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The Question

Link to slides and notes (including references) is in the chat.

And these are some of the partners in crime who have aided and abbeted over the years.

The Myth of

Why It Matters & What to Do

The myth is that we as researchers can rely on a shared understanding of what we are talking about when we talk about intentional action or about mental states like knowledge, intention, desire, anger, surprise and the like.
This is a myth of mindreading because on any standard view, the most sophisticated forms of everyday mindreading involve attributing these mental states.
In this talk I will argue that the myth is untrue.
I will also attempt to explain why this matters practically for developmental, comparative and philosophical research.
And I will explore how we, as researchers, might achieve a shared understanding of intentional action, knowledge, intention and the rest. This might change how we investigate theory of mind.
Let me start with what I hope is a familiar claim to many people here.

Adults, infants and nonhuman animals can all
track instrumental actions and mental states.

(Kovács, Téglás, & Endress, 2010; Kano, Krupenye, Hirata, Tomonaga, & Call, 2019; Kaminski, Bräuer, Call, & Tomasello, 2009; Superman, 1978)

For a process to track an attribute is for how the process unfolds to nonaccidentally depend, perhaps within limits, on the presence or absence of the attribute.
The discoveries about tracking raise two questions ...

Which processes are involved in tracking instrumental actions and mental states?

- motor processes? (Zani, Butterfill, & Low, 2020; Low, Edwards, & Butterfill, 2020)

Which models are involved in the most sophisticated cases of tracking instrumental actions and mental states?

A model is just some way an aspect of the world is or could be.
Asking which models are involved is asking how the world would have to be for the tracking process to be free of errors. How does tracking mental states in that way assume the world to be?
It is the question about models that I want to focus on today.
In the past I focussed on the problem of identifying the models that are involved in the most basic forms of mindreading, those that are common to several species and occur early in development.
I took for granted that we are all acquainted with the models that are involved in the most sophisticated forms of mindreading. ...

- ones featuring intentional actions and mental states like knowledge, intention, desire, anger, surprise and the like

After all, the models are just those that feature intentional actions and mental states like belief, knowledge, desire, intention, anger and joy. Aren’t they?


Today I want to argue that this was a mistake. I started to realise that I had made a mistake when I asked the question, What anchors our understanding of those states (and of intentional action)?