Motivational aspects of explanatory understanding


The following paper is motivated by an experiment on chimpanzees' physical cognition made by D. Povinelli. The reference is in the paper.

The paper has been elaborated during the CNRS School on Object Reference (june 2004) organized by Roberto Casati.


Download the paper: [ rtf, 45 Ko ]


Our basic idea is that motivational and purely cognitive aspects of explanatory understanding are orthogonal from a conceptual point of view. This allows from smoother step and more fine-grained detail in the evolution of explanatory understanding.


Here is, in rough terms, the picture we try to draw. (This is probably useful if you read the paper; otherwise it probably isn't, unless you know the issue).


Basic view

WHAT? systems
+ do not seek
WHY? systems
+ seek
Chimpanzees Humans

Our view

Purely cognitive aspects
WHAT? organisms WHY? organisms
Chimpanzees ...
[impossible] Humans




1.The position of chimpanzees in both tables is a matter of empirical investigation: while D. Povinelli suggests that they do not use explanations nor seek them, other researchers disagree.

2. Assuming that the positions are right, the "..." possibility in the second table suggests a missing link in evolution.

3. We are not sure D. Povinelli's picture is the basic one, but it seems to be so.

4. The "find-out organism" line in the second table indicates systems that exhibit both "try-again" and "find-out" behaviour.