Mind: Section 3

Discussion Questions: Week 8 (November 17)

1. Deception (Red)

  • Is the ability to actively deceive an individual (even under interrogation) sufficent as evidence for theory of mind? Why or why not?
  • If yes, how do we as observers distinguish true deception from coincidence, associative learning, and instinctual or accidental behavior?

2. The relevance of cognitive studies of animals (Blue)

  • Who cares if we find out that some non-humans have some of the mental properties that we associate with theory of mind in humans, or even if we find out that they have full-fledged minds in the human sense? How is this relevant to humanity or our understanding of humans?
  • On a more practical level, is the cost of cognitive research on animals worth it, both in terms of the dollars spent that could be going elsewhere and in terms of whatever cost the animals pay being in captivity?
  • The more general question underlying these is the following: to what extent should scientific research have clear potential for application, as opposed to being purely about `knowing more'?

3. The reliability of laboratory data on animals (Green)

  • How reliable is data collected in laboratory experiments as (positive or negative) evidence about the mental capacities of primates and other animals, compared to data collected in the field, in the animals' natural habitats? In particular, to do the lab environment (hardly natural habitat), the `reward directed' nature of the experiments (do this and you get an apricot), and general contact with humans have the consequence that the animal subjects' behavior is not representative of their true mental capacities?