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1st International Philsoc Weekend

in Madrid (Spain), Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th November 2016

Beyond the Individual Mind:
Other Minds, Extended Mind, and Group Minds

The Philsoc European Members' Weekend described below is now in the past, but plans are afoot for 2017 – watch this space!


All available talk documents are linked from talk synopses below,
under the event programme.


14.30Arrival and coffee/tea
14.50-15.00Chairman's introduction
15.00 -15.45 Group Minds and Institutional Facts - Alan Bailey
15.55-16.40 A Personal Journey Through Three Group Minds - Seán Coughlan
16.40-17.20Coffee/tea break (off-premises)
17.20-18.05Minds and Media – A Symbiosis - Peter Townsend
18.15-19.00How Can Minds Understand Each Other? - Christian Michel


10.00-10.45Where does Otto's notebook fit into the new philosophy of mind, 4EA? - Frank Brierley
10.55-11.40Minds beyond brains - Simon Borrington
11.40-12.00Coffee/tea break (on-premises)
12.00-13.00Panel Q&A/general discussion
13.30End of conference
13.30-Lunch (optional and not included)

Talk 1: Group Minds and Institutional Facts - Alan Bailey

Statements about 'group minds', such as "The nation has voted for a change", are not about some metaphysical entity, nor reducible to factual statements about individuals, nor simply 'imaginary'. So what are these 'institutional facts'? John Searle ('Making the Social World', 2010) proposes that they are based on 'status function declarations', analogous to performatives. This talk will discuss his carefully worked out thesis in more detail, to see whether it satisfies those who are looking for some more psychological, even metaphysical (and less linguistic) analysis of 'group minds'.
Talk text (PDF)

Alan Bailey read philosophy at Oxford from 1951 to 1956, taught by Grice, Strawson and Austin, then spent 35 years in the civil service (mainly Treasury and Transport) before catching up with philosophy at OUDCE and enjoying 20 years of Philsoc discussions.

Talk 2: A Personal Journey Through Three Group Minds - Seán Coughlan

Most of the literature dissecting the concept of a "Group Mind" seems to concentrate on arguments concerning the attribution of collective ethical and moral responsibilities. The speaker intends to draw on his own experiences of conflict between the individual conscience and the corporate requirement, and its frequent resolution by the ready alignment of an individual's incompetence, ignorance or greed with corporate equivalents never allowing the individual a complete excuse that "I was only obeying the corporate mission statement".
Talk slides (PDF)

Seán Coughlan studied Engineering and Electrical Sciences at Cambridge and later gained an MSc in the Design of Information Systems. He spent 20 years in the Army in electronics and weapons systems and 30 years as a consultant to big business and Government, and lecturing to MBA students. Since retiring last year, he has been trying to reconcile the empirical square with the speculative circle and has taken a number of courses with OUDCE in Philosophy to assist him in this endeavour.

Talk 3: Minds and Media – A Symbiosis - Peter Townsend

My thesis is that 'mind' is in a symbiotic, dynamic relation with media, such that each constantly modifies the other. Media mediate our relations with the world. In one sense that is trivially true: our understanding of everything external is mediated via wave-forms and physical sensations. However, my focus here is on 'media' such as the information produced and consumed by humans. They appear to have purposes beyond the merely commercial: to teach and learn, to influence – morally and politically – and to entertain. These functions are variously combined; but we judge them as good or bad: we apply ethical standards. Not only do we make them but they make us. Mind and media form each other. And this is an iterative process: our demand for media changes with an understanding (largely) formed by the media we consume. So we and our media can make each other better or worse. But by what criteria? That debate is, ironically, itself part of the mind-media interrelation.
Talk slides (PDF)
Speaker's slide notes (PDF)

Peter Townsend was educated at Luton Grammar School, Cambridge, and SOAS; subjects: languages, literature and linguistics. Working life: actor and comedian, advertising copywriter (as in 'Mad Men'), teacher and lecturer, freelance writer, marketing consultant. Came late to philosophy, via linguistics and Wittgenstein, and dropping in on Oxford lectures. Has spent most of his working life in the media industry and is therefore familiar with its mechanisms.

Talk 4: How Can Minds Understand Each Other? - Christian Michel

Human social interactions rely crucially on our "mindreading" ability. We constantly and effortlessly ascribe mental states, like desires and beliefs, to others and predict and explain their behavior in terms of those. But what is the cognitive mechanism underlying this ability? Two theories have been central to the debate. According to theory-theory we predict and understand other persons by applying a folk-psychological theory, using inference-like processes. Simulation Theory holds that to predict others' behavior we egocentrically simulate or replicate psychological states in our mind and then ascribe the result to others. Recently, both camps have recognized that both theory and simulation elements are needed for a theory of mindreading. I will argue, however, that simulation theory can be subsumed under theory-theory.
Talk Slides (PDF)

Christian Michel has been involved with Philsoc for many years, after he got hooked to philosophy (in the analytical tradition) by the OUDCE online course "Introduction to Philosophy". He holds an MSc degree in Cybernetics Engineering, an MBA and a BA in Philosophy (University of London) and works as an executive in industry. His philosophical interests are broad, but philosophy of mind and language stand out.

Talk 5: Where does Otto's notebook fit into the new philosophy of mind, 4EA? – Frank Brierley

Some proponents of 4EA claim mildly that it complements the 20th century analytical philosophy of mind, others that it supplants that old-fashioned cranio-centric approach. But has either (or any) school answered the 'hard problem' posed by David Chalmers? The talk, by examining the claims of the 4EA-ers, should help its audience to decide that question. By the way, 4E = Embodied, Embedded, Enacted and Extended, while the A is Affective.
Talk text (PDF)

Frank Brierley relearned philosophy, many years after studying it at Cambridge, via OUDCE's invaluable adult education classes and progressed from there to a philosophy MA from London University, having joined Philsoc, collected a couple of Chadwick prizes and had a spell as chairman. He is a judge of Philsoc's Student Essay Prize, which he co-administers with Christian Michel, and has been the main organiser of AwayDay at Pigotts the past three years.

Talk 6: Minds beyond brains - Simon Borrington

In their seminal paper of 1998, 'The Extended Mind,' Andy Clark and David Chalmers made the claim that we would arrive at a better understanding of mind, and of self, "once the hegemony of skin and skull is usurped." But given that everything that we feel confident that we know about mind is rooted in subjective experience, this seems counterintuitive to say the least. Whilst accepting that we have become more accustomed to notions incorporating embodied minds, is this extension of the mental into the world of objective reality a logical challenge too far?
Talk text (PDF)

Simon Borrington studied philosophy as a mature student at Middlesex Polytechnic back in the 80s when it was a centre for the 'Radical Philosophy' movement. He embarked on postgraduate work under the guidance of Jonathan Ree, but life got in the way. For thirty years philosophy has been a persistent background noise to his engagement with the world and his encounters with PhilSoc have provided a welcome opportunity (for him, at least) to re-engage with the conversation.

Beyond the Individual Mind:
Other Minds, Extended Mind, and Group Minds

There are at least three exciting areas that address the question of the nature of the mind as a phenomenon that extends beyond the individual mind:

1) Social Cognition. For human social interaction "mind-reading", the capacity to ascribe beliefs, desires and other mental states to others to explain and predict behavior seems to be crucial. But how does mind-reading work? How do we make sense of others' behavior: Do we simulate other minds with our own? Do we have a sort of tacit "theory" from which we derive predictions about others' behavior? Do infants have mind-reading capacities; do animals (e.g. primates)?  Etc.

2) The Extended Mind. The mind is normally understood to be somehow linked to the brain, and hence has its boundaries inside the skull. But if Otto uses his notebook regularly as a memory aid, isn't the notebook part of Otto's cognitive processes, hence of his mind?  Can other people get part of your mind, e.g. if your husband acquired the habit to finish your sentences? What advantages does it have to treat such "coupled systems" as a single mind? Is the mind understood as extended outside the skull ontologically real, or a simple way of talking? Etc.

3) Group Minds. Often we ascribe mental states to groups of individuals. E.g. we say after an election that "the nation has voted for a political change". Are nations or corporations sorts of agents and do they have a collective mind, to which each mind is subordinated? Isn't this what we observe in mob or herd behavior? Does a hive have a collective mind or intelligence? Is culture the expression of a group mind? Does the pervasive interconnectedness facilitated by the internet lead to a form of group mind?  Is the ascription of mental states to groups merely an explanatory strategy or do groups minds really exist? What implications would this have for the moral responsibility of groups and individuals in groups? Etc.

Some recommended places to start are:

1. Social Cognition

  • David Premack, Guy Woodruff (1978), Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol 1(4), Dec 1978, 515-526.  (see also: Call&Tomasello "Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind 30 years later," available at http://www.eva.mpg.de/psycho/pdf/Call&Tomasello2008TICS.pdf)
  • Alison Gopnik, Henry M. Wellman (1992), Why the Child's Theory of Mind Really Is a Theory - Mind&Language, Vol.7, Numbers 1 and 2, Spring/Summer 1992. (available at http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/73444/j.1468-0017.1992.tb00202.x.pdf)
  • Alvin I. Goldman (1992), "In Defense of Simulation Theory", Mind & Language, Vol.7 Numbers 1 and 2.
  • Alvin Goldman (2006), Simulating Mind, Oxford University Press.
  • Gordon, Robert M., "Folk Psychology as Mental Simulation", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), (http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/folkpsych-simulation/).
  • Ravenscroft, Ian, "Folk Psychology as a Theory", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/folkpsych-theory/.
  • Henry Wellman (2014), Making Minds, Oxford University Press.

2. Extended Mind

3. Group Minds