Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How do these fit?

Thompson and Stapleton write,
Of course, what goes on inside the system is crucial for enabling the system's cognitive or sense-making relation to its environment, but to call internal process as such cognitive is to confuse levels of discourse or to make a category mistake (neurons do not think and feel; people and animals do).  (Thompson and Stapleton, 2010, p. 26).
Personally, I don't put that much stake in worries about category mistakes for the reasons I think are well-fleshed out by Searle and Dennett in Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language. (And, the rhetoric is somewhat misleading, since one might say that, while neurons probably do not think and feel, perhaps the whole brain does.) But, how is this category mistake idea to be reconciled with this:
Attention to the inseparability of emotion and cognition is an emerging trend in cognitive science.  For example, Marc Lewis (2005) argues that appraisal and emotion processes are thoroughly interdependent at both psychological and neural levels.  ... (ibid, p. 26).
and this:
In a recent review, Pessoa (2008) provides extensive evidence from neuroscience that supports this view of the neural underpinnings of emotion and cognition (p. 27).
It's pretty hard to catch a philosopher in an outright contradiction, but the tension is obvious.  How can one assert that there is evidence that neural cognitive processes and neural emotive processes are integrated, when it is a category mistake (i.e. nonsense) to talk about neural cognitive processes?

Thompson, E., and Stapleton, M. (2010). Making sense of sense-making.  Topoi, 28, 23-30.

1 comment:

  1. T&S submit that what goes on "inside the system is crucial for enabling" cognitive processes etc that belong to the system, and if "neural underpinnings" (from the last quote) is understood in this enabling way, then I don't see a contradiction.

    I guess it depends on what they mean by "internal processes _as such_". One can talk about cognitive processes, neural underpinnings and so on, without committing oneself to the claim that there is some intrinsic property of some processes which makes them cognitive (which is what you and Adams claim, right?). I take it that T&S is denying the latter but not the former.

    I agree that we shouldn't be too worried about category mistakes.

    Cheers Olle