Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16, 1993, 39-41
Intentionality, mind and folk psychology
Winand H Dittrich & Stephen E G Lea
Department of Psychology, University of Exeter, Washington Singer Labs, Exeter EX4 4QG, England.
Furthermore, focusing the informational processing routes possibly involved we would like to argue that his main thesis that the idea of intentionality as a cognitive construct is the most plausible interpretation of the empirical findings lacks support at least for two reasons: one methodological and one structural.
Methodologically, the idea of intentionality is given on the one side the status of a theoretical construct in order to understand itself and others. That is the core idea of the 'theory theory' concept. However, it is impossible to proof a hypothetical construct empirically but furthermore it remains unclear what the possible criterions are 'how the idea of intentionality is developing in childrens' behaviour'. Thus, Gopnik's attempt on the other side to answer 'the question whether our beliefs about intentionality are theoretical, enculturated or derive from a more direct first-person apprehension' on a purely empirical basis seems highly problematic from the beginning on.
Considering the structural basis of the findings Gopnik is presenting, the following analogy seems
helpful. Even if, to give an example, person permanence and object permanence (e.g. Jackson,
Campos & Fischer 1978) seem to develop more or less with one another, this synchronous
development does not necessarily imply, as Gopnik is assuming in the case of self experience and
that of others, that both processes are based on the same underlying process. Gopnik is assuming
that the cognitive construct of intentionality is this common underlying process. First of all, the
pure parallelness, as in the case of permanence perception, is no real evidence as it lacks the
explanatory power and secondly, contrary to Gopnik's constructive theory of mind interpretation,
the empirical findings presented can be interpreted in quite a different way, namely through the
internal relationship of the processes. We would like to present two alternative interpretations
which focus on different aspects. The first interpretation is based on first-order knowledge or
what Gopnik called Searle's view or the simulation view. Certainly, it can be argued that the
development of an adequate knowledge of its self requeires a specific representational system
which has only developed at the age of 3-4 years and can than be used to understand the other
mind problem. Thus arguing that what Gopnik described as theory theory construct is nothing else
than the application or generalization of first-person knowledge in the domain of third-person
knowledge or as Rene Spitz (1957) puts it: "The beginning awareness of the self is predicated on
the awareness of the 'other'" (p.130). In terms of the simulation view it is the child's attempt to
simulate the other's mind by using the world of its self. The identical relationship between the
development of an understanding of self and other can be understood as a result of the
developmental process in which an understanding of self is used to inform an understanding of
others, and vice versa. How children think of the self and how they conceptualize their
experiences are intimately related issues. Whether self-understanding and other-understanding
develop synchronously is indeed an empirical question. These possible views were falsely rejected
because Gopnik has a concept of intentionality in which intentionality is not the result of a
psychological state but the result of the interpretation ( 'cognitive construct' of intentionality) of a
psychological state based on the experience to this state. Gopnik's view (sect.8) seems to be
highly similar to the so called James/Lange theory of emotion in which emotional states are
interpreted as a result of their experienced consequences or feelings - the same is true for
Goldman's second functionalist model. Before discussing the concept of intentionality in more
detail we are pointing at a second interpretation, which is not in contrast to the first one rather
focusing on a different aspect. In this interpretation the shift in children's behaviour which is
correctly highlighted by Gopnik can be interpreted as synchronization between their
representational abilities and their ability to express themselves adequately. Before this age period
there is a so called "developmental dilemma" (Heckhausen 1983) in which representational ability
and acting or communicating seems discrepant. This would explain why children could solve some
task, which are mainly based on perceptual competence and not others which involve some
competence in performance. It would also explain why representations of the self can be shown at
the age of about two years, i.e. one and a half year before this behavioural shift, but the
generalization to represent others seems not yet possible because the appropiate emotional basis is
not fully developed. Thus the development of the representation system of the self and others is
much more related as Gopnik assumed. In any case the two interpretations seem to strenghten the
point that the question what theory of mind children develop seems less important than the
investigation of the nature of the cognitive processes involved. Otherwise Gopnik's approach
cannot answer the question about the nature of the children's representations. What is the
evidence that children and adults have the same understanding of mental states or linguistic terms
about psychological states even if they use the same words? We would like to argue that this
problem can only be solved if the basis of our intentionality, namely the structure of objects or
actors themselves, is taken into consideration. Most important, however, it should be noted that in
extension of Gopnik's list of evidence which is mainly based on examples about cognitive
development the emerging sense of self as intentional agent is also seen in infant's competence
motivation as precursor of achievement motivation (Heckhausen 1982) or the infant's ability of
self-regulation (Kopp 1982). It is assumed here that in addition to the pure intellectual aspects
information processing within the motivational, emotional and communicative domains seem
equally important for the development of conceptual knowledge about the physical and the mental
world of infants.
Intentionality and knowledge: In a recent study (Dittrich & Lea 1992) we developed a novel
task in order to investigate the perception of intentionality and found among others that the
intentional content of a scene was mainly effected by the total number and the directedness of its
elements. Evidence was presented that the identification of intentionality or meaning is a process
of cognition but grounded in perceptual input characteristics. It is based upon the comparison
between two sources of information - a visually offered one, and a stored one. If the process of
comparison of the object itself and its conceptualized representation yields equivalence, semantic
recognition can take place. Just this is the essence of comprehension of intentionality and it is
evident that specific cognitive operations (e.g. 'hybrid representations') have to be developed or
have to be available before comprehension can take place. One of these 'hybrid' operations has to
involve the relationship of the self to others or objects in the world. Therefore, it seems pointless
,also, to look for a special definition or construct of intentional information. It receives its specific
nature through the verification of perceptive and stored information as signs for something, but
nor through the direct pick-up of intention from the stimulus, nor through a specific nature of the
cognitive process, e.g. in the comprehension of the specific meaning of signals or as a specific
'idea of intentionality'. Concerning the mechanisms of the perceptual processes, we assume that
humans can use cues or clues to interpret the visual scene in building semantic (de dicto)
representations. Perception of intentionality is possible because of the specific integration of
different features and therefore in order to understand the role of intentionality our approach
focused on the analysis of the cognitive processes which are involved. It is argued that the
traditional linear sequential model of object representation with a linguistic stage at the end should
be extended towards a model of parallel processing of different visual aspects. In any case the key
feature ot these operations are concepts, and in this respect we agree with Goldman that folk
psychology can be related to the psychology of concepts, in particular under developmental
Intentionality and mind: Goldman raises an important question when he is asking how people
ascribe mental states to themselves. We agree with Goldman and Gopnik in their attempt to
integrate psychological facts given only phenomenologically, which are strongly related to our
everyday life and thus have ecological validity, into scientific psychological theories. However, we
disagree with the role which is attributed to the phenomenology of the psyche. In contrast to the
two authors, which try to establish the primacy of psychological experience compared to
psychological states in order to understand our cognitive processes - Gopnik through the
developmental history of the theory theory and Goldman supports a prominent role of
phenomenology in our mental concepts - we suppose that the role of phenomenology is a pure
descriptive one in order to provide a body of psychological realistic facts for which psychology
may give scientific explanations. Certainly, in some cases scientific psychology and common sense
may be congruent. Thus, we would like to argue that phenomenology is undoubtly of great value
but cannot become itself part of scientific theories with their explanatory power. Scientific
theories and theory theories are pointing at quite different levels of understanding and therefore
they are immune to either combination or rivalry.
In this sense, the immediacy of the theory theory approach seems to be attractive on the one side
as it asserts to be a purely empirical approach, but is shortsighted on the other side as it may fail
to understand the psychological processes which are involved and which are not in all cases
directly accessible. Understanding requires a theoretical framework as how to get access to and
integrate the empirical phenomena. Therefore, failures in the childrens' performance may be as
informative as the successes on which Gopnik is focusing.
And only in this sense Gopnik's expertise analogy seems to hold, as e.g. golf experts know a lot
about playing golf but this knowledge seems not sufficient to understand what the basis of their
particular success or failure is. That is what sport psychology is about by confirming or rejecting
and substituting the theory theory of the golf player. In general, however, as discussed above the
expertise analogy seem to be misleading in particular if one considers evidence that expertise and
immediacy is not as strongly related as Gopnik claims and experts' theories may even interfere
with information processing resulting in poor judgements (e.g. Mischel, 1968, Rosenhan 1973).
Goldman's attempt to understand common sense mental representations by using an analogy from visual perception seems problematic for several reasons.
First of all it is unclear why the visual mode of processing is priviliged to provide the basis of the analogy. Even if one agrees that the visual modality is a prominent one the question remains what qualifies it as basis of a general model. In particular, as Goldman is later refering to other sense modalities, trying to justify his emphasis in qualitative properties in cognition. At this stage, it became obvious that Goldman's analogies are rather arbitrary and lack substantial reason either from phenomenology or from the mode of cognitive processing itself. He tries to justify his emphasis of qualitative properties with the occurence of qualitative sensations. However, qualitative sensations are exceptional and prominent only in the gustatory modality, as we have four distinct qualities of taste. The acceptance of the Weber/Fechner law in most other modalities convincingly demonstrates the absence of qualitative sensations in these senses.
Secondly, Goldman is stressing the difference between the semantic content and the structure of words. In order to match the two aspects or to match single exemplars he introduces a homunculus, called cognitizer. Introducing a cognitizer seems consequent because it is otherwise quite unclear how intentional aspects could be implemented in mental processes, which Goldman models in analogy to pure sensations. He seems to propose that indeed the structural aspects are bottom-up processes, whereas semantics is provided by a top-down process. In Goldman's approach there remains a gulf between the data base and the interpretations erected upon it. Although the pure empirical nature of his approach, the same is true for Gopnik, is emphasized several times, it can be argued that the data do not by themselves determine an interpretation, but leave a gap to be bridged by inferential processes of various kind.
In this sense intentionalistic description of mental processes is theoretical vis-a-vis the behavioural
one. The question, which is not answered neither by Goldman nor by Gopnik remains whether
there is a shared observational base for the intentional or behavioural descriptions. In explaining
the physical reality folk physics and physics share the same data base. This seem not always the
case in human psychology where third-person knowledge may interfere with the person's own
understanding of its behaviour (first-person knowledge).
Goldman's attempt to establish a psychology of folk psychology is nothing else than an attempt to
reestablish the principles of introspection, here applied to mentalese. In this context, it is highly
astonishing that he claims that 'the best known psychological critique of introspective access is
Nisbett & Wilson's (1977)'. We do not doubt the value of this paper, but it has to be noticed that
the short history of scientific psychology is characterized by its attempt to emancipate itself from
introspective and intuitive methodology. Gestalt Psychology, behaviourism and cognitive
psychology, for example, all developed methods to overcome introspective psychology. In
relation to consciousness it can be argued, as Velman (1991) convincingly exemplified, that
consciousness may result from the coordination and integration of diverse cognitive processes
such as perception, attention, learning, memory, and thinking but that quite often and regularly the
sequence of cognitive processes is inaccesssible to conscious experience. At least for this reason,
Goldman's justification of a cognitive science of folk psychology is not convincing. In Goldman
and Gopnik's approach reality is the sum of the facts that are cognitively accessible to humans.
Therefore, accessibility through direct observation or inference from observational facts (in most
of Gopnik's examples) is an absolutely essential factor for their concept. However, the main
progress in understanding our cognitive processes and mental states was achieved by experimental
methodology which enabled analyses independent of the question of accessibility either in
psychology or the neurosciences. Gopnik's approach to demonstrate the development of the
theory of mind in children is interesting, because it demonstrates the original formation and
change of intuitive concepts. However, this approach has to be completed by studying the
development of the underlying processes and mechanisms. Only this knowledge will then enable
us to understand the children's theory of mind entirely.
Preparation was supported by the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation and the University of
Exeter through a Feodor Lynen Fellowship held by W H Dittrich.
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