Even psychology, the king of the human sciences, needs help. Pigeon mazes and MRI scans of the brain cannot answer “what is consciousness?” “where are beliefs located?” or “how do humans think?”

A philosopher is here to help. See the brilliantly consistent Daniel Dennett philosophizing on consciousness:

Daniel Dennett runs a cognitive science lab at Tufts University. Cognitive science is making some progress at explaining psychological phenomena such as cognition* and consciousness, whereas psychology has historically described that such things appear to occur, and how they do so. Dennett is not a cognitive scientist nor a psychologist but a philosopher, yet offers great contributions to these fields.

In so far as experimental psychology has been termed a social science (in the weak textbook definition of human science or behavioral science), it has done the best job of any such science at cross-species comparisons, or at least in the use of non-human subjects in experiments. (Have proponents of History, Political Science, or Educational Theory ever consulted non-human primates?)  Psychology’s non-species-specific descriptions of psychological phenomena such as the different kinds of learning make it king of the so-called social sciences. And yet, the fact that a philosopher could make inroads at dispelling basic psychological phenomena reveals weakness in its foundations.

*Note: Cognition includes brain processes excepting emotion, yet cognitive science encompasses the study of emotion as well. It is critical that cognitive science include the study of emotions because, as McShea (1999) writes:

“I have proposed a conceptual scheme in which feelings — the subjective aspect of emotion — are the proximate cause of all conscious behavior in species that have them… [I]n all such species, cognitive processes are understood to be perfectly passive, completely powerless to cause any behavior, at least directly. However, cognition evokes feelings, which do cause behavior.”

McShea, D. 1999. Feelings as the proximal cause of behavior. In: Hardcastle, V.G. (ed.) Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays. MIT Press.


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