Re: Pink Elephants

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Wed Mar 06 1996 - 21:12:28 GMT

> From: "Herheim Aaste" <>
> Date: Wed, 6 Mar 1996 17:15:45 GMT
> md> The big question is: do you need to be thinking about something in
> md> order to say it? And do you need to be thinking about X in order to
> md> say that you are thinking about X? DYE Matt
> ha> It seems difficult to say something or say that I am thinking (or not
> ha> thinking) about something without actually thinking about it.. But
> ha> what about " every-day" conversation when we participate in a flow of
> ha> relatively unimportant information-sharing..: "I'm cold", "Pass the
> ha> butter,please.." etc. Is it possible to talk about something you are
> ha> not really thinking about in between this chatting? Herheim Aaste
> sh> It is possible to get by in everyday life without worrying about the
> sh> mind/body problem or the other-minds problem. Folk psychology will get
> sh> you by, just as folk physics does. But when it comes to law-courts, or
> sh> the court of scientific inquiry, you've got to do better than hearsay.
> I'm a bit confused..Are we discussing the same thing? Maybe my
> participation in this discussion should wait until I know a bit more
> about cog.psy... It's a bit intimidating to try to comment upon
> things with my ideas (although not that bright, maybe) when whatever
> I have to say is picked to pieces on my lack of knowledge.
> Are you trying to make us drop our "folk psychology" way of thinking?

Just drop folk psychology when you are trying to explain how the mind

The question here is: What are we to make of the statement "I am
thinking of a pink elephant right now." In everyday life, if you know
the person saying this, and it's relevant to whatever you're doing
(say, finding out whether he's still obsessing about the bad mark he
got in Chemistry), then the pink-elephant report is not problematic:
"Good, it means he's calmed down about his low Chemistry mark").

But in a court of law, for example, even a sincere,
lie-detector-passing statement of a "recovered" memory of a
long-forgotten pink-elephant you once saw is not evidence that you
really ever saw it: It needs objective evidence to support it (say, a
video of the pink-elephant, or perhaps many independent corroborations
from witnesses who likewise saw it). In a psychological laboratory, the
problem of evidence is even greater: There, the question is not whether
there ever really WAS a pink elephant, but whether or not you really had the
FEELING of seeing a pink elephant. How would you go about giving
evidence for THAT?

That is the situation faced by mental imagery theorists: They have to
show two things. (1) that subjects really see images in their heads
(in folk psychology we don't ask for evidence of this, we just take it
for granted), and, (2) that images can really "do" something; that
they're not just decorative pictures in your mind, but that they somehow
do WORK, cognitive work.

When you read Kosslyn, you will see that there are several different,
independent kinds of evidence supporting (1), i.e., that subjects
really see images in their heads. Some of the evidence is from
behaviour (reaction times) and some of it is from the brain (brain
images). The evidence for (2) comes from computational modeling.

Read the Kosslyn paper I handed out.

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