Wittgenstein’s arm. I think a mistake is made when it is said…

    … when I subtract the fact that my arm goes up, from the fact that I raise my arm, and the answer that tempts us is that what is left over is a prior, mental act of intending to raise my arm. We’ve seen, however, that such an answer must be a mistake –that we cannot construe intentional states like “intending,” “wanting,” “hoping,” and the like as discrete, localizable, internal events – and that there must be something else that makes these motor movements count as raising one’s hand, asking a question, requesting permission to go to the bathroom…

    That appears to be arguing if a phenomenon has extensive qualities (or many impinging factors), all of the qualities must be considered in any explanation related to that phenomenon or a mistake is being made. Basically the pesky kid always asking “but why” can keep tripping any attempts to start an investigation, by demanding more than was necessary for the original investigation (though admittedly the damn kid is right there is more).

    To be honest I think this can happen in both directions with physical scientists asking but why to zoom in on the mechanical aspects, and social scientists asking but why to zoom out to find the actual (public) context which the mechanical aspects are facilitating. Both are “real” but need to disregard explanations in the opposite direction to deliver any coherent answer.

    I think it is fair to say that “A complete description/understanding of intentional states or actions will not be identical to brain states or motor movements.” This gets to the “mere” problem Hacker was discussing. However, to simply claim intentional states and actions are not identical with brain states or motor movements, creates the suggestion they have no direct correspondence with them.

  83. Dan,

    Thanks for the references. The talks of Tallis and Hacker are very interesting, clear and partly persuasive. In essence, the crypto-cartesian error of conflating person, mind or brain is a potential reductionist beast. Agreed.

    Tallis has a feast day pointing out all the unexplained mysteries glossed over by those that pay too much attention to neuroscience. This would only be news to those that are naive about the present state of science. (He floundered a little bit when it came to the ‘finding problem’ – there are, it is now recognized, trillions of ‘clocks’ running in our bodies to ensure that everything is perfectly synchronized.)

    Hacker could not resist in ridiculing those blind neuro-economists, and their ilk, for their limited understanding of reality as he sees it. (He curiously said we do not process information.)

    I respect their concern that scientismists could easily fall into the trap of diminishing the subject of their study: humans as laboratory animals, as it were. However, Hacker and Tallis seem to unwittingly fall into a similar trap: they diminish their ‘opponents’ by focusing mostly on any errors. Everyone makes mistakes. As Nietzsche would say, it’s a matter of perspective.

    My simple rule is: pursue and respect as much information as possible. The only conscious decision making that I am aware of occurs somewhere in my brain, itself completely dependent on and modulated by my body. The input of society is fundamental and absolutely vital. There is nothing in this that Hacker or Tallis disagrees with, as far as I can tell from the video. I suspect a modern Wittgenstein would agree too.

  84. Liam: Of course *we* process information. It’s brains that don’t.

  85. Liam and dbholmes: the category errors and fundamental fallacies that Hacker uncovers are foundational and not just a matter of a “pesky kid asking ‘why’?” or of merely focusing on errors. They get directly at the kind of enquiry we should be engaged in.

    Indeed, this is at the center of the battle, within the social sciences, between quantitative theorists and qualitative or “narrative” oriented social scientists.

  86. Hi Dan, my long response just got eaten so I will keep it short. I wasn’t referring to Hacker and Tallis’s discussion with my pesky little kid comment. As I said I agreed with some of their positions, especially Hacker… and yes that includes category errors and some fundamental fallacies. He was right to go after fMRI, for example, but (and this is where he was wrong) seemed to miss that there are plenty in neuro already making the same arguments he gave (including Ramachandran who for some reason Hacker dissed).

    The pesky kid thing was not a slam on anyone, or this kind of discussion (which I think is important). It was an analogy to an effect the raised arm problem seems to create for any scientist (social or physical).

  87. I’ve been considering the recent phase of this discussion with great interest. I do get the sense that this dispute in academia is actually quite superficial in the end, though very damaging nonetheless. Here are some thoughts to potentially help:

    1.) All sides that can, need to formally acknowledge that they are indeed naturalists. This should especially be true for the followers of Wittgenstein, since they tend to leave us uncertain. From the differing magnifications concept that DB brought up, here I’m talking about infinite magnification. Thus all of reality can be said to reduce, not that any human could ever gain such understandings.

    2.) The neuroscientist’s level of magnification might be called 1000X, and they need to formally acknowledge an inability to reduce things down very much. “Intentionality,” for example, simply does not exist from such a level of magnification.

    3.) In normal existence there is no magnification, and so things can seem quite impossible to understand — here all can be questioned (except “I think”). Though existence will indeed be filtered through our senses, our memories, our languages, and so on, we must not use this as an excuse to stop trying to figure things out. Instead we must take what we think we know, and use this to evaluate ideas that we’re not so sure about.

    4.) Beyond DB’s magnification concerns, I like his “legend for the map” suggestion. This conforms with my theory that there are no “true” definitions, but only more and less “useful” ones. Thus I believe that we must always accept a given speaker’s definitions in the attempt to understand that person’s ideas.

  88. dbholmes:

    Let’s put this another way. What I take from Hacker — and from my understanding of Wittgenstein — not to mention from my own intuitions and understandings on the subject, is that the investigation of human action is to be conducted primarily at the sociological level. This is because of (a) what we engage in the investigation *for* (in my view, intelligbility rather than causal explanations), and (b) the nature of the “objects” of intvestigation (intentional states and actions).

    In this sort of endeavor, brain science is largely beside the point. It is much more relevant in a different sort of investigation — that directed towards understanding the mechanics of human bodily movement — which I have maintained is not analogous to understanding human action.

  89. Hi Dan, I basically agree with everything in your reply. Indeed your first two replies to me already tightened things up, or defined the situation being faced quite well.

    My last couple comments have been directed at a potential problem I saw arising in point (b) of your latest reply, in how intentional states and actions got defined (particularly intentional states). The problem does not undercut your overall claim, and does not reject the definition obtained (particularly for the purposes of the social sciences). At most it would call for a slight refining of the statements.

    In short, the method of argument itself (the raising arm problem) seemed problematic in that it appeared to make (as stated) a claim too far, or too strong, which was not necessary to make your point. Since I do not seem to be able to make my case understandable for what problem I feel it causes, I will let it go. This is not to blame you at all for any misunderstanding, the issue is subtle and every time I try to write something that would be more clear it is wayyyyy too long. And in the end I could still be wrong!

    I definitely look forward to your work with Massimo on this.

  90. Daniel,

    I find your comment just above to DB helpful, and I certainly do want to agree, but I’m not entirely sure what I would be agreeing to given the different ways in which your words could potentially be taken. Yes perhaps “human action” needs to be understood sociologically given lower magnification. And then you did mention that brain science is for “…understanding the mechanics of human bodily movement — which I have maintained is not analogous to understanding human action.” So yes, this is coherent with “movement” on the psychology side, and “action” being neurological. But then how might you emphasize to the other side that you’re leaving your definitions responsible? Could you state, for example, that from an “infinite magnification,” all of reality would then fully reduce?

    I also worry about potential Wittgensteinian anthropocentrism. For example, I have a theory that there is only one essential means by which the conscious entity figures things out — it takes what it thinks it knows, and then uses this to assess ideas it’s not so sure about. But my perception is that Wittgenstein would deny human connections with the rest of nature, simply given that we’ve developed languages, cultures, and so on. If there are such blanket denials (which the neurologist most certainly would not deny) then yes, I must object in this regard. Surely the stuff between the ears of the conscious entity, will indeed be what runs this particular kind of machine, and thus there should be important functional similarities between us all.

  91. Eric: No, “action” is not neurological. Action consists of motor movement interpreted in certain ways. These interpretations are *constituitive* of action and thus, cannot be reduced to mere motor movement.

  92. Eric: And we are not machines. Nor are we “entities.”

  93. Eric: And no, it would not reduce from any “level.” There are essential characteristics — like interpretations — that are irreducible.

  94. Aha! This is the crux of our different understanding: that brains do not process information is completely anathema to my understanding.

    Your approach starts from the socio-cultural end and works down. All information is semantic.

    I would suspect that every physicist views information processing to occur at all levels, from the most microscopic to ultimate macroscopic.

    As a biologist I see all the levels and types of information intersecting at the human level. We cannot afford to ignore any sources of information if we are interested in a full understanding of ourselves and our world.

  95. Nothing counts as information until it is interpreted. There is nothing inherently representational and thus, nothing that inherently counts as information.

    What makes a string of o’s and 1’s “information”? That people interepret it in particular ways. What makes a number of electrical impulses count as “information”? That people interpret it in particular ways.

    The idea that some substance or process could be *inherently* informational, without any interpretation strikes me as nothing but sheer stipulation — and incoherent too.

  96. “Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings. And so we watch one man after another walking down the same paths and we know in advance where he will branch off, where walk straight on without noticing the side turning, etc. etc. What I have to do then is erect signposts at all the junctions where there are wrong turnings so as to help people past the danger points.”

    With those wonderfully evocative words your hero describes our difficult social reality. The task he sets himself seems to me to be impossible, unfortunately. There are some fundamental difficulties that must first be resolved. 🙂

  97. mpboyle56

    “The idea that some substance or process could be *inherently* informational, without any interpretation strikes me as nothing but sheer stipulation — and incoherent too.”

    This makes me wonder if such a view isn’t ultimately grounded in a view of nature as a book to be read, a metaphor famously used by Galileo, but whose origin is ultimately medieval.

  98. marc levesque

    Daniel,

    Interesting and I enjoyed reading.

    I liked a lot of the comments, nothing to add except that for me the word ‘intention’ is especially problematic.

    I look forward to more on the subject.