Hayek’s Self-organizing Mental Order and Folk-Psychological Theories of the Mind

Here is the Introduction to Chiara Chelini’s paper, the full version available here.

Humans are social creatures and they deeply rely on mentalizing, which aims at understanding other people behaviours and formulating expectations about their future actions. The existence of inner mental states has been postulated in order to give an explanatory account of the observed behaviors of other individuals. In particular, the activation of theory of mind in social situations has been demonstrated by neuroeconomic and behavioural experiments such as: processes of market exchange and specialisation of labour (Coricelli, Mc Cabe and Smith, 2000), decision-making involving strategic uncertainty, detection of social cheaters and, in general, cooperative games in which subjects need to predict their opponents’ strategies; these are all situations in which theory of mind is activated. Historically, two different models of mental processes have been considered in the literature about folk psychology: theory-theory and simulation-theory. Theory-theory posits that subjects who are attributing to others a particular mental state are applying a tacit piece of knowledge previously acquired “about what people feel, think, want, etc in given circumstances and how they will, therefore, act” (Perner, Gschaider, Kǖhberger and Schrofner, 1999). They basically own “folk theories” about others’ mental states and implicit causal laws about how the mind works. On the contrary, simulation theory posits that, in attributing mental states, subjects are not possessing tacitly codified knowledge, but they are rather running a simulation “putting themselves in others’ shoes”. Simulating means using one’s own mind as a model for other people’s mental states, while being unaware of this activity. Simulation directly bridges perception and action (Decety and Grèzes, 2006). Hayek had already envisioned this relationship between sensory and motor activity (Hayek, 1952, p. 92) but he dwells more on a neuronal level explanation than a mental one. Notwithstanding this historical opposition between theory and simulation, an approach that highlights their intermingling contributions and cross-fertilisations has nowadays been favoured (Goldman, 2006). This is the reason why, after introducing a brief sketch of these two positions, our paper focuses then on theory of mind broadly speaking as the capacity to share psychological states with others: this is the social cognitive capacity making humans collaborative and cooperative, able to be engaged in mutual coordinated actions and plans (Tomasello, 2005). Humans, as social actors, have to possess a cognitive machinery that makes them able to coordinate. This paper investigates whether theory of mind can provide a plausible explanation, at the mind level, of the tacitly triggered process of knowledge coordination elaborated by Hayek. More specifically, does Hayek’s concept of coordinating and self-organizing orders imply a model of the mind that can be framed as the current philosophical concept of theory of mind? In particular, we address the question whether theory of mind can give an account of that “inter-personal” understanding of other people’s mental states that Hayek sketches without developing it in details (Hayek, 1952, p. 23). The paper is then structured as follow: sections 2 frames the concept of mentalizing as it has been historically developed in theory-theory and simulation-theory; section 3 presents Hayek’s philosophical psychology, identifying specific issues in order to integrate the latter with modern theory of mind; it explains the roles of communication between individuals and the process of knowledge formation in Hayek’s view, trying to address the question why Hayek’s philosophical psychology does not properly consider the concept of “theory of mind”. Section 4 concludes with further ideas of comparison, presenting the concept of “social mind” from a neuroscientific perspective, considering the idea of mirror neurons.