Psychology Degree Guide: Non-Cartesian Science
The statement “I think, therefore I am,” has long been a symbol of Cartesian principles and indeed, cognitive science. Attributed to Descartes, this famous statement argues for some very specific concepts regarding thought that have long been in the spotlight. Establishing thought as an isolated internal process, external factors on mental processes and mental states have been ignored. Despite this long success, however, non-Cartesian approaches to cognitive science have been growing for years. Another addition to our extensive psychology collection of resources, the Guide to Non-Cartesian Cognitive Science provides high quality references which thoroughly explore the history, philosophical differences, and developments of the topic. Whether you are a student looking to learn the basics about alternatives to Cartesian cognitivism, or are a researcher attempting to find additional resources, this guide will prove helpful.
Overview of Non-Cartesian Principles
Going against some widely regarded concepts championed by traditional cognitive scientists, proponents of non-Cartesian cognitive science adamantly argue for the importance of mental states. According to non-Cartesian believers, Cartesian cognitive science almost entirely ignores mental states that are not included in consciousness, or in some cases fails to acknowledge mental states at all. While these proponents do share many different beliefs, they still tend to agree with the largest scale concepts put forth by cognitive scientists. Among these ideas are that higher level organisms express their mental states, and that cognitive science seeks to understand the correlation between mental representations and their resulting processes.
- Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong – A philosophical introduction that surveys background theory to non-Cartesian cognitive science. This text establishes what non-Cartesian cognitive science is, and why traditional cognitive science is flawed.
- Reconstructing the Cognitive World: The Next Step – Michael Wheeler’s book that counters Cartesian psychology by explaining the assumptions made by traditional cognitive science. Building upon Heidegger’s concepts of cognitive science, Wheeler proffers a new approach to the science of the mind.
- An Essential Difference describes modern cognitive scientists attempts to distance themselves from classical aspects of the study and establish embodied cognitive science. Moreover, “An Essential Difference” explores the connection between philosophy and science through Wheeler and Heidegger. In this paper, Thornton and Christensen explain the need for empirical sciences to address issues of ontology.
- Psychology, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science reviews the developments that cognitive science has undergone during its history. This resource should effectively contextualize the relationships between philosophy, psychology and cognitive science.
Important Figures in Non-Cartesian Cognitive Science
Considered in this section are individuals who have had a significant influence on the development of cognitive science in contrast to Descartes. Heidegger, for instance, was one of the most resistant to Cartesian cognitive science. Greatly opposed to the fundamental aspects of his theories relating to isolated concepts of being, Heidegger energetically argued against his beliefs. Still, individuals such as Hubert Dreyfus, and Robert Wheeler work to install opposing theories as dominant approaches to cognitive science.
- Martin Heidegger – Vehemently non-Cartesian in his principles, Heidegger was one of the most original philosophers in the twentieth century. An overview of his life and works, as well as discussion of his groundbreaking theories can be found here.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein – Arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, Wittgenstein made significant contributions to philosophy and cognitive science. In his later years, Wittgenstein was known for his strictly anti-dogmatic approach to philosophy which condemned traditional concepts.
- Baruch Spinoza – While his works often dealt with Cartesian principles, many consider Spinoza the original anti-Cartesian. In fact, those who support non-Cartesian principles are sometimes referred to as “Spinozists.”
- Hegel’s Phenomenological Method and Analysis of Consciousness explores the anti-Cartesian principles at work in Hegel’s philosophy. Through an examination of Hegel’s analysis of consciousness, Kenneth Westphal argues that Hegel has been overlooked as a radical non-Cartesian thinker who was years ahead of his time.
- Existentialism with Hubert Dreyfus – Four lectures on the topics of Existentialism and Heidegger taught by Dreyfus are made available at openculture.com. Contextualizing existentialism within Western society and culture, and explaining Heidegger’s works, these lectures elucidate concerns of cognitive science outside of Cartesian principles.
Non-Cartesian Approaches to Cognitive Science
While the area of non-Cartesian cognitive science is extremely broad, and can include anything contrary to Descartes’ principal beliefs, major areas of cognitive science challenge his classical cognitivism. Currently, embodied cognition is the leading school of thought that seeks reformation in the Cartesian dominated mainstream cognitive science. Emphasizing the importance and role of emotion as well as the physical body in thought processes and mental states, embodied cognition maintains that thought Cartesian cognitive science neglects significant aspects of ontology. Existentialism is another philosophical framework that counters concepts of being and self-consciousness in relation to the world.
- Embodied Cognition is defined here by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. An extensive entry, this website covers the motivation for this approach to cognitive science as well as its general characteristics and principles.
- Reconstructing the Cognitive World: Review – Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews considers Reconstructing the Cognitive World written by Michael Wheeler. Explaining the Heideggerian approach to cognitive science that Wheeler takes, the provided review gives another perspective on his work.
- Mind Embodied and Embedded – Concluding that cognitive scientists must abandon the Cartesian concept of a mind that is separate in principle from the body and world, this text explores problems with Descartes understanding of cognitive science. “Mind Embodied and Embedded” deals with the significance of the outside world, perception versus representation, and interactions between stimulus and thought.
- The Embodied Mind – Arguing that human experience and cognition are significantly connected, this book counters many Cartesian cognitive principles. Further, this work examines Buddhist philosophy in order to explain the understanding of a decentralized self.
- Review of The Embodied Mind – The original text by Varela, Thompson and Rosch “The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience” is reviewed here. One strength of this review is its juxtaposition of classical Cartesian cognitive perspective, with the non-Cartesian approach.
- The Expression of The Emotions in Man and Animals – Charles Darwin explores the physical manifestation of emotions in humans and other animals in this book. Detailing the cognitive aspects of emotional experience, Darwin displays the connection between cognition, emotion, and the body.
- Two Types of Existentialism – Placing existentialism and Cartesian cognitive science side by side, this review determines the differences in existential approaches. Classifying existentialism as either strict or dialogical, major philosophers are categorized according to their beliefs.
- What is Knowledge? – A review of Jose Ortega y Gasset’s text which was originally a series of lectures. Though not dealing with the entirety of knowledge as the title would suggest, this book does discuss knowledge as it pertains to the the operation of the mind and ontology.
While the philosophical concepts related to cognitive science may be difficult to immediately understand in terms of practical applications, there are many representations of these thoughts in practice. This section is dedicated to providing examples of why these differing concepts are significant, and further, how non-Cartesian approaches to cognitive science may result in better systems in areas such as education.
- Gestalt Theory – Think.net hosts this succinct explanation of Gestalt theory and how ideas and emotions are transmitted culturally. Dealing with Memes and other cultural products, this article was generated by questions asked regarding feelings, emotions, and cognition.
- Knowledge Representation in Cognitive Science surveys knowledge in relation to the science of the brain. Westbury and Wilensky provide a historical overview of cognitive science, and further describe dramatic changes in the field. A considerably large section on the implications of such changes in education has also been included. Recent advances in cognitive science suggest the need for different educational approaches that emphasize problem representations rather than facts, and interactive processes.
Cartesian Principles and Counter-Arguments
In order to gain a better understanding of what exactly non-Cartesian cognitive science is, it may be helpful to read about what classical cognitivism is. Another portion of this section is dedicated to providing counter-arguments that display concerns about alternative approaches.
- Cartesian Epistemology defines Cartesian dualism, and argues that this system may be innate to the cognition of humans. Moreover, the foundational beliefs inherent in classical cognitive science are detailed.
- Concepts: Review – Kent Bach counter-argues claims made by Jerry Fodor in his book Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong. Included in this discussion are oversights of the original argument, including “non-negotiable assumptions.”
- In Defense of ‘Some’ Cartesian Principles investigates radical arguments being made by non-Cartesian cognitive scientists. Moreover, this text disputes claims made from embodied/embedded approaches to cognition, while conceding certain points to other arguments.
- Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge considers alternative approaches to understanding the mind, and the problem with attempting to objectify the world. In this text, Jerry Fodor suggests that physicalism and consilience are oversimplified and unnecessary approaches to understanding consciousness.
- Cognitive Science Without Cognitive Content considers many principles of cognitive science through a linguistic approach. Major philosophers such as Frege, Wittgenstein, and Socrates are examined in the context of Descartes and Cartesian practices.