Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Purpose of this blog

I suppose it would nice if we used this blog to foster the interdisciplinary character of the Cognitive Science and Language programme, rather than focus on purely philosophical questions only (after all, I have recently enrolled on the aforementioned programme, my expertise is within linguistics and some philosophy/psychology and I don't think I'd be able to contribute otherwise).
A nice first topic could be last week's Workshop. I'm not really sure what people thought of it, and I'd be interested in that. I had a brief chat with some people last Thursday but this blog could provide the right medium to have an in-depth discussion.
Who would like to start?



Dan López de Sa said...

You mean this one? Looks to have been a terrific program!

Sanna Hirvonen said...

I think there's plenty of room for both philosophical and interdisciplinary discussions, and I would personally be happy if there were both kinds. Unfortunately I missed most of the talks on workshop, so I can't start a discussion on that. So go ahead, David! :)

DavidJLobina said...

Hi Dan,

I'm in London and for some reason I can't access that link. The workshop took place last thrusday, 9th of November. Jason Stanley and Jacques Mehler presented some work. Interesting overall, I thought.

DavidJLobina said...

Hi Sanna,

I attended three talks on the day, Stanley's, Mehler's and someone else's I can't remember.

Stanley's was odd. It was about practical knowledge and argued against Ryle on the difference between 'knowing how' and 'knowing that'. Seemed to start from a competence/performance standpoint and the argument was that you could reduce/explain the latter by the former. Thus, there wasn't really any 'knowing how', but only 'knowing that'. Quite odd because he used analysis of linguistic structure (PRO, that-clauses, island constructions) to show that what we mean when we say something like 'I know how to..' is actually/can be reduced to 'I know that...'. He seemed to be confusing conceptual information with linguistic structure though and Albert Costa brought this up at the end.
Mehler's was interesting and I quite liked it. Basically proposed 3 mechanisms for language acquisition (in the realm of speech): sensitivity to statistic patterns of the input, ability to generalise and an inventory of perceptual primitives. Very well argued and interesting.
I attended another talk, right after Stanley's. Was about speech processing, the influence of visual cues (McGurk effect included) and reached two conclusions, the second somehow very controversial. It said that cognitive impenetrability needed to be re-thought (I assume it referred to the account of Modularity Fodor proposes). However, the whole thing was a bit sloppy. There was some talk about modalities (visual and auditorial) 'reaching' the, I can only assume, central system at different times for interpretation and how this affected linguistic processing. It was sloppy because it ignored well-known principles of domain-specific modalities, especially in relation with the 'language module'. Dennett runs a very similar argument in his Consciousness Explained book but it's also sloppy.

Anyway, that's what I thought of the workshop. I'd be interested to see what other people thought about it.

Hope this post isn't too tedious!


Sanna Hirvonen said...

Hey David,

I heard Stanley's presentation, and to me the linguistic approach seemed so far-fetched that I had to check what the actual argument is (since when criticized he claimed there is one). Here's the paper:
I do think it's good that someone took up the old distinction between knowing-that and knowing-how, and it would be interesting to discuss what their relation really is. Personally I don't buy any of the arguments in the above paper. However, I do find Ryle's disctinction odd as well. Why is knowing-how contrasted with knowing-that when it comes to abilities in the first place, instead of knowing-that OR knowing-how vs. being able to do something (and no knowledge should be included in this last case). Let me elaborate; if I sound confused it’s because I just woke up!

First, a linguistic example: in finnish at least when talking of abilities we mostly say for example that x CAN ride a bike, and you use the knowing-how form more often when you know in theory how to do something but cannot do it (if you just ask "do you know how to x" you also need to ask "and can you x" if you want to know whether the person really is able to do x and not just know it in theory). Thus in many knowing-how cases the knowledge obviously is a form of knowing-that since it is not accompanied by the ability. But if this is what Stanley wants to tell us, it's not very interesting. So even if we admit that knowing-how is a form of knowing-that, what I take the interesting question to be is what is the relation between purely bodily abilities (i.e. abilities you can do without having to entertain any propositional thoughts) and propositional knowledge. Knowing-how is curious since it seems to be sometimes either of the two or sometimes a mixture of both. Thus it is bad terminology, I’d say.

So, one problem is that the use of knowing-how is very ambiguous: in common speech you can use it to refer to propositional knowledge or to an ability. There are a lot of obvious examples of knowing-how as a form of knowing-that (baking a cake: you know how to do it because you know a group of propositions. Probably many cases of propositional knowledge get internalized so that one does not need to think of the propositions anymore. In these cases we can say that the person developed an ability which is not necessarily propositional knowledge anymore; it can be, though.)
In the case of abilities we often actually do not really know how (in the sense of knowing propositions) since if asked how to x we often show instead of explaining ("do you know how to play the violin?" "yes, you do like this, look" and not send an SMS saying "take the violin, hold it under your chin and with your left hand etc." You could try to explain it but the results would surely be very bad.) More obvious examples are say, drawing: the ones who can’t draw always ask “how do you do that” but the one with the ability still cannot say why or how come he can draw better than the other. To learn to draw is a matter of pure practice.
To classify: I would say that knowing how always includes propositional knowledge, and it can be accompanied with the ability but it need not be. Knowing that is knowledge without an accompanying ability. What we have left are pure bodily abilities without any accompanying propositions, and this is a class whose existence a lot of people probably want to deny (and call it say non-conscious propositional knowledge in the style of LOT). So I think knowing how is never a matter of just having an ability, let me briefly sketch why.

The problem is that in academic circles knowing-how seems to be used to refer exclusively to abilities, whether or not accompanied by any expressible propositions (I say expressible to exclude the referring to something like LOT). Also animals are thus included in the group of knowers since they have lots of abilities. This use strikes me as rather confusing since I would definitely want to deny knowledge from animals that lack language (i.e. from all non-human animals: this remark probably brings million new comments on bLOGOS!). Why? One reason (among others I don’t mention now) is because otherwise there are kinds of knowledge that have nothing to do with each others, so why should they all be called knowledge in the first place? But this is outside the scope of this topic so I won’t say more.

So let us ask what distinguishes between a pure bodily ability and knowing how. I think one obvious criterion is the above-mentioned need to use propositional knowledge (which should be in principle expressible) in the not-only-an-ability sense of the latter. Examples: If you want to learn how to dance tango, you do not go through propositions in your head, you just watch someone dancing and copy the movements and then practice the movements over and over again. And many of us know (and I think there’s empirical evidence on this as well) that in fact the thinking of propositions makes the performance worse. When performing a pure bodily ability you do something which is not guided or accompanied by propositions. You might have learned the ability once with the aid of propositions but since then the ability become automatic and now you COULD NOT get the same propositions, even if you tried. (You could invent new ones, but they are independent of your ability. What I mean by this is that you can observe yourself and put in words what you are doing but the propositions aren't already there accompanying the ability.)

So in the case of bodily abilities, what do you know? To dance tango, you know how to move your arms and legs in the right way? (Stanley suggests something like to know how to do x, one knows that there is a way in which a can x, but better check the paper for what he really said.) Well yeah, but here the explanation falls under the phrase "the right way" which again is not propositional knowledge at all but simply a bodily ability: we have practiced doing a movement this way and not that way, but not by thinking propositions. So you don’t know anything, you can do it and that’s it.

So after this much-longer-than-I-thought-it-would-be comment, I would like to conclude that I think knowing-how is a term which can be used as a species of knowing that, but also as a species of pure bodily abilities. Therefore it is a dubious term, and we should be careful when we use it. What I think is not true is that all forms of traditionally knowns as “knowing-how” are forms of knowing that since there are pure bodily abilities that come into being without there being propositions or anything that deserves to be called knowledge, unless we want to include good old thermostats and missiles among the class of knowers.
I’d be glad to hear some comments on my thoughts!