Automatically minded

Synthese 194 (11) (2017)
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It is not rare in philosophy and psychology to see theorists fall into dichotomous thinking about mental phenomena. On one side of the dichotomy there are processes that I will label “unintelligent.” These processes are thought to be unconscious, implicit, automatic, unintentional, involuntary, procedural, and non-cognitive. On the other side, there are “intelligent” processes that are conscious, explicit, controlled, intentional, voluntary, declarative, and cognitive. Often, if a process or behavior is characterized by one of the features from either of the above lists, the process or behavior is classified as falling under the category to which the feature belongs. For example, if a process is implicit this is usually considered sufficient for classifying it as “unintelligent” and for assuming that the remaining features that fall under the “unintelligent” grouping will apply to it as well. Accordingly, if a process or behavior is automatic, philosophers often consider it to be unintelligent. It is my goal in this paper to challenge the conceptual slip from “automatic” to “unintelligent”. I will argue that there are a whole range of properties highlighted by the existing psychological literature that make automaticity a much more complex phenomenon than is usually appreciated. I will then go on to discuss two further important relationships between automatic processes and controlled processes that arise when we think about automatic processes in the context of skilled behavior. These interactions should add to our resistance to classifying automaticity as unintelligent or mindless. In Sect. 1, I present a few representative cases of philosophers classifying automatic processes and behaviors as mindless or unintelligent. In Sect. 2, I review trends in the psychology of automaticity in order highlight a complex set of features that are characteristic, though not definitive, of automatic processes and behaviors. In Sect. 3, I argue that at least some automatic processes are likely cognitively penetrable. In Sect. 4, I argue that the structure of skilled automatic processes is shaped diachronically by practice, training and learning. Taken together, these considerations should dislodge the temptation to equate “automatic” with “unintelligent”



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Ellen Fridland
King's College London