21.413 cognitive science like alchemy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2007 07:33:56 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 413.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2007 07:25:33 +0000
         From: Andrew Brook <abrook_at_ccs.carleton.ca>
         Subject: Re: 21.409 cognitive science like alchemy


What connection do you see between computing humanists respecting our
history and the history of precursor activities and the comparison
between cognitive science and alchemy? It is not disrespecting
history, I think, to say that the theory underlying alchemy turned
out to be false and was supplanted by chemistry, which, after some
false starts (remember phlogiston? ether?) turned out to be, so far
as we know 'til now, mostly true.

Btw, I think the big issue for the Churchlands is not whether folk
psychology is a theory -- much of it is at least a simple-minded
proto-theory, as causal statements such as 'If you insult someone, he
or she will usually get angry' show. The big issue is, what would
follow from such statements turning out to be false, or too inprecise
and unquantifiable to be the basis of a science? Would it follow that
there is no consciousness, belief, desire, emotion, aspirations,
......? The Churchlands think that it would because they think that
the meanings of theoretical terms are so closely tied to the
theory/ies in which they are found that if the theory/ies turn/s out
to be false, the terms are not talking about anything that exists.
But this linkage is, to say the least, open to question -- a question
that is much stronger in the case of terms such as our vocabulary for
the mind that play a massively central role in practical life and so
are anchored there than in the case of terms such a phlogiston, where
C&C might be at least partly right.

Well, there is more to be said but I will stop. The first question is
the one that interests me at the moment. What connection to you see
between respecting our history and the claim that cognitive science
may go the way of alchemy?


Andrew Brook
Chancellor's Professor of Philosophy
Director, Institute of Cognitive Science
Member, Canadian Psychoanalytic Society
2217 Dunton Tower, Carleton University
Ottawa ON, Canada   K1S 5B6
Ph:  613 520-3597
Fax: 613 520-3985
Web: www.carleton.ca/~abrook
Received on Thu Dec 13 2007 - 02:44:54 EST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Thu Dec 13 2007 - 02:44:54 EST