Friday, December 30, 2011

Intertwining of vision and movement

Bodily movement plays the crucial role in our visual perception, as is shown in the Held and Hein's experiment. If there is no movement, there might be just a 'blur', a chaotic mixture of visual sensations.

Related to this point, I'd like to quote Merleau-Ponty's text.

Everything I see is in principle within my reach, at least within reach of my sight, and is marked upon the map of the "I can". Each of the two maps is complete. The visible world and the world of my motor projects are each total parts of the same Being.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). The Primacy of Perception. Northwestern Univ. Press. p.162]

It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings. To understand these transubstantiations we must go back to the working, actual body--not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement.

There is not a perception followed by a movement, for both form a system which varies as a whole.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge. p.111]

The vision and the movement are deeply intertwined. As the self-actuated movement of the kitten developed the depth in vision, our movements of the eyes, the head, or the whole body transform the chaos of visual sensations into the adjusted visual perception with depth, forms, colors, and movements. It is not the mind's interpretation but bodily skills that give rise to changes in stimulation.

Vision is a kind of embodied skill. Maybe the painters are those who consciously practice this skill.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Classic experiment by Held and Hein

The well-known experiment on vision performed by Held and Hein: They harnessed a pair of kittens to a carousel (see the figure). One of the kittens was harnessed but stood on the ground and was able to rotate around by itself, while the other, being placed in the gondola, was only moved passively. As the one kitten walked, both moved in the circle.

[Held, R. and Hein A. (1963). Movement-produced stimulation in the development of visually guided behavior. Jouranal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology
56(5): 872-876.]

None of them have received light before the experiment, as they both were reared in darkness from birth. The point of this experiment is that both kittens were made to learn to see the world, receiving the same visual stimulation. The difference was that the one could move actively, the other was moved passively.

According to Held and Hein, only the self-moving kitten developed the normal visual perception. The other one, which was deprived of self-actuated movement, could not develop the depth perception. For example, it doesn't blink to an approaching object. In its visual field, I think, something looks 'bigger' when approaching, but never looks 'nearer'. The change of patterns in the visual field does not have the spatial meaning for the kitten.

The self-actuated movement is necessary in order to develop the normal visual perception with depth. Our movement in the world, the movement from here to there or there to here, gives the dimension of depth to mere visual sensations. Movement is the key to understanding the vision.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What is vision?

What is vision?

We tend to think, in general, that the vision (visual perception) is a passive process; visible light comes into our eyes and makes images on the retina. These are then transmitted via optic nerves and represented in the visual areas of the cerebral cortex. Once you open your eyes, a precise impression of the surrounding world is given to you. The visual system (eyes, optic nerves, visual areas) functions like a photograph or a mirror. It is believed to reflect the present world as it is.

But it does not seem the way things are. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, describes the case of his patient Virgil, who restored the vision by surgery after 45 years of blindness:

Virgil told me later that in this first moment he had no idea what he was seeing. There was light, there was movement, there was color, all mixed up, all meaningless, a blur. Then out of the blur came a voice that said, "Well?" Then, and only then, he said, did he finally realize that this chaos of light and shadow was a face --- and , indeed, the face of his surgeon.
[Sacks, O. (1995). An Anthropologist on Mars. p.114]

There is no problem with patient's eyes, retina, or optical nerves. He is not blind anymore after the surgery, but his visual world is totally chaotic. To put it accurately, he is seeing but he is not able to get the meaning of what he sees. There is light, movement and colors but they are all mixed up as 'a blur'. He is receiving the visible light perfectly but his visual world is perfectly meaningless.

How should we think about this case?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Husserl's theory of the Other (4)

The other's body enters into my perceptual field. I perceive the world from 'here', where my body is, and 'there' I perceive the other's body paired to mine. Through pairing association, I know that it is a living body (Leib) like mine. I also know that my 'self' is always given with the mode 'here' and cannot be 'there', where the other Leib is. Hence the 'self' being 'there' is not myself but the other self. Husserl says:

# I do not apperceive the other ego simply as a duplicate of myself and accordingly as having my original sphere or one completely like mine....I apperceive him as having spatial modes of appearance like those I should have if I should go over there and be where he is.
[Husserl, E (1950/1988). Cartesian Meditation. (trans.) D. Cairns. London: Kluwer Academic. p.117.]

# My own ego however, the ego given in constant self-perception, is actual now with the content belonging to his Here. Therefore an ego is appresented, as other than mine. [p.119]

'Here' exists my own self, and 'There' exists the other self. The body being 'There' acts in the manner that I am acquainted with. It walks on the ground with her legs, looks around with her eyes, touches things with her hands. The other self firstly appears to me as something that controls her bodily movements in the same manner I do. Though I cannot directly reach the other self, her existence is verified through her behaviors.

Based on this fact, the other's mind is understood through empathy (Einfühlung). Mental processes such as anger or joy are also showed in the behaviors of the other.

# It is quite comprehensible that, as a further consequence, an "empathizing" of definite contents belonging to the "higher psychic sphere" arises. Such contents too are indicated somatically and in the conduct of the organism toward the outside world --- for example: as the outward conduct of someone who is angry or cheerful, which I easily understand from my own conduct under similar circumstances. [p.120]

What Husserl claims in this passage apparently sounds similar to the simulation theory of mind. He is saying that we understand the other's mind through inner simulation based on our own experiences.

Monday, October 31, 2011

additional comments on the notion of 'Pairing'

Husserl explains the notion of 'Pairing' as follows:

Pairing is a primal form of that passive synthesis which we designate as "association", in contrast to passive synthesis of "identification". In a pairing association the characteristic feature is that, in the most primitive case, two data are given intuitionally, and with prominence, in the unity of a consciousness and that, on this basis --- essentially, already in pure passivity (regardless therefore of whether they are noticed or unnoticed) ---, as data appearing with mutual distinctness, they found phenomenologically a unity of similarity and thus are always constituted precisely as a pair. If there are more than two such data, then a phenomenally unitary group, a plurality, becomes constituted. On more precise analysis we find essentially present here an intentional overreaching, coming about genetically (and by essential necessity) as soon as the data that undergo pairing have become prominent and simultaneously intended; we find, more particularly, a living mutual awakening and overlaying of each with the objective sense of the other. This overlaying can bring a total or a partial coincidence, which in any particular instance has its degree, the limiting case being that of complete "likeness". As the result of this overlaying, there takes place in the paired data a mutual transfer of sense --- that is to say: an apperception of each according to the sense of the other, so far as / moments of sense actualized in what is experienced do not annul this transfer, with the consciousness of "different".
[Husserl, E (1950/1988). Cartesian Meditation. (trans.) D. Cairns. London: Kluwer Academic. p.113.]

My body and that of the other are not the same but they are enough similar to make 'a unity of similarity'. There is an 'intentional overreaching', which is 'a living mutual awakening and overlaying of each with the objective sense of the other'. Through this process, the other's body is recognized as a living body like mine.

The word "intentional overreaching" (original German is "intentionales Ubergreifen") was translated into French as "transgression intentionelle" and possibly had an influence on the Merleau-Pontian notion of "intercorporeality".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Husserl's theory of the Other (3)

The body of the other is material and objective (Körper), but also living and animate (Leib) like mine. The other's body as Leib is not static. It appears to me as the body in behavior, which indicates indirectly the existence of other mental being.

The experienced animate organism of another continues to probe itself as actually an animate organism, solely in its changing but incessantly harmonious "behavior". Such harmonious behavior (as having a physical side that indicates something psychic appresentatively) must present itself fulfillingly in original experience, and do so throughout the continuous change in behavior from phase to phase. The organism becomes experienced as a pseudo-organism, precisely if there is something discordant about its behavior.
The character of the existent "other" has its basis in this kind of verifiable accessibility of what is not originally accessible....Whatever, by virtue thereof, is experienced in that founded manner which characterizes a primordially unfulfillable experience --- an experience that does not give something itself originally but that consistently verifies something indicated --- is "other".
[Husserl, E (1950/1988). Cartesian Meditation. (trans.) D. Cairns. London: Kluwer Academic. p.114-5.]

According to Husserl, the mind of the other does not appear in itself. It is something to be apprehended indirectly behind the bodily behavior. Thus, Husserl would claim that the understanding of the other minds should be based on that of the other's behavior and accordant with it. Before simulations or theoretical inferences as is seen in Theory of Mind, it is needed to understand bodily movements, actions, and behaviors of the others. (Phenomenology itself does not tell us whether the theory-theory or simulation theory is true.)

Again, what is important here is understanding the other person as an embodied being. Though we are not able to access or grasp directly the other's mind, we should not posit it as an abstract entity separated from the body or the behavior. It is something realized in concrete behaviors in certain contexts.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Husserl's theory of the Other (2)

In Husserl's theory, 'Pairing' (Paarung) is the second phase of constitution of the other.

The other's body appears in my perceptual field, originally as objective and material. But it is constituted as a living body through analogy, that is, it is apprehended as an animate organism since it is similar to my own living body. The other's body is recognized as 'the other person's living body', paired to my own living body. There is a process of 'Pairing' of my body and that of the other. Husserl says:

...pairing first comes about when the Other enters my field of perception. I, as the primordial psychophysical Ego, am always prominent in my primordial field of perception, regardless of whether I pay attention to myself and turn toward myself with some activity or other. In particular, my live body is always there and sensuously prominent; but, in addition to that and likewise with primordial originariness, it is equipped with the specific sense of an animate organism. Now in case there presents itself, as outstanding in my primordial sphere, a body "similar" to mine --- that is to say, a body with determinations such that it must enter into a phenomenal pairing with mine --- it seems clear without more ado that, with the transfer of sense, this body must forthwith appropriate from mine the sense: animate organism.
[Husserl, E (1950/1988). Cartesian Meditation. (trans.) D. Cairns. London: Kluwer Academic. p.113]

In this passage, Husserl is simply claiming that I recognize the other's body as living body (Leib) because it is similar to mine. But how is the range of similarity asked here? For example, how about an animal's body?, a doll?, a robot? Do they have the body which can be paired to mine?

Anyway, what is important here is that we recognize the other person as an embodied being, before we recognize them as a mental being. The problem of other minds should be grounded on the embodiment.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The sense of body ownership

Today I've been preparing the poster that I'm going to present at the Japanese Psychological Association in a few days. My idea is about the recognition of one's own body, especially the sense of body ownership.

Recognizing the given body as "mine" or as "one's own" is not so trivial as it seems. For example, there are two contrasting, anomalous cases of body experience. One is the rubber hand illusion (RHI), the other is the case of depersonalization. I already wrote here on both cases. Please see;

rubber hand illusion


In RHI experiments, the participants feels touch on the rubber hand and also feels as if the rubber hand is the real one. In this case, "my body" includes the rubber hand, which is originally an external object.

On the contrary, the patients with depersonalization feel as if they were disembodied. They are difficult to have the sense of body ownership on their own bodies. There is almost nothing that can be felt as "my body", as the very sense of self is alienated from the body.

The sense of body ownership probably derives from the fact that one's own body is ambiguous as Merleau-Ponty described. On the one hand, body is the subject, which I live from within. I am the body and I perceive the world and act in the world as the body. On the other hand, the body appears as an object to me. I can see it in front of my eyes, I touch it with my hands.

Neurologically speaking, the subject side of the body appears as proprioceptive sensation and the object side of the body appears as visual or tactile sensation. Then, the multimordal or cross-modal integration of these sensations create the sense of body ownership in the brain.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Husserl's theory of the Other (1)

In the Cartesian Meditation, Husserl presented his theory of the other and the othernss. Bridging the gap between the self and the other was a very important issue for Husserl, because his phenomenology was often mistook as solipsistic. Though his attempt does not seem very successful, I think it is still worth reading in order to think over the current problem of the other mind.

First of all, the other person shows up in my perceptual field as a body ('Körper'). At this phase, the other is not yet a 'person' but a mere body that is material and objective. Then it is apprehended as a living body ('Leib'), receiving its 'liveness' transferred from my body. My own body is the only animate organism in my phenomenologically-reduced world. It is my body that provides the other body with meaning. Husserl writes as following:

Let us assume that another man enters our perceptual sphere. Primordially reduced, that signifies: In the perceptual sphere pertaining to my primordial Nature, a body is presented, which, as primordial, is of course only a determining part of myself: an "immanent transcendency". Since in this Nature and this world, my animate organism is the only body that is or can be constituted originally as an animate organism (a functioning organ), the body over there, wich is nevertheless apprehended as an animate organism, must have derived this sense by an apperceptive transfer from my animate organism, and done so in a manner that excludes an actually direct, and hence primordial, showing of the predicates belonging to an animate organism specifically, a showing of them in perception proper.
[Husserl, E (1988). Cartesian Meditation. London: Kluwer Academic. pp.110-111.]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

publication of the proceeding

The proceedings of the biennial conference of ISTP (International Society for Theoretical Psychology), which was held in China two years ago, was published recently by Captus University Publications.

[Paul Stenner, (Ed.)]
[Theoretical Psychology: Global Transformations and Challenges]

I also wrote a short article, briefly reviewing the notion of embodied knowledge, which was inspired by the work of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of the body.

[Chapter 15: The notion of embodied knowledge. pp.149-157]
-Examples of Embodied Knowledge: 1. Phantom Limb, 2. Affordances, 3. Personal Space
-'I think' and 'I can'
-The Merleau-Pontian notion of body schema
-Learning experiment on ball juggling
-Concluding remarks

If you are interested in the detail, please refer to the book or ask me by e-mail. The summary is as follows:

This paper discusses the notion of embodied knowledge, which is derived from the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Embodied knowledge is a type of knowledge where the body knows how to act (e.g., how to touch type, how to ride a bicycle, etc.). One of the important features of this knowledge is that the body, not the mind, is the knowing subject. Procedures for performance are embodied such that the body knows how to act in a given situation. Embodied knowledge is not confined only to motor skills, but is concerned with the variety of human experiences, all of which share the property of ‘doing without representing’. There is no need for representation because there exists a pre-reflective correspondence between body and world. Through examining Merleau-Ponty’s notion of body schema, I try to clarify that embodied knowledge is beyond the Cartesian mind-body dualism and requires an embodied view of mind.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I've participated in the 30th IHSR Conference in Oxford. The ambient was really warm, open-minded and encouraging. I would like to take this opportunity to give thanks to the organisers, to the audience who came to my paper session, and all those who kindly shared ideas with me. Please let me mention some people by name;
-Agne Matulaite
-Akihiro Yoshida
-Denis Francesconi
-Denisa Butnaru
-Ittoku Tomano
-Jean-Sebastien Hardy
-James Morley
-Mariko Harada
-Martin Nitsche
-Masahiro Nochi
-Masahiro Tamachi
-Seiji Takeda
-Steen Halling
-Susan Stuart
-Tania Heap
-Thomas Bille
-Tsuneo Watanabe

Sunday, June 26, 2011


In a month, IHSR Conference will be held in Oxford, UK.

If you are going to participate in the conference, please visit our session. It is scheduled on July 28th in the morning. Our talk will focus on the theory of mind, and think over the intersubjectivity from embodied aspect (see the abstract below). We look forward to meeting you all.

[Phenomenological view on the theory of mind]
Shogo Tanaka (Tokai University), Masahiro Tamachi (Aino University)

How do we understand other people? In cognitive science, there is a complex discussion concerning this simple question, which is known as the theory of mind debate (see Davies and Stone, 1995). The theory of mind, in general, is defined as the ability to imagine and make inferences about other people’s minds and behaviors. Within this field, there is a debate between the ‘theory theory’ and the ‘simulation theory.’ The former claims that we use common sense kind of theories to understand other people. In this view, we understand the mental states of other people and predict their behavior through theoretical inferences. On the contrary, the latter theory suggests that we understand other people by simulating their mental states. In other words, we put ourselves in other people’s situations and virtually perceive, imagine, and think from their perspective. Beyond such differences, however, both theories share the common view that the minds of others are hidden behind their behaviors (Gallagher and Zahavi, 2008). In this presentation, we will propose the phenomenological alternative. From the phenomenological perspective, especially from that of Merleau-Ponty, the mentalistc supposition shared by both sides is “the prejudice to be renounced”, because it divides others into minds and bodies, whereas our direct experiences make it clear that we perceive them as a whole (Merleau-Ponty, 1951). We practice various embodied interactions with them, before making theoretical inferences or simulations. It is suggested that our ability to understand others is based on this type of embodied interactions, which Merleau-Ponty called ‘Intercorporeality’.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The primary function of mirror neurons

Mirror neurons were first discovered in monkeys but the relevant brain activity has also been found in the premotor cortex, the somatosensory cortex and the other areas in humans. As is well known, mirror neurons are active when one performs a specific movement, and when one observes someone else doing the same motion. Neurons in our brain “mirror” the action of the other, as if the observer himself were acting in the same way.

Giacomo Rizzolatti, one of the discoverers of the mirror neuron, says that the mirror neurons "are primarily involved in the understanding of the meaning of 'motor events', i.e. of the actions performed by others". That is, the monkey "sees the experimenter shaping his hand into a precision grip and moving it towards the food, it immediately perceives the meaning of these 'motor events' and interprets them in terms of an intentional act".
[Rizzolatti, G. and Sinigaglia, C. (2008) Mirrors in the Brain. Oxford University Press. p.97-98]

Thus, the primary function of mirror neurons is to perceive another person’s movement as an intentional action. In other words, the other person’s movement provokes the same potential movement, the same potential action, the same intention in us, through mirror neurons. In the fundamental level, we do not need to infer the other’s intention from the objective point of view, nor to project our own intention to another from the subjective point of view. (Here is the point to remember the theory of mind debate).

The other’s movement appears to us as a meaningful action, from the very beginning.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

two textbooks of phenomenological psychology

I found two contrasting passages in two textbooks of phenomenological psychology. They are interesting to know about the historical development of phenomenological psychology, which differentiated itself from phenomenology as philosophy.

1. Looking back his younger days, Amedeo Giorigi (he has been one of the leading figures in phenomenological psychology) says;

My sabbatical semester began in January 1969 and lasted until July of that year. My home base was the University of Aarhus in Denmark, but I was free to travel extensively and I sought out every phenomenological psychologist that I could find. I visited Copenhagen, Stockholm, Utrecht, Louvain, Heidelberg, and any other place that had someone who might be doing phenomenological psychological research. To make a long story short, I did not find anyone who had a research program using a phenomenological method in psychology. There were certainly some psychologists who had interests in phenomenological psychology, but they were not carrying out research with a phenomenological method. What passed for phenomenological psychology was mostly a theoretical critique of mainstream psychology or else some interesting phenomenological analyses that failed to articulate a method. It almost seemed as though I were pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp.
[Giorgi, A. (2009). The Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology: A Modified Husserlian Approach. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. p.xii]

2. Looking to the future for phenomenological psychology, Darren Langdridge says;

The future is looking promising for phenomenological psychology. The rapid growth in qualitative methods, especially in social and applied psychology, clearly signals the need for approaches that prioritize understanding and focus on the meanings of experiences for participants......although phenomenology may no longer be such an active form of philosophy, the developments in continental philosophy --such as the turn to narrative-- have been taken up by phenomenological psychologists and used to further develop methods of enquiry appropriate to the needs of the social sciences and study of human nature.
[Langdridge, D. (2007). Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method. London: Pearson. pp.167-8]

What a change in forty years!

As the academic situation has changed, phenomenology seemes to have lost its actuality in philosophy and thought but gained its popularity as one of the qualitative methods in psychology and other social sciences.

This is not a bad story for the psychologists who seek for the alternative methodology. But hmm... is this the future which Edmund Husserl himself dreamed of?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Notes on Intercorporeality (2)

From philosophical point of view, the problem of the other minds and how we understand the others is a variation or a byproduct of the mind-body problem. Merleau-Ponty explains;

[i]f the body is indeed a province of the world, if it is that object which the biologist talks about, that conjunction of processes analysed in physiological treatises, that collection of organs shown in the plates of books on anatomy, then my experience can be nothing but the dialogue between bare consciousness and the system of objective correlations which it conceives. The body of another, like my own, is not inhabited, but is an object standing before the consciousnesss which thinks about or constitutes it. Other men, and myself, seen as empirical beings, are merely pieces of mechanism worked by springs, but the true subject is irrepeatable, for that consciousness which is hidden in so much flesh and blood is the least intelligible of occult qualities. My consciousness, being co-extensive with what can exist for me, and corresponding to the whole system of experience, cannot encounter, in that system, another consciousness capable of bringing immediately to light in the world the background, unknown to me, of its own phenomena. There are two modes of being, and two only: being in itself, which is that of objects arrayed in space, and being for itself, which is that of consciousness. Now, another person would seem to stand before me as in-itself and yet to exist for himself, thus requiring of me, in order to be perceived, a contradictory operation, since I ought both to distinguish him from myself, and therefore place him in the world of objects, and think of him as a consciousness, that is, the sort of being with no outside and no parts, to which I have access merely because that being is myself, and because the thinker and the thought about are amalgamated in him. There is thus no place for other people and a plurality of consciousness in objective thought.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/1962) Phenomenology of Perception, p.349-50.]

Cartesian Cogito, the mind-body dualism, and the solipsism form the hidden triangle behind the problem of the other minds. In order to think over the problem, it is needed to shift the the way of thinking, at least as follows;

1. The mind is embodied.

2. The other person appears as the lived body (not as the objective body), as concrete behaviors in the shared context or in the common world.

3. Understanding the other person's mind is not trying to find his/her mind behind the bodily appearances.

4. One can directly experience the other person through bodily interactions, regardless of whether one can clearly understand his/her mind or not.

5. There might be an latent dimension, where one's body and that of the other are like organs of one single intercorporeality.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Notes on Intercorporeality (1)

A quotation from Merleau-Ponty's text on Intercorporeality.

[M]y right hand was present at the advent of my left hand's active sense of touch. It is no different fashion that the other's body becomes animate before me when I shake another man's hand or just look at him. In learning that my body is a "perceiving thing," that it is able to be stimulated (reizbar)---it, and not just my "consciousness"---I prepared myself for understanding that there are other animalia and possibly other men.
It is imperative to recognize that we have here neither comparison, nor analogy, nor projection or "introjection." The reason why I have evidence of the other man's being-there when I shake his hand is that his hand is substituted for my left hand, and my body annexes the body of another person in that "sort of reflection" it is paradoxically the seat of. My two hands "coexist" or are "compresent" because they are one single body's hands. The other person appears through an extension of that compresence; he and I are like organs of one single intercorporeality.
[Merleau-Ponty, M. (1960/1964). The Philosopher and His Shadow. in Signs. p.168]

In order to understand the other man's "being-there", we don't need any analogy or projection. It is based on the direct perception and direct experience. Understanding the other person is basically the problem of perception, not that of theoretical inference or internal projection.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Beyond the debate

On the theory of mind debate, Gallagher and Zahavi point out that both sides share a common view on the mind. Read carefully the quotation, it's important.

[D]espite their differences, TT [theory theory] and ST [simulation theory] both deny that it is possible to directly experience other minded creatures; this is supposedly why we need to rely on and employ either theoretical inferences or internal simulations. Both accounts consequently share the view that the minds of others are hidden, and they consider one of the main challenges facing a theory of social cognition to be the question of how and why we start ascribing such hidden mental entities or processes to certain publicly observable bodies.
[Gallagher, S. and Zahavi, D (2008). The Phenomenological Mind. London: Routledge, p.183]

As I wrote here before, the theory theory takes the objective, third person's view. The simulation theory, in contrast, takes the subjective, first person's view. But despite such differences, they share the mentalistic suppositon; The other person's mind is somthing hidden behind his/her observable body and accecible only for himself/herself.

From the phenomenological view, this mentalism itself shuoul be renounced. Merleau-Ponty once criticized the classical psychology as following;

[A]ll psychologists of the classical period are in tacit agreement on this point: the psyche, or the psychic, is what is given to only one person. It seems, in effect, that one might admit without further examination or discussion that what constitutes the psyche in me or in others is something incommunicable. I alone ame able to grasp my psyche---for example, my sensations of green or of red. You will never know them as I know them; you will never experience them in my place. A consequence of this idea is that the psyche of another appears to me as radically inaccessible, at least in its own existence. I cannot reach other lives, other thought processes, since by hypothesis they are open only to inspection by a single individual: the one who owns them.
[Merleau-Ponty (1951/1964). The child's relations with others. (in The Primacy of Perception) Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, p.114]

[t]he problem comes close to being solved only on condition that certain classical prejudices are renounced. We must abandon the fundamental prejudice according to which the psyche is that which is accessible only to myself and cannot be seen from outside.
[ibid., p.116]

So, according to Merleau-Ponty, there is no solution fot the theory of mind debate, as far as we take the mentalistic supposition for granted. We need to renouce it and think over.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Simulation Theory vs Theory Theory

Another simulation theorist Alvin Goldman supports the ideas proposed by Gordon. Goldman summarizes more clearly what the simulation theory is.

[W]e do not use mathematical decision theory (i.e. expected utility theory) to make predictions; rather, we consider what we should do if we had the relevant beliefs and desires....they [*we] ascribe mental states to others by pretending or imagining themselves to be in the other's shoes, constructing or generating the (further) state that they [*we} would be in, and ascribing that state to the other. In short, we simulate the situation of others, and interpret them accordingly.
[Goldman, A. I. (1989/1995). Interpretation Psychologized. in M. Davies and T. Stone (Eds.), Folk Psychology: The Theory of Mind Debate. Oxford: Blackwell. p.81]

According to the simulation theory, in order to understand the others, we first put ourselves in the situation of others. We imagine what we would feel, think, and do in that situation. And then, we attribute the simulation result to the others.

Now we can contrast the theory theory and the simulation theory. Theory theory is based on the observation of others from third person's perspective (as is seen in the false-belief test), and stresses the role of folk psychological theory to predict the behaviors of the others. Simulation theory is based on the subjective simulation of others from virtual first person's perspective, and stresses 'what I would do' in order to predict the behaviors of the others.

The point of disagreement between these two theories is clear.

Objective, third-person's view on the other vs. Subjective, first-person's view on the other

Which side do you take?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Re-visiting the simulation theory of mind

I've read Robert Gordon's article titled 'Folk Psychology as Simulation'. This is a classic article that represents the so-called 'simulation theory' about understanding the other people's mind.

The central criticism of this article is that our capability of understanding the other people's mind and behavior is not based on theoretical inferences as was thought by the theory of mind approach (the "theory theory of mind") ;if A is in states S1, S2, S3, etc., and conditions C1, C2, C3 obtain, then A will (or probably) do X. For example, If A feels thirsty and he sees a bottle of water on the table, then he will drink the water. Gordon writes that our understanding of the others is not 'nomological reasoning' like this example, but it is 'practical reasoning'.

What he calls 'practical reasoning' is a kind of simulation (the "simulation theory of mind"). Using the example of chess players, he explains;

[T]he task is to answer the question, 'what would I do in that person's situation?' For example, chess players report that, playing against a human opponent or even against a computer, they visualize the board from the other side, taking the opposing pieces for their own and vice versa. Further, they pretend that their reasons for action have shifted accordingly: whereas previously the fact that a move would make White's Queen vulnerable would constitute a reason for making the move, it now becomes a reason against; and so on. Thus transported in imagination, they 'make up their mind what to do.' That, they conclude, is what I would do (have done). They are 'putting themselves in the other's shoes' in one sense of that expression: that is, they project themselves into the other's situation, but without any attempt to project themselves into, as we say, the other's 'mind'.
Gordon, R. M. (1986/1995). Folk Psychology as Simulation. in M. Davies and T. Stone (Eds.), Folk Psychology: The Theory of Mind Debate. Oxford: Blackwell. p.63

Thus, according to Gordon, we 'put ourselves in the other's shoes' in order to understand the other person. We project ourselves into the other's situation, we perceive things (virtually) in that person's perspective, and we feel and think as if we were that person.

In other words, what Gorson states is that our understanding of the others is not a kind of theoretical inference from third person's (objective) perspective, but is practical simulation from virtual first person's (subjective) perspective. And thus we can understand and predict other people's behaviors. From phenomenological point of view, here we could find something common with Husserl's notion of 'Einfühlung'.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

false-belief test, again

Another classical study on the theory of mind.

Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) appplied the false belief test to the study of childhood autism. They modified the details of the 'chocolate task' into 'Sally-Anne task' such as;

1.Sally places a marble into her basket.
2.Sally leaves the scene, and Anne transferred the marble and hid it in her box.
3.When Sally returns, the experimenter asks the question: "Where will Sally look for the marble?"
4.If the child points to the Sally's basket, she/he passes the false-belief test.

They compared three types of children: normal preschool children (n=27), children with Down's Syndrome (n=14), and autistic children (n=20).

[T]he results for Down's Syndrome and normal subjects were strikingly similar. 23 out of 27 normal children, and 12 out of 14 Down's Syndrome children passed the Belief Question on both trials (85% and 86% respectively). By contrast, 16 of the 20 autistic children (80%) failed the Belief Question on both trials.
[Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?. Cognition 21:37-46, p.42]

And they conclude;

[O]ur results strongly support the hypothesis that autistic children as a group fail to employ a theory of mind. We wish to explain this failure as an inability to represent mental states. As a result of this the autistic subjects are unable to impute beliefs to others and are thus at a grave disadvantage when having to predict the behaviour of other people.
[op.cit., p.43]

[W]e conclude that the failure shown by the autistic children in our experiment constitutes a specific deficit. It cannot be attributed to the general effects of mental retardation, since the more severely retarded Down's Syndrome children performed clos to ceiling on our task.
[op.cit., p.44]

What is relly interesting here, I think, is not that the autistic child lacks the theory of mind but that the Down's Syndrome children performed similarly as the normal children. Down's syndrome children, who are thought to be 'severely retarded', can also pass the fals-belief test.

This fact implies that the theory of mind (or at least, understanding the false belief of others) is not such an intellectual operation as was thought at the beginning. The false-belief test can be answered more intuitively, without theoretical reasoning. So, the question I want to ask here is;

Is the theory of mind truly a theory?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

false-belief test

A talk on the theory of mind (ToM) continues.

Wimmer and Perner (1983) proposed the so-called 'false-belief test', which examines human children's ToM. (The need for testing the 'false-belief' was originally claimed by the philosopher Dan Dennet, as a comment on the 1978 paper by Premach and Woodruff. About their chimpanzee experiments, see the previous post on this blog). The test should have the following formal paradigm.

[T]he subject is aware that he/she and another person observe a certain state of affairs x. Then, in the absense of the other person the subject witnesses an unexpected change in the state of affairs from x to y. The subject now knows that y is the case and also knows the other person still believes that x is the case.
[Wimmer, H. & Perner, J. (1983) Beliefs about Beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children's understanding of deception. Cognition, 13:103-128, p.106]

Based on this paradigm, Wimmer and Perner constructed the well-known 'chocolate task';

[A] story character, Maxi, puts chocolate into a cupboard x. In his absence his mother displaces the chocolate from x into cupboard y. Subjects have to indicate the box where Maxi will look for the chocolate when he returns. Only when they are able to represent Maxi's wrong belief ('Chocolate is in x') apart from what they themselves know to be the case ('Chocolate is in y') will they be able to point correctly to box x. This procedure tests whether subjects have an explicit and definite representation of the other's wrong belief.
[op.cit., p.106.]

The result is enough interesting (and also well-known) that none of the 3 to 4 years old children pointed 'correctly' to the cupboard x. 57% of 4 to 6 years old, and 86% of 6 to 9 years old children pointed 'correctly' to the cupboard x.

They conclude;

[i}t seems, therefore, that the emergence of children's ability to understand another person's beliefs and how this person will react on the basis of these beliefs...seems to emerge within the period of 4 to 6 years.
[op.cit., p.126.]

I agree with their conclusion. The theory of mind is formed in children after (or around) being 4 years. This fact is well examined in many other experiments.

But now, we come to one simple question. If the children under 4 years of age don't have the theory of mind, can't they understand the other person or predict her/his behavior at all? After being 4 years old, they suddenly start to understand the others? If the theory of mind is the only way to understand the others, none of us can understand the others before the birthday party of 4 years old. It sounds so funny, doesn't it?