Re: intersubjectivity
Tue, 22 Apr 1997 11:01:54 EST

>>> wrote:
>>> Gary:
>>> Your question is a good one, of course.[Can cats construe? What
>>> evidence/grounding is there to prove this claim?] It is always good to have
>>> someone looking over our shoulders and asking us to justify our assertions.
>>> But this isn't really a difficult one, it seems to me. It seems to
>>> me that it is the responsibilty of the person who wants to make the
>>> claim that a cat can construe a Cathedral as an expression of her
>>> relationship to God to make that case. For the person who wishes to
>>> deny this, it goes a long way simply to state that there isn't the
>>> slightest bit of evidence that the cat is able to do this. Further,
>>> cats can't perform even the most rudimentary tasks that one would see
>>> as precursors of the type of adequate self-knowledge in order to make
>>> such a judgment (e.g., cat's don't show self-consciousness when placed
>>> in front of a mirror). So yes, we can make judgments about the other
>>> people's (and organism's) consciousness on the basis of inferences about
>>> their behavior.
>>> Mike Mascolo

Then Gary wrote:
>>I'm not clear on what you're saying here, Mike. Please clarify.


Tim had basically said that his cat couldn't construe a Cathedral
as an expression of its relationship to God. My understanding was that
you were challenging Tim to justify comments of this type. It seemed a
as if you were saying: "How do you know what your cat's subjectivities
are like?"

I am a developmental psychologist -- this is a question that infancy
researchers deal with all the time. The infant cannot use language to
communicate her subjective world to another person. So how do you
know what the infant is thinking/feeling/experiencing? The big answer
is that one can never be sure what the infant is thinking. But we can
do a pretty good job of inferring what an infant is thinking or
experiencing by looking very carefully at the infant's behavior. We
must ask ourselves: What must the infant be able to understand/do/etc.
in order to perform the behavior in question?

For example, Piaget implied that infants can't construct mental images
until about 18-24 months of age. You might ask: How can you possibly know?
Well, Piaget looks at infants and notes taht they don't engage in behaviors
like deferred imitation intil about that time. They can't, that is, watch
someone today and imitate them tomorrow. To do this implies that the
child is able to construct an image about what happened yesterday and use
that image as a guide to behavior. So, we can make inferences about
the infant's subjectivities by looking at her behavior. (Incidently,
recent research suggests that infants are capable of forming images earlier
than Piaget suggested. But that's not the issue -- the point is that by
careful observation, and by asking ourselves: What must the infant do or
know in order to perform a given act, we can make inferences about
the infant's subjective world.)

So, to get back to Tim -- one can easily justify claims like "My Cat
cannot represent the church in terms of a relationship to God" by looking
at the behaviors of the cat, and making inferences about what the cat must
know, conceive, in order to engage in those behaviors. And when we do that
we simply find no evidence that cats engage in symbolic processes that
even approach that of the type that Tim was talking about. Do cats
construe? Of course! They construe at a sensori-motor level. If one
thinks that they use symbols, then let's define what we mean by that,
and give evidence of symbol use.

Mike Mascolo