In your face: transcendence in embodied interaction

A new open access article by Sean Gallagher (there currently seems to be some problem with the journal’s website but will hopefully be resolved).

In cognitive psychology, studies concerning the face tend to focus on questions about face recognition, theory of mind (ToM) and empathy. Questions about the face, however, also fit into a very different set of issues that are central to ethics. Based especially on the work of Levinas, philosophers have come to see that reference to the face of another person can anchor conceptions of moral responsibility and ethical demand. Levinas points to a certain irreducibility and transcendence implicit in the face of the other. In this paper I argue that the notion of transcendence involved in this kind of analysis can be given a naturalistic interpretation by drawing on recent interactive approaches to social cognition found in developmental psychology, phenomenology, and the study of autism.



Frege’s puzzle and Frege cases: Defending a quasi-syntactic solution

Here is the intro to Rob’s article:

There is no doubt that social interaction plays an important role in language-learning, as well as in concept acquisition. In surprising contrast, social interaction makes only passing appearance in our most promising naturalistic theories of content. This is particularly true in the case of mental content (e.g., Cummins, 1996, Dretske, 1981, Dretske, 1988, Fodor, 1987, Fodor, 1990a and Millikan, 1984); and insofar as linguistic content derives from mental content (Grice, 1957), social interaction seems missing from our best naturalistic theories of both. In this paper, I explore the ways in which even the most individualistic of theories of mental content can, and should, accommodate social effects. I focus especially on the way in which inferential relations, including those that are socially taught, influence language-learning and concept acquisition. I argue that these factors affect the way subjects conceive of mental and linguistic content. Such effects have a dark side: the social and inferential processes in question give rise to misleading intuitions about content itself. They create the illusion that content and inferential relations are more deeply intertwined than they actually are. This illusion confounds an otherwise attractive solution to what is known as ‘Frege’s puzzle’ (Salmon, 1986). I conclude that, once we have identified the source of these misleading intuitions, Frege’s puzzle and related puzzles to do with psychological explanation appear much less puzzling.


The social-cognitive dynamics of metaphor performance

Here is the into to Raymond and Lynne’s paper:

Any extended analysis of everyday talk reveals the presence of stretches of language that convey metaphorical meaning. Consider, as one example, the following remarkable conversation between Jo Berry, whose father, Sir Anthony Berry, was killed by a bomb in 1984, and Patrick Magee, who planted the bomb on behalf on the Irish Republican Army during their conflict with the British government. Jo Berry had asked to meet Pat Magee in order to understand more about why the bombing happened, and they first met in 1999, after Pat Magee was released from prison under a peace agreement. Extract 1 comes from the first of the conversations and shows Jo explaining why she wanted to meet Pat. She refers to moment of the bombing in line 91 and to meeting Pat in lines 103 and 104.

Extract 1
90 Jo …I knew,
91 …(2.0) backin the moment,
92 wh- what I wanted to do,
93 … was bring as much –
94 …(2.0) something –
95 … as much positive out of it as I could.
96 … you know,
97 Pat [hmh]
98 Jo …(1.0) [and] I –
99 and I saw very clearly.
100 …(1.0) that the –
101 …the end of that journey,
102 would be,
103 …sitting down and,
104 …talking to the people who did it.
105 Pat … hmh
106 Jo … that just camein a moment,
107 and then went away,
108 and then –
109 … there’s been a longlong .. 16 years of [getting to this point].
110 Pat [hmh hmh]

There are several instances of metaphorically used words and phrases in this excerpt, which we have underlined. For instance, “back in” in line 91 conveys the idea of Jo’s remembering the bombing as if she were physically moving back into a specific spatial location. The idea of being able to “bring” “something” “out of it” refers to Jo’s mental reconstructing the bombing in terms of movement from one physical location to another, but this time in the possession of an important object (i.e., a new understanding). We also see in lines 99–101 that Jo conceives this process of reconciliation, and sitting down to talk with Pat, as the endpoint of a physical journey along some path where the psychological goal is understood as a destination (i.e., endpoint) on the path.

Why do speakers, like Jo, talk in these metaphorical ways, and what motivates them to utter the particular words they do to achieve different communicative effects? Is the use of metaphoric words and phrases idiosyncratic or can it be explained in some principled manner? The vast interdisciplinary research on metaphor use and understanding suggests that there are multiple reasons for why people speak metaphorically. Quite roughly, the possible reasons for speaking metaphorically refer to bodily, cognitive, linguistic, social, and cultural variables. For instance, people may employ certain metaphoric words and phrases because they typically think about particular, usually abstract, domains in metaphoric terms (cognitive), because there is no way to express specific meanings in a language without using metaphor (linguistic), because they wish to impress or persuade another person by the words used (social), and/or because their cultural beliefs and norms are conventionally encoded in specific metaphorical themes (cultural). Much of the contemporary scholarship in metaphor studies debates these, and other, possible reasons for why people use metaphorical language and how they interpret metaphors in discourse. This has led to a vast complex of alternative methods, empirical findings, and theories of metaphor use, with individual metaphor scholars exhibiting the strong tendency to focus on certain aspects of metaphor and adopt one perspective on metaphor use (e.g., cognitive or linguistic) while downplaying or ignoring others (e.g., social or cultural).

We believe that all these varying perspectives on metaphor have the potential to offer important insights into the use and understanding of metaphor in discourse. But the vast number of possible factors involved in metaphor use, and their complex interactions, makes it difficult to adjudicate between competing theories. Our aim is in this article is to suggest a different way of looking at metaphor by embracing a dynamical systems approach that better captures the total ecology of human behavior, and more specifically metaphor performance. The key to this idea is the recognition that metaphor performance is shaped by discourse processes that operate in a continual dynamic interaction between individual cognition and the social and physical environment. Dynamical approaches to human action attempt to describe how the body’s continuous interactions with the world, including other people, provide for coordinated patterns of adaptive behavior. Simple and complex behaviors are higher-order products of self-organization processes that emerge from both intra and interpersonal interactions. We argue that the complexities of metaphoric language use (i.e., how people coordinate with each other through metaphor) emerge from self-organizational processes that operate along a range of different time-scales, from the millisecond to the evolutionary, and across a range of scales of social group size, from the individual and dyad to the speech community. The phenomena of metaphor performance are, we suggest, best studied in terms of continuously dynamic discourse processes. This framework for studying metaphor recasts some traditional questions about metaphor use and understanding and suggests the need for a closer link in characterizing social and cognitive processes in human behavior.


The boredom of boozeless business

This piece from The Economist - cheers!

Another recent paper from the journal Consciousness and Cognition by psychologists at the University of Illinois confirms what many have long suspected: a couple of drinks makes workers more creative. Tipsy employees, they say, find it hard to focus on a task, but this makes them more likely to come up with innovative ideas. This may help to explain the success of Silicon Valley, one of the last workplaces in America where hard and soft drinks still jostle for space in the company fridge.


Is Behavioral Economics Doomed?

Here is a skeptical take on the insights supposedly offered by the rise of behavioral economics as represented by Daniel Kahneman and others. Since I’m in the process of reviewing Kahneman it will be interesting to see if Levine’s take on behavioral economics jibes with my take on Kahneman in particular and behavioral economics in general – I have a strong sense that is unlikely to be the case.