Reconsidering 'spatial memory' and the Morris water maze

Synthese 177 (2):261-283 (2010)
The Morris water maze has been put forward in the philosophy of neuroscience as an example of an experimental arrangement that may be used to delineate the cognitive faculty of spatial memory (e.g., Craver and Darden, Theory and method in the neurosciences, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2001; Craver, Explaining the brain: Mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007). However, in the experimental and review literature on the water maze throughout the history of its use, we encounter numerous responses to the question of “what” phenomenon it circumscribes ranging from cognitive functions (e.g., “spatial learning”, “spatial navigation”), to representational changes (e.g., “cognitive map formation”) to terms that appear to refer exclusively to observable changes in behavior (e.g., “water maze performance”). To date philosophical analyses of the water maze have not been directed at sorting out what phenomenon the device delineates nor the sources of the different answers to the question of what. I undertake both of these tasks in this paper. I begin with an analysis of Morris’s first published research study using the water maze and demonstrate that he emerged from it with an experimental learning paradigm that at best circumscribed a discrete set of observable changes in behavior. However, it delineated neither a discrete set of representational changes nor a discrete cognitive function. I cite this in combination with a reductionist-oriented research agenda in cellular and molecular neurobiology dating back to the 1980s as two sources of the lack of consistency across the history of the experimental and review literature as to what is under study in the water maze.
Keywords Cognition  Experimental learning paradigm  Mechanisms  Reliability  Spatial memory
Categories (categorize this paper)
 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: 24,470
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
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

View all 15 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Carl F. Craver & Lindley Darden (2001). Discovering Mechanisms in Neurobiology: The Case of Spatial Memory. In P.K. Machamer, Rick Grush & Peter McLaughlin (eds.), Theory and Method in Neuroscience. Pittsburgh: University of Pitt Press. pp. 112--137.
B. C. Malt (1994). Water is Not H 2 O. Cognitive Psychology 27:41--70.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

88 ( #54,689 of 1,925,583 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

19 ( #30,766 of 1,925,583 )

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.