11.0059 mind no mind

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 22 May 1997 20:54:51 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 59.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 20:50:10 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: mind no mind

The latest TLS, for 16 May 1998, is a particularly interesting issue from
our perspective. The theme is psychology. The cover is graced, if that's the
word, with a digital image from the Internet, apparently of Marshall
Applewhite, the leader of the Heaven's Gate cult who went to the space-ship
traveling behind Hale-Bopp. The items of particular interest for us, other
than the origins of the digital image, are reviews by (1) Jerry Fodor, of
Jeffrey L. Elman, et al., Rethinking Innateness, (2) Daniel C. Dennett, of
Andy Clark, Being There: Putting brain, body, and the world together again,
(3) Mark S. Micale, of Elaine Showalter, Hystories: Hysterical epidemics and
modern culture. Other things as well, but those three are the main ones.

Fodor, in his typical style, demolishes the dodges of Rethinking Innateness
in particular and the purely empirical approach to knowledge in general.
"Whether mental content can be reduced to experiential content is what the
present argument in cognitive science is really about." He finds the
empiricist programme hidden in the connectionist approach, and in that
programme nothing but failure. What I find interesting is driving in the
other direction -- beginning with the empirical data, then trying to get to
what one knows about e.g. poetry, asking how, and spotting the interesting
failures of empirical analysis.

Dennett gives high marks to Andy Clark's book, "a unified, judicious vision
of the progress that has actually been made [in cognitive science], a survey
of the state of play today that [captures] what is powerful and promising in
these new ideas without succumbing to the hype." Required reading, it seems.

Showalter's book has already been mentioned here in the context of how
electronic communication has aided the spread of hysterical diseases, from
scares about computer viruses to maladies of the mind and flesh. This book
should outrage many people because it presumes to question the scientific
nature of how medical science conducts itself, pointing out how a sense of
personal frustration can translate into recognition of a new disease, thence
to a new medical subspeciality with all the trappings. "These are acutely
communicable diseases. As a result, vulnerable and impressionable viewers
exposed to the illness model engage in a kind of psychogenic
self-fashioning. The mental-health establishment, responding to what it sees
as a new psychopathology (and an emerging patient population), adds the
diagnosis to its list of official diagnoses.... The Internet instantaneously
disseminates information across the world. (The World Wide Web lists dozens
of on-line publications and organizations for survivors of psychological
traumata.)...." It should be noted that Showalter does not deny that people
genuinely suffer, rather she turns a strong light on how they get sick. The
Internet plays a role!


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk