Volume 38, Number 2, Spring 2017

Strawson’s Case for Mental Passivity
George Seli, St. John’s University

Galen Strawson (2003) argues that relatively few of our mental events are actions, what I refer to as the non-agentive thought thesis (NATT). NATT restricts the actional kinds of mental event to volition and catalysis, the latter being the mental preparation to receive thoughts. Strawson supports NATT on both metaphysical and phenomenological grounds. Metaphysically, his primary argument is that the results of thinking — whether decisions, judgments, creative ideas, etc. — are not “intentionally controlled,” which disqualifies them as actions. Phenomenologically, Strawson claims that, at least for him, the sense of mental agency is limited to volition and catalysis, and he takes this passivist phenomenology to further support NATT. I raise problems for both arguments. On the metaphysical side, I argue that Strawson’s understanding of intentional control as direct control yields an unreasonable constraint on actional mental events. The phenomenological argument is undercut by the empirical possibility that Strawson’s passivist phenomenology is cognitively penetrated by his own anti-agency beliefs.

Correspondence should be addressed to George Seli, Philosophy Department, St. John’s University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, New York 11439. Email: selig@stjohns.edu

The Twin Vantage Point Paradox: A Thought Experiment
Baland Jalal, University of Cambridge and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, University of California at San Diego

As noted by Erwin Schrödinger, in the world of physics the subjective vantage point does not exist. Indeed, physics requires that the conscious “self” who experiences the world be banished from reality. This article highlights this schism running right through the heart of reality using a thought experiment. The reader imagines himself as a twin being asked by a “super-scientist”: “If I travel back in time and swap you at birth with your twin (now an adult who lives in an adjacent city), and then return to the present, who would you prefer that I torture here and now — the person standing in front of me — or the person in the other city?” To this question (ethical considerations aside), you might answer, “torture the twin in front of you” — that is, you would assume given the swap that you would be existentially continuous with the twin now living in the adjacent city and vice versa. This culminates in a paradox: while for you, such a swap matters crucially, according to science, the final state of the universe is the same regardless of the swap. This paradox does not exist from a scientific objective view of reality — only from a subjective existential point of view. To our knowledge, this issue of continuity of form and function, and the fact that the physical universe is the same irrespective of the swap, is not part of many published thought experiments exploring personal identity.

Correspondence should be addressed to Baland Jalal, Department of Psychiatry, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, CB2 1TQ, United Kingdom. Email: bj272@cam.ac.uk

General Intelligence: Adaptation to Evolutionarily Familiar Abstract Relational Invariants, Not to Environmental or Evolutionary Novelty
Kenneth A. Koenigshofer, University of Maryland University College

Current formulations of the evolution of general (improvisational) intelligence leave unresolved a theoretical paradox first identified by Cosmides and Tooby (2002): given that natural selection requires recurrent, across-generation selection criteria, how can psychological mechanisms evolve that “exploit the novel features of unique situations”? Kanazawa (2004, 2010) and Chiappe and MacDonald (2005) sidestep this issue and consequently misconstrue general intelligence as an adaptation to novelty. Several new evolutionary principles resolve this problem, removing a significant roadblock for evolutionary theories of intelligence. Natural selection fashions mechanisms that accommodate fitness-related environmental regularities whenever they attain sufficient across-generation stability, even if attained only at abstract levels of recurrence. Variance in surface details of novel, nonrecurrent adaptive problems masks evolutionarily recurrent relational regularities forming a common problem structure captured by natural selection. Such “distilled” invariants, including similarity, covariation, and causality, provide across-generation selection criteria for evolution of seemingly domain-general processes, including categorization, generalization, inference, conditioning, causal–logical and analogical reasoning, as adaptive specializations. Innate, implicit knowledge of abstract, relational invariants constrains adaptively specialized learning, driving innovative solutions to otherwise unsolvable novel problems. Accordingly, general intelligence is not an adaptation to novelty, but emerges from adaptive specializations that genetically internalize abstract, relational regularities of the world.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kenneth Koenigshofer, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Maryland University College, 3501 University Boulevard East, Adelphi, Maryland 20783. Email: Kenneth.Koenigshofer@faculty.umuc.edu

Critical Notice

Wrestling with the Absurd: Enaction Meets Non-Sense

Book Title: Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making
Book Author: Massimiliano Cappuccio and Tom Froese (Editors). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 317 + xxii pages, $100.00 hardback, $95.00 paper.
Reviewed by Sebastjan Vörös, University of Ljubljana


The volume edited by Massimiliano Cappuccio and Tom Froese, Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making, is a challenging read. It is challenging in that it invites us to discursively engage with, and make sense of, a topic that seems to evade, if not actively defy, discursivity and reason. The book is also challenging in that it forces the reader to grapple with its thick texture and constructs a coherent narrative from a variegated, at times even incongruous, collection of essays. Thus, from the very outset, its content and form seem to be attuned to the same key, namely that of wrestling with the absurd, of hermeneutically engaging with the dissonance of non-sense so as to tease out the consonance of sense. The volume, in short, enacts what it speaks of.

Correspondence should be addressed to Sebastjan Vörös, Aškerčeva 2, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia. Email: sebastjan.voros@ff.uni-lj.si

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