How does philosophy of mind affect cognitive science?

In answer to Quora question "How does philosophy of mind affect cognitive science?"

An interesting question and I think you could approach this from two distinct angles. First I would say philosophy of mind has a substantial impact on the fundamental assumptions in cognitive research - whether it is consciously recognized or not, the researcher will, as one example, be operating on a conviction that mind is exclusively a product of physiology, that cognitive processes are introduced and influenced by this or that set of specific biological structures, and so on. Or they will be operating on some other set of assumptions that relate equally to an adopted or presumed philosophy of mind. So that is one angle, and it is an important one, because if nearly all research is dominated by "physicalism," then the parameters and metrics involved in all experimentation will conform to that bias and affirm it to varying degrees. In other words, if all I am measuring in a half-cup of water is the water (and not the air, suspended particles, etc.), then my focus will confirm the presence of water and conceive of the cup as "half full" of water and be effectively blind to anything else. Unfortunately that is the state of affairs in empirical research right now, and why, for example, a neuroscientist might confidently assert that the "philosophy of mind" question has been answered, and there is nothing more to philosophize about. I've actually heard a prominent neurobiologist confidently and publicly make this assertion, and I think that's pretty sad. It's certainly not scientific to reflexively exclude everything we cannot understand or, as yet, empirically validate.

The second angle is a bit subtler but, I think, equally important. I approach the question of mind from an entirely different perspective than a cognitive researcher, because my central concern is about applying and testing a theory in pragmatic ways (i.e. that are beneficial to my clients). Yes, I do enjoy philosophizing and theorizing too, but the rubber hits the road when a genuine, enduring positive wellness outcome is paramount. And so my own development of theories about memory, for example (see Memory Self : T.Collins Logan : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive) grew out of such real-world applications, and continue to be tested and revised in that light. This would also be true of other applied cognitive science, such as learning and cognitive development, predictive behavioral calculations and decision matrixes, stress relief and so on. And yet these may represent very different philosophies of mind in their conception and application. What we begin to realize, then, is that any specific philosophy of mind becomes increasingly irrelevant in its real-world applications - all that matters, really, are outcomes. And what we almost always find is that outcomes are much more dependent on things like the relationship between the clinician and the client, or the client's belief in the methodology, or plain old placebo effect. And this departure from the criticality of framing applies to impersonal metrics as well - for example increased sales resulting from campaigns informed by behavioral economics. There may be the illusion of causality in correlations between results and theory...but there are far too many variables in play to nail down actual causality.

So on the one hand philosophy of mind has a substantive impact on research and the projected viability of a given theory for real-world applications, and on the other you have an almost delusional reification of that theory when it is actually applied (a la partial reinforcement and confirmation bias). Which suggests, to me at least, that we need to account for the air in the glass, the surface tension on the water, suspended particles, temperature and a host of other as yet unidentified variables to truly comprehend cognition, emotion, behavior, free will and so on, and to derive the most nuanced understanding of that complexity. This approach is part of what I call multidialectical synthesis or "constructive integralism."

My 2 cents.


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