A general introduction to the course structure and assessments. An overview of the following weeks material and how it is arranged into two major themes. Outlining general questions of: what is philosophy? What is psychology? What is the philosophy of psychology? And what is the history of the relationship between philosophy and psychology (and in particular how this relates to the problems of dualism). No tutorial this week.
Part One: The Structure of the Mind
This week we discuss how psychology began to emerge from Western philosophy at the turn of the 20th C as a distinct branch of the sciences of the mind. In particular, we will focus on behaviourism as a response to the problems in other approaches (such as introspectionism and psychoanalysis). We will cover both philosophical and scientific variants of this position.
Is the mind simply the brain? Many psychologists and philosophers think it is more complex than this. Functionalism is the dominant philosophical position in the philosophy of mind and the default view of many psychologists. Functionalism is the claim that it is not what mental states are composed of which is important. What is important, and what determines what a mental state is, is the fact that it plays a function in a mental system. A key concept for this week is multiple realizability.
4. The Computational Mind
A central idea or metaphor within cognitive psychology is the idea that the mind is or is like a computer. This week we examine the history of this idea and how ideas in philosophy and computer science have influenced scientific research of the human mind. We examine both the main ideas for and against this position including some far-reaching thought experiments: The Turing Test and the Chinese Room Argument.
5. The Modular Mind
Building on the idea that the mind is a computer, this week we examine the claim that structure of the mind is composed of a series of modules with certain specific features. We shall also discuss the relationship of this idea to questions about the mind evolved. There is also a major research program – evolutionary psychology – which claims that the mind is an evolved computer composed of domain-specific modules which have evolved in response to challenges in our species' Pleistocene past.
6. The Extended Mind
What is the appropriate unit of analysis for studying the mind? Can we solely focus on individuals divorced from their environment? Or are bodies and environments crucial explanatory factors for properly understanding the mind? Even further, is it possible that our minds are partially constituted by our bodies and other parts of the world?
PART TWO: Methodological Concerns
7. Philosophy of Psychiatry
What do we mean when we say that a mind is disordered or dysfunctional? Are psychiatric conditions just brain disorders? On what grounds does one distinguish “normal” from “pathological” minds? This week we turn to the philosophy of psychiatry, where the question of what minds are and how we should study them plays a critical role
8. The WEIRD problem and the Enculturated Mind
Recent research has indicated that a majority of psychological research is carried out on WEIRD participants (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic). Furthermore, cross-cultural and anthropology research indicates that these individuals are outliers and are not a representative sample of the human population. This week we discuss the methodological and philosophical implications of this state of affairs. In particular, we raise the question of the importance of culture for understanding the mind.
9. Beyond Evolutionary Psychology
Building on our discussions in the previous weeks (5-8), we discuss the evolution of the human mind. What is the structure of the human mind? How have evolutionary forces structured our minds? What is the importance of phenotypic plasticity and cultural niches?
10. The Nature of Belief and Misinformation
Humans are social animals and this influences the way in which we form beliefs (e.g. what is the weather outside? What should I eat? Who should I vote for? Should I vaccinate my children?). But the way in which humans form beliefs about the world are becoming increasingly influenced by our increased meditated forms of connectivity - particularly online in social media platforms and other internet resources. This week we will examine crucial concepts such as echo chamber effects and the nature of belief and misinformation; and how these pertain to a range of current topics and conspiracy theories.
11. The Replication Crisis
In our final week we turn to a recent set of controversies in psychology around the failure to replicate long established and new findings. We also discuss a range of other related concerns including, but not limited to, how psychological research is used, and how we can make inferences from experiments. This topic will also show how the issues in modern psychology draw us back to the philosophical foundations of the field that we began the course with.
12. Comparative Cognition
Having spent much of the course examining the philosophical questions about psychology only in regards to humans; in this final section of the course we branch out to consider the minds of other animals. Do other animals have sophisticated minds, with abilities in causal reasoning, emotional intelligence, and social cognition? How can we go about exploring these questions in a methodologically rigorous way? This approach is necessary to attempt to overcome and begin to articulate a non-anthropocentric approach – not only for properly understanding the minds of other animals, but also in understanding ourselves.
13. Final Essay Due
No readings, no tutorial, and no lecture. This week is writing and research time for the essay.