AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
JOCN: You are known both as a philosopher and as a cognitive scientist. How do think of yourself?. Where does the one role stop and the other start?
DD: I consider myself a philosopher. Before the twentieth century philosophers often became quite embroiled in the science of their day (with mixed results, of course!), so my involvement with the details of cognitive science is not such an anomaly as it may appear when it is contrasted with the more recent stereotype of the philosopher who just sits in his armchair and claims to figure it all out from first principles.
Philosophy of science is one of the strongest - I think the strongest - of the subdisciplines in philosophy these days, and there are philosophers of physics who are quite at home in the lab or the farthest reaches of theory, philosophers of biology whose contributions mingle fruitfully with those of the more theoretically minded evolutionists, and so forth. I am trying to do the same thing in cognitive science. My goals and projects differ in two ways from those of some other philosophers working this territory.
First, unlike some philosophers of cognitive science, I do not view my role as solely what we might call "meta-criticism" - analyzing and criticizing the theories, arguments, and concepts of the scientists. On the contrary, I aspire to create, defend, and confirm (or disconfirm) theories that are directly about the phenomena, not about theories about the phenomena. The philosophers' meta-criticisms are often important clarifiers and exposers of confusion, and as such are - or should be - unignorable contributions, but I myself would also like to make more direct contributions to theory.
Second, and following from this, I don't consider cognitive science to be simply a mine from which philosophers of mind can extract valuable support for their purely philosophical theories. It is that, of course, and the insights gleaned from cognitive science have transformed - if not quite killed - traditional philosophy of mind. But what philosophers of mind sometimes fail to appreciate is that the scientists are just as susceptible to conceptual confusions as the "layman" and hence the fruits of their research cannot be taken neat and used as a stick to beat sense into the benighted layman. There are at least as many closet Cartesians and uncritical believers in "qualia" among the scientists as among the uninitiated, for instance, and these scientists have something to learn from philosophy (whether they like it or not!).
I don't have a lab or do experiments, but I do devote a lot of effort to proposing experiments (or perhaps I should say "provoking" experiments) and to redesigning and criticizing experiments. And I have discovered, of course, that there is no substitute for direct experience in the lab. Many times I have thought I understood a series of experiments from reading the literature on them, only to uncover a fairly major misapprehension on my part when I actually witnessed the paradigm, or became an informal subject. Live and learn. That's why, although I am a philosopher, not an experimental scientist, I can't do my work well without poking my nose in the labs. Besides, it's much more interesting than just reading philosophy journals.
JOCN: So in a sense the philosopher's role is to prevent thought disorders among scientists. Likewise a simple empirical fact can raise havoc with a philosopher's theory of mind necessitating the philosopher know about recent discoveries. Before going further, can we get out on the table what you mean by qualia.
DD: I thought you'd never ask. Qualia are the souls of experiences. Now do you believe that each human experience has its own special and inviolable soul?
JOCN: What are you getting at? What on earth does that even mean?
DD: That's just my wake-up call for people who think they know what qualia are. It's frustrating to learn that in spite of my strenuous efforts, people keep using the term "qualia" as if it were innocent. Consider a parallel: According to Descartes (and many churches) the difference between us and animals is that animals have no souls. Now when Darwin showed that we are a species of hominid, did he show that there really aren't any people after all - just animals? If Darwin is saying we're just animals, he must be denying we have souls! So he must be saying that people aren't really people after all!
That's silly, but it isn't as if we didn't sometimes talk that way:
"You're behaving like an animal!"
"But I am an animal!"
"They treated us as if we were animals."
In spite of tradition, the very real and important differences between people and (other) animals are not well described in terms of the presence or absence of souls fastened to their brains. At least I would hope most of your readers would agree with me about that. Similarly, the differences between some mental processes and others are not well-described in …