Thursday, June 22, 2006

Simulation Theory

Alvin Goldman, Simulating Minds: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Mindreading, OUP, 2006.

How do we understand other minds? I was introduced to this problem by a psychologist, Susan Johnson. In her course of Theory of Mind, the main debate seemed to be between those who think we have an innate theory of mind and those who think we learn the theory from experience.

Later, I found out that there was another debate, between those who think we understand other minds via a theory--the theory theorists (which include most psychologists)--and those who think we understand other minds via simulating them within our own mind--the simulation theorists. At first, I thought there was little to the theory vs. simulation debate. After all, the psychologists didn't seem too concerned with it. And besides, what exactly is the difference between understanding other minds via theories and understanding them via simulations?

Then I met Robert Gordon, the founder of simulation theory, and I read a draft of Goldman's new book, in which he defends a hybrid theory-simulation theory, with emphasis on simulation. It turns out that matters are more complicated than I thought. The debate is interesting and has far reaching consequences for both psychology and philosophy of mind.

Since I don't have time to write about it myself, if you are interested in this, you'll have to read Goldman's book. Even if you don't entirely agree with him, you'll be impressed by the wide range of evidence and considerations that he musters.

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