Re: Folk Psychology

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Sun Feb 25 1996 - 15:28:11 GMT

> Date: Sun, 25 Feb 1996 11:36:06 GMT
> From: Hopkins Maria <>
> Could you please answer this for me. What is folk Psychology , as I did
> not fully understand that in the last lecture ? Thank you . Hopkins Maria .

Folk physics is ordinary lay people's ideas about physics: Apples fall
because they're heavy and nothing is holding them up. ("Scientific"
physics teaches us they fall because there is a mutual attractive force
between then and earth, a force whose strength is proportional to their
relative masses, so apples fall down to earth, but the earth falls up,
just a bit, toward the apple too.)

According to folk biology living creatures have a "vital force" that gives
them life. (Biochemistry teaches us that life is a property of certain
large biomolecules.)

According to folk psychology, we do things because we believe certain
things and want certain things: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because it WANTED to get to the other side. Why did the student study
for the exam? Because he WANTED a high mark and BELIEVED that studying
was the way to get it. [More serious alternative, but still folk
psychology: Because he WANTED to understand the subject matter and
BELIEVED that studying was the way to come to understand it.]

Remember what I said about an explanation? An explanation is not just
something that makes you feel you have no more questions to ask
(remember the man who knew the secret of the universe whenever he was
under the influence of laughing gas): An explanation generates
predictions that can be tested to see whether they are right or wrong,
and it also gives you a CAUSAL MECHANISM for the thing you wanted

We are satisfied with folk psychological explanations of the mind,
because we all have minds, and we all know what it's like to believe and
want things, and to do things because of what we believe and want. But
what are beliefs and wants? What is the mechanism, the causal system,
that gets a chicken to want to cross the road, and then go ahead and
cross it? Or a student, to want to understand, and then to come to an
understanding from study? These are all the things that folk psychology
CANNOT explain. In fact, folk psychology does not really explain so much
as trade introspections between people: I know why I cross the road:
because I want to get to the other side. So I can understand when it's
the same for you. But of course all I know is what it is LIKE to want
to cross the road. I don't know what "wanting" really is; I just know
how to BE someone that wants (of believes, or feels -- any of those
experiences that add up to having a mind).

So explaining the mind will require replacing this folk psychology by
something else, just as folk physics and folk biology were replaced by
something else. This course is meant to give you a glimpse of what that
something else might be. As a first step, I asked everyone to reflect on
what a "machine" is...

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