How Do Minds Understand Minds? Mental Simulation Versus Tacit Theory

Stephen P. Stich and Shaun Nichols

in Deconstructing the Mind

Published in print January 1999 | ISBN: 9780195126662
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199868322 | DOI:

Series: Philosophy of Mind Series

How Do Minds Understand Minds? Mental Simulation Versus Tacit Theory

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In cognitive science, the dominant strategy for explaining complex abilities, like the ability to understand and use natural language or the ability to predict the behavior of middle‐sized physical objects, is to posit the existence of an internally represented knowledge structure or tacit theory – typically a collection of rules or principles or propositions – which guides the execution of the capacity to be explained. Many philosophers and cognitive scientists have assumed that our “folk psychological” capacity to attribute mental states to other people, and to predict and explain their behavior must also be subserved by a tacit theory. However, a number of writers, including Robert Gordon and Alvin Goldman, have challenged this assumption. They maintain that we need not posit a rich, tacit theory in order to explain people's folk psychological abilities. Rather, they argue, these abilities can be explained by a special sort of mental simulation, in which we use ourselves as a model for the person whose mental states or behavior we are describing or predicting. This chapter offers a detailed interpretation and critique of simulation theory. It surveys many of the arguments offered by Gordon and Goldman, and argues that none of them are convincing. It also recounts some experimental evidence that is difficult for simulation theory to explain.

Keywords: folk psychology; Alvin Goldman; Robert Gordon; simulation theory; tacit theory

Chapter.  14341 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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