Friday, October 29, 2010

The Shark Cognitivist-Style

In the spirit of the best defense being a good offense, in my other posts on the TSRM account of the shark, Andrew has been hounding me for a mechanistic cognitivist account of what is going on with the shark. I've been avoiding this as I hate to get off topic, but here's a post to reply to Andrew's challenge/question.

It seems to me that there is a mechanistic cognitivist account of the shark implicit in TSRM's account.  The idea is that the shark detects the electric field F, then infers (perhaps on the basis of an implicit assumption that if there is an electric field F, then there is probably something edible) that there is something edible.  By cognitivist lights, inference can be mechanistic, since inference is the kind of thing a computer can do and computers are mechanistic devices.  This is the account TSRM are evidently trying to forestall in the following passage:
To predicate of the shark (a) 'detects electric field of type F' and (b) 'takes to be an edible thing' is not to refer to two different states of affairs, one (viz. (b)) that is reached from the other (viz. (a)) by an inference. Rather, it is to make reference in two ways to a single state of affairs of the shark-niche system.
So, here is what seems to me to be the lay of the land.  It seems to be common ground to both cognitivists and TSRM that the shark detects the electric field F.  Then, the issue that separates them is how this detection relates to taking there to be a fish present.  The cognitivist answer is that the detection of the field and taking there to be a fish present are related by inference; one is among the premises for a conclusion of the latter.  The TSRM answer is that the detection of the field and taking there to be a fish present are identical.

What I have been challenging is the adequacy of the TSRM account.

Andrew won't like the cognitivist answer, but that's not the same as claiming that I don't have one or that there isn't one.


  1. It's a start.

    Stage 2: on what basis is the specific inference (from 'detects field F' to 'there is a fish present') made? How did the shark come to know that the field means fish?

    (TSRM have the shark get there via laws. If they can show that the field specifies the fish (within an adequate scope) and that the shark detects the field, who needs inference?)

    And in fairness to me, I don't think this is off topic. If you really want to show TSRM are way off base, I'd be much more convinced if had an alternative to defend. I presume you're repeating the inductive line of attack you use on extended mind examples and so don't think you need a theory of what you're defending; but you've yet to break the shark example except via appeal to beliefs, or to knowledge the shark can't have (about the error) which aren't enough. So I think a firm place to defend will help you.

    You aren't likely to actually convince me :) But I'm always happy to admit when an opposing view is viable. So far, not so much.

  2. I'm not sure what sort of basis you are asking about. There is an implicit assumption that if there is an electric field of sort F, then there is probably a fish. The shark detects the fish, then performs the modus ponens inference.

    There are two separable issues. Does the TSRM account work and does the cognitivist account work. So, this post and commentary can be about what's wrong with the cognitivist line on sharks. The other series is meant to be about the problems for the TSRM account. In fact, I think that the primary literature looks pretty bad for the TSRM approach. Stay tuned for installment #6.

  3. Not that there is yet another way that "detects electric field F" and "takes there to be a fish" could be related. They could be non-inferentially related by causal law. But, this is neither TSRM's view or the cognitivist view I have described.

    In principle, a cognitivist could hold that they are both lawfully related and inferentially related. But, what I've been dogging TSRM about is the identification of these two states.

  4. How is 'non-inferentially related by causal law' not the TSRM account?

  5. I'm assuming one and the same thing cannot be lawfully related to itself. (a) and (b) are the same thing according to TSRM.

  6. Ah, OK - I think I see where your problem is. Let me think a bit.