Introspection and Explanation

From: McKee, Alex (
Date: Wed Feb 05 1997 - 20:52:53 GMT

I am unsure as to the procedure of skywriting but as I can seem to do
nothing with 1996/7 PY1.04 skywriting archive I assume that any
questions or comments, no matter what they may be are sent to you
first. With that in mind, although it is only the first week of the
course, I have some ideas that I would like discuss.

What is entailed in the idea of a philosophy of the mind? Are we being
asked to think about what the mind could or could not be, or are we to
express an answer in terms of how we may arrive at the point of asking

If agreement is given that no sound byte can holistically describe the
entirety of the mind, then is the work of cognitive science, the parts
that pertain to the elusive mind and its derivatives, such as
consciousness, concerned more with the extraction of descriptive
processes than with descriptions themselves?

For myself, rather than consciousness being a process of the mind or
the brain being an organic evolutionary partner or vehicle for the mind
and thus necessarily distinct due to a separate identity, could it not
alternatively be said that the brain, consciousness and awareness are
all parts of the mind?

In effect the mind defies definition not because we are unable to
locate a compatible synonym, but because there are too many parts of
too many synonyms to be considered. Would this result in a greater
injustice to the accuracy of description being done by a representation
of a small percentage in a singular comparison than by bestowing upon
the mind the title of 'unknown'?

I feel however that I could not describe the mind even if were given
the entire contents of a dictionary. Is there not a part of the mind
that cannot be defined by traditional science at this time?

Chapter 1 in Cognitive Science: An Introduction (D.W Green and Others)
seems to support the notion that although mental processes can be
studied there is no place for Introspection. Certainly, with the
examples given or inferred into experiments on perception, objectivity
seems to be established and there is no need to even consider using
Introspection. Could this not only apply to perception of the physical

Is not the functionalist approach a method by which Cognitive
Scientists can only further their understanding of the processes
involved in the brain 'part' of the mind? Is this limitation on only
covering the brain part of the mind a reason why computers will never
be 'human'? They can only involve themselves in manipulations of the
physical world, albeit that much of this will also be iconographic
manipulations. Is the mind therefore something that not only includes
processes in the physical world but somewhere else as well?

In Chapter 1 of the same text, is Gibson suggesting that when mental
processes become 'natural', as in driving control, and are committed to
to a sub-conscious state, that we are unable to access them, in the
form of mental representations, for psychological study? Perhaps this
would not be a wise test in a real moving vehicle, but in a simulation,
would it not be possible for an eloquent driver to affirm each action
with a linguistic counterpart thus showing that that mental
representation, in the form of language generation, can exist alongside
sub-conscious actions?

Is it to be understood that Cognitive Science places no value on
Introspection? Isn't the act of transferring thoughts from internal
bio-chemical or electro-magnetic states to language a necessary step in
Introspection? Doesn't language production oblige an examination of
one's own thoughts? Even if the text being produced is considered to be
highly scientific and objective, isn't there a degree of processing to
ensure it remains so? An examination of your thoughts to 'see' that
they are coherent?

I understand the historical desire of Social Sciences to place greater
emphasis on scientific models of truth and distance themselves from the
greater Introspection of a philosophical process. However, when
examining a concept such as the mind and when the only available means
of facilitating communication is with another complex concept,
language, would it not be more prudent for Cognitive Scientists to use
as much of the potential information at their disposal as possible? If
(Social) Science seeks to exclude subjectivity as not being scientific,
is it not following the new paradigm of Einsteinian Physics
deliberately, or is it just slow to adapt? If the progression from a
Newtonian vision is one of no absolutes and a system of total
interconnectedness, don't pure subjectivity and pure objectivity become
two unreachable ends of a spectrum where all the views and
communications of humans reside in differing degrees within the
intervening space? Should not Cognitive Scientists be willing to
explore the linguistic processes of subjective introspection alongside
the behavioural processes of brain perceptions?

It depends on the view taken to describe the mind. If it is the brain
and it's perceptions of the physical world alone, although it sounds
like a base level animal consciousness, I would agree that there was no
place for subjectivity and introspection not due to a concern of
accuracy but simply because they would have no distinguishable function
above that of relating physical evidence via stimuli through the

On another hand, if it is felt that there is some other qualia in the
realm of the mind that renders it indescribable, then my philosophy
would tell me to look at the greatest information exchange unit, the
universe, and apply the reasoning that another information exchange
unit, in this case the mind and part of the greater one, would have
similar characteristics. A sort of top-down reverse biological
functionalist view . This would justify the systems comparison between
the mind and the universe as seen by Theoretical Physics and thus, for
me at least, show the righteousness of including introspection and
subjectivity as analytical tools for the progression of Cognitive
Psychology. Is this a legitimate view?

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