Cognitive Ethology: The Minds of Other Animals: Essays in Honor of Donald R. Griffin

By Donald R. Griffin; Carolyn A. Ristau | Go to book overview

11
HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY AND THE MINDS OF OTHER ANIMALS

George F. Michel DePaul University


ABSTRACT

Unlike other constructs in science that can be described both metaphorically and literally, mind is always metaphoric. Folk psychology allows attribution of mental states and intentions to others by analogy with the common metaphors used in the intuitive understanding of our own mental states and intentions given that there is some perceived similarity between our own behavior and that of others and between the situations within which the behaviors occur. Recent studies of human cognition, category formation, and social skill challenge folk psychology and demonstrate that (a) most human cognitive processes are nonconscious, (b) many conceptual categories are derived from human biological capacities and experience, and (c) the apparent finesse of human social skill rests heavily on error-prone scripts. It is unlikely that folk psychology will form the basis of a science of human psychology. Nevertheless, folk psychological theory pervades human thinking, remembering, and perceiving and creates a very subtle anthropomorphism that can corrupt the formation of a science of cognitive ethology. The challenge in the study of the minds of other animals is to avoid the seductive constructs of folk psychology and find terms in which minds that may be different from our own can be contemplated.

Early in this century, Holmes ( 1911) proposed that we infer the mental states of others by noting the similarities in the circumstances that evoke such states in ourselves and the similarities in the actions and expressions that accompany such states. Also, because we routinely speak of our reasons for doing things in terms of mental states, we expect that similar

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