Shocking lessons from electric fish: The theory and practice of multiple realization

Philosophy of Science 67 (3):444-465 (2000)
This paper explores the relationship between psychology and neurobiology in the context of cognitive science. Are the sciences that constitute cognitive science independent and theoretically autonomous, or is there a necessary interaction between them? I explore Fodor's Multiple Realization Thesis (MRT) which starts with the fact of multiple realization and purports to derive the theoretical autonomy of special sciences (such as psychology) from structural sciences (such as neurobiology). After laying out the MRT, it is shown that, on closer inspection, the argument is either circular or self-undermining--the argument either assumes the very autonomy it seeks to demonstrate or the concluded autonomy is contradicted by the theoretical interdependence invoked by the premises of the argument. Next, I explore a concrete example of multiple realization in the explanation of animal behavior: the convergent evolution of jamming avoidance behaviors in three genera of weakly electric fish. Contrary to the image painted by the MRT, the work on these animals involves a high degree of interaction between the various levels of investigation. The fact that our understanding of electric fish behavior involves functional theories and multiple realization without the kind of disunified science that is supposed to follow from such a situation indicates that the mere fact of multiple realization cannot be the basis for an autonomous psychology
Keywords Fish  Multiple  Neuroscience  Psychology  Realization  Science  Fodor, J
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DOI 10.1086/392790
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