Monthly Archives: September 2010

Conscious thought depends on language?

After I tell people that conscious thought depends on language, I am often faced with a scrunched up face, shortly followed by a “Huh? What does that even mean?”

A simple experiment will illustrate my point. Come up with a phrase and then say it very quietly in a barely audible whisper. Then, repeat the phrase and proceed to lower the volume until eventually you are talking to yourself without making a sound. Now, repeat the phrase in your mind, and pay close attention to whether and in what sense that thought is merely subvocal speech. What are the phenomenal differences between quietly whispering and thinking in words? In my own case, it seems plainly evident that a great deal of thinking is merely subvocalization accompanied by conscious access at the level of intentions and meanings. Developmentally speaking, we learn to talk before we learn to talk to ourselves. As Sellars, Heidegger and many others have emphasized, we start off in the public world and must learn to eventually consciously turn inwards and understand ourselves.

How is this possible? It is not just a matter of communicating at a low pitch. Conscious thinking is of course accompanied by consciousness. The subvocalizations are always accompanied by conscious access at the level of meanings. To be conscious of the syntactical elements and not the meaning is to break down the very function that language and thought evolved for.

What does it mean for subvocalizations to be “accompanied” or “accessed” by consciousness? That sounds kind of like spooky Cartesian thinking, right? In order to naturalization this notion, we must understand that subvocalizations are accompanied by what Julian Jaynes called the Analog I. The Analog I is what “does” the introspection. Jaynes thought it was similar to Kant’s notion of the transcendental ego, but I’m not a Kant scholar so I don’t  really know. The Analog I is an analogical construct that is generated at every point by what it is an analog of. An analogical construct exists purely in the operational sense. It is a functional process, not a thing.

What does the Analog I map onto? Simply put, it is an analog of our own body and what we can do with it. Because the bodily eye can perceive objects and separate them spatially and temporally (even when we are nonconscious, as blindsight and other phenomena clearly demonstrate), the mind’s eye can perceive thoughts and separate them spatially and temporally. The mind’s eye can also be cast out into the world as when we are consciously controlling our visual attention. Because the body can grasp and manipulate an object, the mind can grasp and manipulate an idea. Because the body can speak a sentence, the mind can think a sentence. And most importantly (and most controversially), because the body can understand the narratological milieu of social life and nonconsciously develop communication skills, the mind can act for a reason and think in terms of folk propositional psychology (belief/desire logic).

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have done a brilliant job of explaining how these mind metaphors work. So has Raymond Gibbs. Check out the epic bibliography in the back of Lakoff and Johnson’s groundbreaking masterpiece Philosophy in the Flesh. There is just so much evidence supporting the idea that conscious thought and higher-order cognition depends on the prior understanding of language and narrative. I’ve always thought that the conclusions of that book have been swept under the rug. People say, “Oh, yeah, they found out that metaphor is important for thinking. That’s cool, but we already knew that, no big deal”. Almost everyone has failed to realize or discuss the radical nature of the book’s conclusion, particularly in respect to how philosophy and cognitive science is currently being done and the kind of language games being employed in the literature.

Daniel Hutto is another brilliant contemporary researcher who has amassed a mountain of evidence and theoretical reasoning to support the idea that theory of mind and folk propositional attitudinal reasoning depends on exposure to the right kinds of narrative practice and social interaction seen in human child-parent relationships e.g. the grammatical logic of agent-based storytelling and predication. The evidence that metarepresentational thinking depends on mastery of the appropriate sociolinguistic skills is overwhelming. Studies of congenitally deaf people who never learned a language until adulthood are particularly striking examples of what kind of “mental paradigm shift” happens when you learn that every thing has a name, including yourself. Realization of this opens up entirely new ways to perceive and interact with the world. Developmental psychologist and evolutionary anthropologist Michael Tomasello says that language allows you to do at least three things:

  1. parse the world into events and participants;
  2. view complex events from various perspectives that connect either more or less well with the current joint attentional scene; and
  3. create abstract constructions with which they can view virtually any experiential phenomenon in terms of virtually any other (action as objects, objects as actions, and all kinds of other conceptual metaphors)

It seems then that we can construct a plausible naturalistic account of conscious thought and how it develops in childhood without losing sight of its experiential richness, its “interiority” or private nature, and its remarkable complexity. My dualist friends would probably still object to this account of thinking, but I don’t think anything could satisfy them.


Check out this excellent Radiolab podcast about this very idea: Voices in Your Head


Filed under Consciousness, Philosophy, Psychology

An example of "extended cognition" for Ken Aizawa

4EA skeptic Ken Aizawa is always asking for clear examples of extended cognition that do not violate the coupling-constitution fallacy. In a recent post, he challenges the following premise from Wilson:

(e) External cognitive resources often play the same or similar functional roles in the detection and creation of meaning as do internal cognitive resources, or complement, compensate for, or enhance those roles.

Ken’s claim is that the evidence shows that external resources play only a causal role rather than a constitutive role. In other words, external resources are merely causal inputs into the cognitive system and do not themselves play a functional or constitutive role. In Clark and Chalmer’s well-known thought experiment involving a man with Alzheimer’s using a notepad to aid his impaired navigation skills, Ken famously rebutted by claiming the notepad is not literally a “a part” of the cognitive system, but rather, just a causal resource to lean on. If it were actually a part of cognitive system, Ken thinks that it would be impossible to stop a “cognitive bloat” wherein the cognitive systems gets extended into everything that cognition causally depends on. With the notepad, Ken responds that we are at best entitled to say that the notepad is causally coupled to the cognitive system, and that we cannot conclude from such coupling that the notepad is literally a part of the cognitive system rather than just an input or “resource” to lean on.

We would need a better example or a prior theoretical reason to believe that cognitive systems do in fact extend into the environment, one that outweighs the theoretical reasons for believing the orthodox story about internal representationalism. I think there are such theoretical reasons, but I also have a concrete example of extended cognition that I want to try out. It’s not based on a thought experiment, but rather, anthropological research into ancient decision-making processes. I refer, of course, to sortilege or cleromancy.


I was turned onto this example by Julian Jaynes. He called sortilege an “exopsychic decision-making process”. This is, in my mind, the first stated argument for extended cognition in the literature (1976). Does anyone have an earlier reference? He describes sortilege as follows:

Sortilege or the casting of lots differs from omens in that it is active and designed to provoke the god’s answers to specific questions in novel situations. It consisted of throwing marked sticks, stones, bones, or beans upon the ground, or picking one out of a group held in a bowl, or tossing such markers in the lap of a tunic until one fell out. Sometimes it was to answer yes or no, at other times to choose one of out a group of men, plots, or alternatives. But this simplicity – even triviality to us – should not blind us from seeing the profound psychological problem involved, as well as appreciating its remarkable historical importance. We are so used to the huge variety of games of chance, of throwing dice, roulette wheels, etc., all of them vestiges of this ancient practice of divination by lots, that we find it difficult to really appreciate the significance of this practice historically. It is a help here to realize that there was no concept of chance whatever until very recent times. Therefore, the discovery (how odd to think of it as a discovery!) of deciding an issue by throwing sticks or beans on the ground was an extremely momentous one for the future of mankind. For, because there was no chance, the result had to be caused by the gods whose intentions were being divined. (1976, p. 240)

I’m fairly confident that this example of sortilege doesn’t violate the so-called “coupling-constitution” fallacy. I think it is reasonable to first define cognition as a regulatory or coordinating process that serves to select effective neural pathways out of internal variability. In other words, cognition is about making decisions and controlling the sensorimotor system to get things done in the world. I think this is a fairly theory-neutral definition of cognition that can accommodate both representational and dynamic systems approaches to behavioral control.

With that said, I think casting lots is a clear case of “off-loading” cognitive decision making processes onto the environment. The casted lots are not just “causally coupled” to the ultimate sensorimotor decision, but rather, constitute the decision making process itself. The lots serve a functional role similar to that of internal neural-neural control. It serves as a regulatory resource that is used in novel situations to deal with complex environmental variables.  It serves the functional, constitutive role of coordinating behavior and simplifying the task parameters. As Clark would say, you could imagine that a random “casting-lots” mechanism had evolved inside a brain that would be utilized in the same way so as to regulate and coordinate behavior.

The only way to avoid the conclusion that cognitive decision making processes are “offloaded” into the environment during sortilege would be to disagree with the definition of cognition as behavior regulation. If you defined it differently, I suppose you could come up with a model of the mind wherein the casted lots serve as mere “input” into the functional system rather than genuinely playing a cognitive role.

But I think such an approach is phenomenologically flawed. If you were to get inside the minds of these ancient people, I think the lots would be experienced as a genuine behavioral authority that is external to the agent. That is, the lots would be “authorized” by the nervous system to serve a direct role in the coordination of behavior, similar to the authorization of verbal control in hypnosis. The experiential aspect would include an “absorption” into the external world such that the chance results are directly taken as significant for social control. I think it would be difficult for representational models to replicate this thrownness or absorption.


Filed under Philosophy, Psychology

Melody from Child's Play with a sharp critique of Chomsky/Pinker

Melody from the excellent blog Child’s Play is quickly turning into one of my favorite mind-science bloggers. Her latest post mercilessly attacks Pinker and Chomsky’s quips to the effect that learning language without an innate grammar is “impossible”.

As Pinker wrote, rather famously :

“The implications of the lack of negative evidence for children’s overgeneralization are central to any discussion of learning, nativist or empiricist.” (Pinker, 2004)

This statement is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and belies a complete lack of understanding of basic human learning mechanisms. (And you thought ‘igon values‘ was bad…!)

To help you understand why, let’s start off by making the (uncontroversial) assumption that — like other young animals — little kids are trying to figure out just what in their environment is informative, so they can better grasp (and predict) the workings of the world around them.  It’s easy to see how this pursuit might readily lend itself  to language learning, since the more predictable upcoming speech is, the easier it is to make sense of [3].  Indeed, it seems as though figuring out what things in the world predict which words, and which words predict which other words, would be a pretty fundamental aspect of what learning a language is all about.

In line with this, there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that expectation and prediction operate in both linguistic processing and production.  So, if you’re listening to someone speak, you are predicting –probabilistically– what they’re going to say next (your brain is like Google Instant on crack).  For example, if I say “hit the nail on the…” you can fill in head, and if I say “I’m coming down with a…”, you can predict cold – flu — fever — and so on, with varying degrees of certainty.  What’s more, the more you hear a word occupy a given context, the more strongly you will predict it in that context in the future (DeLong, Urbach & Kutas, 2005).

This post ties into some of her recent posts about language learning. I find it to be incredibly fascinating research. I’m interested because it provides a working model for how affordance-learning might be implemented on the architectural level and grounds the developmental story I have been telling in regards to consciousness. This also ties into Daniel Hutto’s Narrative Practice Hypothesis, which argues that propositional reasoning (language mastery) developed, not by means of an innate grammar, but through “embodied expectations” coupled with joint-attention (the social triangulation wherein each person knows that they are both looking at the same aspect of the world).

From what I understand, Melody’s research seems to suggest that rather than language developing in children by means of an innate grammar, the system learns by means of an underlying prediction system that becomes readapted  for language learning when exposed to the linguistic milieu. On the phenomenological level, the emphasis on prediction means that animals live for the future i.e. their minds are futural, they are directed-towards the future. Heidegger called this the “temporalization” of time. It is grounded in the how we use the environment as resources to adjust and maintain the structural integrity of our basic organization. Gibsonian psychologists refer to this futural phenomenon as “prospectivity”, which is coupled with our “retrospectivity” (what Heidegger called our “having-been”).

While Gibson (and Heidegger) would have been uncomfortable talking about the prospectivity of affordances in terms of statistical learning, I think it comes down to the same thing: ecological information. Ecological information is that information specific to properties of the environment or body that is relevant to the maintenance of effective living. Crucially, this information exists only on the “molar” level of reality, which extends on both the spatial and temporal scale. Basically, ecological information is an invariant pattern in the ambient energy fields that our cognitive system extracts or “picks up” from the environment. These invariant patterns are directly useful for the temporal coordination of behavior because it is often the self-propulsion of the behavior that structures the flow of stimuli and in turn the invariant patterns picked up from the environment. In terms of language development, I think it is plausible that this process of affordance-detection could be modeled in terms of Melody’s prediction model. Edward Reed, for example, says:

I argue that the child who is poised to begin to learn the syntax of his or her language is already using the words of that language, albeit without varying their internal structure in generative ways [without innate grammar]. The skill of indication [pointing out] is fairly well developed prior to to the development of generativity. The progressive development of indicational language creatures an unstable situation both semantically and socially, and therefore is in part the cause of the emergence of the novel skill of predication [grammar]…The suggestion offered here is that it is the inherent instability of indicational language itself that constitutes a process for promoting the acquisition of generative language skills. (1996, p. 166-7)

This seems to be more or less what Melody is suggesting. Learning the grammar would allow for a better prediction of social interaction and would allow people to better understand you in turn, facilitating the expert manipulation of ecological information. Mastery of grammar and syntax is not a result of innate grammar expressing itself, but rather, the result of a grab-bag of mind-machines that learned to detect and and predict invariant patterns that are useful for the coordination of social interaction and self-control on the basis of innate, embodied expectancies.


Filed under Psychology

John Protevi on Alva Noe

Protevi has put up some nice comments on Alva Noe’s book Out of Our Heads over at his new blogging home (new APPS):

But I also worry about Noë’s reading of maturity as “growing comfortably into one’s environmental situation,” or as “integration” (51). Many people grow up and become mature but precisely into social situations that are disempowering for them, because they belong to disempowered political categories. It’s not that this disempowering experience is limited to immigrants, as Noë seems to imply; it’s right here at home that many people never quite feel at home, if you see what I’m getting at. Even though it’s a great advance to talk about the embodied, embedded, extended, enactive, affective subject (4EA), we shouldn’t talk about “the” 4EA subject, but about populations of subjects, many of whom suffer disempowering subjectification practices.

I think an account of “subjectification practices” is largely missing from the enactive approach these days. Protevi is right to emphasize the radical social-cultural subjectification process that happens in childhood, where we literally learn to become a person. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Daniel Hutto’s Narrative Practice Hypothesis as well as Julian Jaynes’ account of narritization and the cultural scaffold of consciousness represents the path forward for cognitive science. Protevi’s work on political affect and “bodies politic” also provides an important stepping stone for understanding the nature of cultural subjectification processes.

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Response to Fred Adams' latest critique of "Embodied Cognition"

Fred Adams has a new article out online in Phenomenology and the Cognitive sciences entitled “Embodied Cognition”. Adams is renowned for being skeptical of the 4E movement in philosophy of mind (embodied, embedded, extended, enacted). He wrote a book with Ken Aizawa called “The Bounds of Cognition” that challenges the core claims of embodied cognition. However, given his familiarity with the literature, I am very puzzled by the paper. He starts off the paper talking about Varela and Gallagher as exemplars of the embodied cognition thesis, but then spends most of the paper talking about how to reduce sentential belief-symbols to literal simulations of motor output. He writes as if sentential comprehension is the main explanatory target of EC theorists when they say “cognition is embodied”.

Anyone who has read Varela and Maturana’s work on autopoiesis would be very confused about this formulation of the problems that embodied cognition sets out to study. Varela says, for instance, that “Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with and without a nervous system.” Varela thinks that even the unicellular organism “cognizes” in virtue of its emergent self-organization of autopoiesis. This is the actual claim of embodied dynamic systems approaches to cognition, a far cry from the thesis that:

In the embodiment literature, we find the empirical step consisting of empirical correlations between certain kinds of cognitive processing and sentence comprehension and certain kinds of perceptual/motor performance.

Gibson was never concerned with “sentence comprehension”. While an admirable explanandum, Gibson thought we need to first better understand the more basic cognitive processes before we attempt to theorize about higher cognitive processes. He was almost always concerned with the cognition that we share with our animal cousins, not sentence comprehension or symbolic cognition. Many EC theorists actually propose a dual-level or dual-process model of reasoning wherein there exists a primordial, nonsymbolic level of cognitive processing shared by all animals (online processing) and a evolutionary recent and sententially grounded level of rational, serial processing (offline processing). I don’t know of any serious theorist proposing these two levels of distinctions  who makes the absurd claim that offline processing must be explained strictly in terms of online processing. Once external representations are taken up and integrated with the functioning of the cognitive system, there is no reason to suppose that the mechanism is only that of “simulation”. For example, Gibbs claims that representational (propositional) reasoning depends heavily upon analogical reason, which needs to be analyzed at the appropriate level of abstraction, not that of neurons firing. In all likelihood, it will require different explanatory tools and and terminology to explain both offline processing and online processing. Most EC theorists would simply emphasize the importance of recognizing that propositional reasoning comes after or “out of” online processing on both the phylogenetic and ontogenetic scales.

Accordingly, there seems to be a strange disconnect between Adams’ picture of EC and what the majority of serious theoreticians (that I know of) are proposing. The more I think about it, the more I think that this is a result of a widespread misunderstanding of what EC is, particularly in respect to the original formulations of Merleau-Ponty and Gibson. Some EC critics think that when we say “cognition is embodied” we are claiming that their conception of “cognition” is embodied. In actuality, we are trying to redefine what we mean by “cognition” and move away from definitions of cognition focused on sentential understanding. This is why Evan Thompson follows Varela in saying that all lifeforms exhibit cognition. Cognition is no longer manipulation of symbols, but regulation and coordination of emergent autonomous animacy/agency. This forces us to think about representations in terms of control and coordination of intrinsic movement rather than in terms of mirroring or “belief-formation”. Cognition is not sentence comprehension nor mastery of propositional concepts. We need to come up with a different concept to capture such higher-level processes.

I follow Julian Jaynes in making a distinction between what we can call cognition and narrative-consciousness. Narrative-consciousness enables the type of sentential mastery and understanding that Adams spent most of his time in the paper talking about. Giving the unique representational medium of sentential symbols, I see no reason why there cannot be an abstract analysis of such narrative mastery in terms that do not reduce to “sensori-motor simulation”. Which isn’t to say that we can make no progress on learning about the underlying functional circuitry which enables offline processing. Researching into resting state connectivity and anti-correlated functional networks is now opening up new vistas in understanding the neural distinction between online and offline processing.

This brings me to my next point: the misunderstanding of “meaning” and “affordances”. Adams follows Glenberg and Kaschak in defining affordances as “a set of actions available to the animal.” In this view, Adams seem to suggest that affordances are those cognitive systems which enable and support interaction between animal and environment. But this is exactly wrong. Affordances are not within the animal and they do not “arise” or “emerge” out of the interaction or “relation” between the animal and the environment. Affordances are real and objective. Meaning is external to the animal. For example, the ground affords support to all animals whether or not any particular one of them utilizes it for support. The affordance-property of support is embedded into the actual nature of the ground. What it really is determines what it means for the animal.

Accordingly, meaning is not generated by the interaction by the animal and environment, it is sought out and utilized. I get the feeling many EC supporters make this mistake as well. Meaning is external to the animal and needs to be found and used. For animals with the appropriate bodily capacities then, the process of finding the affordances can be decoupled from the process of using the resource. I therefore have problems with Zwaan and Madden, who Adams quote as saying “…there are no clear demarcations between perception, action, and cognition.”

I think this is stated poorly. For many higher animals, there is a clear distinction between the processing of detecting affordance-information (what Gibson calls “stimulus” or “ecological” information) and the utilization of that information for means of adaptive behavior. The is the distinction that Gibson makes between exploratory behavior and performatory behavior. However, it would be a mistake to conclude from this that the input-output model of perception is therefore right. The fact that the physical stimulus does not equate with the informational stimulus supports that idea that perception is but a perturbation upon an intrinsic dynamic network not a specific input which is mechanically read-off and used to send specific commands. As the frame-problem indicates, any concept of the cognitive system which understands the input to be “raw” or “meaningless” is bound to fail to produce functional specificity across widely changing environment demands. For embodied cognition, the given is already valenced in terms of what kind of information the animal is seeking in accordance with its internal dynamics and regulatory demands. The is the only way to avoid the input-out model. Doing so also allows us to escape from the Myth of the Raw Input, otherwise known as the Myth of the Given.


Filed under Philosophy, Psychology

The Origin of God's House

Let us imagine ourselves coming as strangers to an unknown land and finding its settlements all organized on a similar plan: ordinary houses and building grouped around one larger and more magnificent dwelling. We would immediately assume that the large magnificent dwelling was the house of the prince who ruled there. And we might be right. But in the case of older civilizations, we would not be right if we supposed such a ruler was a personal like a contemporary prince. Rather he was an hallucinated presence, or, in the more general case, a statue, often at the end of his superior house, with a table in front of him where the ordinary could place their offerings to him.

Now, whenever we encounter a town or city plan such as this, with a central larger building that is not a dwelling and has no other practical use as a granary or barn, for example, and particularly if the building contains some kind of human effigy, we may take it as evidence of a bicameral culture or a culture derived from one. This criterion may seem fatuous, simply because it is the plan of many towns today. We are so used to the own plan of a church surrounded by lesser houses and shops that we see nothing unusual. But our contemporary religious and city architecture is partly, I think, the residue of our bicameral past. The church or temple or mosque is still called the House of God. In it, we still speak to the god, still bring offerings to be placed on a table or altar before the god or his emblem. My purpose in speaking in this objective fashion is to defamiliarize this whole pattern, so that standing back and seeing civilized man against his entire primate evolution, we can see that such a pattern of town structure is unusual and not to be expected from our Neanderthal origins.

~Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, p. 150-151

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Thoughts on Brandom's Inferentialist Project

I just finished Robert Brandom’s Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism for Jon Cogburn’s graduate seminar on Brandom, Mark Okrent, and Teleosemantics. I had already read some of Brandom’s work on Heidegger, but this was my first introduction to his inferentialist project proper. Although I disagree with him on several points, and find his argumentation style and technical jargon to be less than helpful, I found his overall project to be largely agreeable with my own intuitions. This is not surprising given Brandom’s self-ascribed pragmatism and his rejection of representationalism.

In the introduction, he nicely lays out a set of nine binaries within a philosophical space of alternatives that I found to be very helpful. I relay them here:

  1. Assimilation or Differentiation of the Conceptual
  2. Conceptual Platonism or Pragmatism
  3. Is Mind or Language the Fundamental Locus of Intentionality?
  4. The Genus of Conceptual Activity: Representation or Expression
  5. Distinguishing the conceptual: Intensionalism or Inferentialism
  6. Bottom-up or Top-down Semantic Explanation?
  7. Atomism or  Holism
  8. Traditional or Rationalist Expressivism?
  9. Is the Semantic Task of Logic Epistemological or Expressive?

Brandom, of course, chooses the latter option in each case. Ok, let me break it down.

(1) is concerned with whether we want to explain the conceptual capacities of humans in terms of a continuity or discontinuity between animals minds and our own. Most naturalists these days accept the continuity hypothesis for evolutionary reasons. Brandom puts his foot down here and says language-use (mastery of propositional discourse) sharply separates the conceptual content of humans from nonverbal animals. I like this thesis. Anyone who is familiar with my research knows that I agree with Julian Jaynes in claiming (1) consciousness depends on language and, accordingly, (2) only humans are conscious in the strict sense of metacognition (introspective thought) and narratization (verbal self-regulation). So when Brandom places a sharp mental divide between language users and nonlanguage users, I think he is on solid footing. However, as much as I like his theory of human cognition, his discussions of the complexity of nonhuman animal cognition are woefully inadequate. He makes a slight concession to this point, but there is a WORLD of difference between thermostats and animals no matter what Brandom says. Animals do so much more than “differentially respond to pregiven stimuli”. To think otherwise is to fall into the Myth of the Given (for animals).

(2) I also like Brandom for his pragmatism and his critique of representational internalism. Although he applies it philosophical only to the linguistic domain, the lesson is clear: conceptual content is cashed out in terms of a function i.e. in terms of doing something. Having a mastery of concepts is not a matter of housing an Idea inside a mental container, but rather, of “knowing how (being able) to do something”. This seems right to me and accords with my own radical functionalism. I not only think that a fine-grained microfunctionalism is the way to make sense of nonverbal conceptual content, but that functionalism is also the best way to explain consciousness itself. Metacognition and narratization, after all, are very useful skills to possess. As is the precursor of language.

(3) I have to agree with Brandom on number 3 as well. Language is the origin of mindedness as such. For Brandom, the ability to intend, to have genuine beliefs and desires, is dependent on the mastery of language. This is another Jaynesian thesis, although it needs to be qualified. Intention is a technical term and should not be confused with the animacy and agency humans share with all lifeforms. Being the agent of your own action is not the same as being an intentional agent. For Jaynes, voluntary (intentional) action is a matter of linguistically telling ourselves what to do. “I will write a blog post today”. This is called narratization. As Brandom says, “thinking is a kind of inner saying”. This is in accord with what’s called social-linguistic constructivism (the classic exemplar of this approach is the 20th century developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky). Daniel Hutto’s recent work has also provided an important boon to the thesis that the development of “mind minding” itself (folk psychological understanding) depends on the right kind of exposure to narrative practice. Again, I refer to Jaynes.

(4) I also agree with Brandom’s expressivism. I don’t have a lot to say on this one other than I can see the influence of people like Heidegger and Charles Taylor on his thought. I am thinking of Charles Taylor in particular though. He has a nice account of expressivism as an alternative to representationalism in one of his essays. The basic thrust is that human conceptual prowess has less to do with holding various representations in our mental storehouse and more with “codifying some sort of knowing how in the form of a knowing that“. Hence the phrase: “Making it explicit”.

(5) From here on out my opinions start to become more fuzzy. While I agree with Brandom that mastery of propositional concepts  and their inferential relations makes for a sharp boundary between humans and animals, I’m not sure that this is the best way to go about arguing for such a chasm. For one, Brandom is committed to the prima facie  implausible thesis that animals don’t have desires. Rather than trying to retain such loaded terms for his theory of human cognition while denying them to nonhuman animals, I think Brandom’s project would be better served by allowing animals to have desires and finding some other term to describe the “intending” which is unique to human consciousness (voluntary will as opposed to mere behavioral reaction). I find Jaynes’ term “Narratization” to be useful in this regard.

I’m not going to comment on the rest of them. Needless to say, I like Brandom. I think he is mainly right, especially his emphasis on the importance of language for mindful conceptual activity as such. I will almost definitely cite him as an authority in my future work. But his theory will never convince anyone so long as it tries to rework traditional vocabulary. Brandom’s theory is radical. Radical theories need radical vocabularies. Unfortunately, Brandom is too absorbed in the world of philosophy to look outside his window and see the vibrant intellectual landscape that is 4EA cognition. If we are going come up with a radical new theory of concepts, then I think it will be best to do so in a vocabulary that isn’t liable to making people’s headspin everytime they wrap their head around the idea that animals and infants don’t have desires. 4EA theory helps us make sense of the agency of nonhuman animals and the conceptual prowess of humans while accepting both the continuity and discontinuity between verbal and nonverbal animals.

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