Comments on Lindeman’s integrative model

Posted on June 20, 2007

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While I enthusiastically share the aims and the general approach taken by Lindeman and Arnio (in their article in Skeptic 13.1 as well as in the Journal of Research in Personality) in their attempt to formulate a naturalist theory of superstition I feel that the definition they propose is unacceptable because it would render much of science and modern philosophy superstition.

They define superstitions as “category mistakes where the core attributes of mental, physical, and biological entities and processes are confused with each other”. One example they give of core knowledge in their JRP article is “thoughts, beliefs, desires, and symbols, are not substantial and objective but non-material and mental”. However, most philosophers during the few decades have come to believe that “thoughts, beliefs, desires, and symbols” actually either just are physical “entities or processes” or are inherently linked to them. This view runs counter to intuitive metaphysics, of course, but it does seem to be borne out by modern science, which argues that mental processes are a subset of biological processes which, in turn, are a subset of physical processes. While there is much discussion about the details, the basic conclusion is unequivocal – children’s intuitive understanding is in these respects incorrect. Indeed, it has been suggested that much of traditional philosophy consisted of rationalisations for those false, naïve intuitions – Descartes’ famous dualist distinction between the mind and the body being a prime example – and that philosophy has only grown up by learning to take its metaphysics from science rather than from intuitions. Furthermore, what I would argue – and this is a far more contentious claim – is that dual-process theories of reasoning which the authors rely upon are, themselves, based on false dualist intuitions. While there is clearly a difference between paradigmatic cases of different ‘modes of processing information’, the evidence that ‘analytical reasoning’ is altogether different from ‘intuitive reasoning’ is not as strong as we would intuitively suspect. Indeed, work on the evolution of cognition seems to suggest (though not unequivocally, of course) that our highest cognitive abilities have developed step-wise and still very much depend upon more basic capacities – the implication being that human reasoning should be seen as a single organic whole.

A possible way to put my overall objection is – What is wrong with rejecting the categories assumed by core knowledge, especially when these assumptions turn out to be incorrect? Lindeman and Aarnio do not answer this question.

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