Twisted tales: Causal complexity and cognitive scientific explanation [Book Review]

Minds and Machines 8 (1):79-99 (1998)
  Recent work in biology and cognitive science depicts a variety of target phenomena as the products of a tangled web of causal influences. Such influences may include both internal and external factors as well as complex patterns of reciprocal causal interaction. Such twisted tales are sometimes seen as a threat to explanatory strategies that invoke notions such as inner programs, genes for and sometimes even internal representations. But the threat, I shall argue, is more apparent than real. Complex causal influence, in and of itself, provides no good reason to reject these familiar explanatory notions. To believe otherwise, I suggest, is generally to commit (at least) one of two seductive errors. The first error is to think that the general notion of a state x coding for an outcome y involves the state's constituting a full description of y. This is what I call the myth of the self-contained code. The second error is to think that the practice of treating certain factors as special (e.g., seeing genes as coding for outcomes in a way environmental factors do not) depends on the (often mistaken) belief that the singled out factor is somehow doing the most real work. Where the amounts of causal influence are evenly spread, it is assumed there can be no reason to treat one factor in a special way. This is what I term the Myth of Explanatory Equality. Avoiding these errors involves reminding ourselves of (1) the rich context-dependence of even standard, unproblematic uses of the notions of code, program and information content (all three make sense only relative to an assumed ecological backdrop) and (2) the difference between explaining why an event occurred and displaying the full workings of a complex causal system
Keywords Biology  Causation  Cognition  Complexity  Explanation  Psychology  Science
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1023/A:1008238431527
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 22,585
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Shaun Gallagher (2008). Intersubjectivity in Perception. Continental Philosophy Review 41 (2):163-178.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

187 ( #20,049 of 1,938,541 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

18 ( #28,318 of 1,938,541 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.