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Radu J. Bogdan

Radu J. Bogdan is Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science and Director of the Cognitive Studies Program at Tulane University and Regular Guest Professor and Director of the OPEN MIND master program in cognitive science, University of Bucharest, Romania. He is the author of Interpreting Minds (1997), Minding Minds: Evolving a Reflexive Mind by Interpreting Others (2000), Predicative Minds: The Social Ontogeny of Propositional Thinking (2009) and Our Own Minds: Sociocultural Grounds for Self-Consciousness (2010), all published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

Sociocultural Grounds for Pretending and Imagining

The human mind has the capacity to vault over the realm of current perception, motivation, emotion, and action, to leap—consciously and deliberately—to past or future, possible or impossible, abstract or concrete scenarios and situations. In this book, Radu Bogdan examines the roots of this uniquely human ability, which he terms "mindvaulting." He focuses particularly on the capacities of pretending and imagining, which he identifies as the first forms of mindvaulting to develop in childhood. Pretending and imagining, Bogdan argues, are crucial steps on the ontogenetic staircase to the intellect.

Bogdan finds that pretending and then imagining develop from a variety of sources for reasons that are specific and unique to human childhood. He argues that these capacities arise as responses to sociocultural and sociopolitical pressures that emerge at different stages of childhood. Bogdan argues that some of the properties of mindvaulting—including domain versatility and nonmodularity—resist standard evolutionary explanations. To resolve this puzzle, Bogdan reorients the evolutionary analysis toward human ontogeny, construed as a genuine space of evolution with specific pressures and adaptive responses. Bogdan finds that pretending is an ontogenetic response to sociocultural challenges in early childhood, a pre-adaptation for imagining; after age four, the adaptive response to cooperative and competitive sociopolitical pressures is a competence for mental strategizing that morphs into imagining.

Sociocultural Grounds for Self-Consciousness

In Our Own Minds, Radu Bogdan takes a developmental perspective on consciousness—its functional design in particular—and proposes that children's functional capacity for consciousness is assembled during development out of a variety of ontogenetic adaptations that respond mostly to sociocultural challenges specific to distinct stages of childhood. Young human minds develop self-consciousness—in the broad sense of being conscious of the self’s mental and behavioral relatedness to the world—because they face extraordinary and escalating sociocultural pressures that cannot be handled without setting in motion a complex executive machinery of self-regulation under the guidance of an increasingly sophisticated intuitive psychology. Bogdan suggests that self-consciousness develops gradually during childhood. Children move from being oriented toward the outside world in early childhood to becoming (at about age four) oriented also toward their own minds. Bogdan argues that the sociocultural tasks and practices that children must assimilate and engage in competently demand the development of an intuitive psychology (also known as theory of mind or mind reading); the intuitive psychology assembles a suite of executive abilities (intending, controlling, monitoring, and so on) that install self-consciousness and drive its development. Understanding minds, first the minds of others and then our own, drives the development of self-consciousness, world-bound or extrovert at the beginning and later mind-bound or introvert. This asymmetric development of the intuitive psychology drives a commensurate asymmetric development of self-consciousness.

The Social Ontogeny of Propositional Thinking

The predicative mind singles out and represents an item in order to attribute to it a property, a relation, an action, an evaluation; it thinks, and says, of a house that it is big, of a car that it is to the left of the house, of a cat that it is about to jump, of a hypothesis that it is plausible. The capacity to predicate appears to be neither innate nor learned, yet it is universal among humans. Puzzling in evolutionary, developmental, and philosophical terms, the mental competence for predication still awaits a coherent and plausible explanation. In this exploration of the predicative roots of human thinking, Radu Bogdan takes up the challenge. Bogdan argues that predication is not only an outcome of development but also a by-product of uniquely human features of development, many of them social in nature and unrelated to representation, cognition, and thinking. Humans develop predicative minds for disparate reasons, which bear initially on physiological coregulation, affective and manipulative communication, and the socially shared acquisition of words. Once developed, the competence for predication in turn redesigns human thinking and communication. Predication is at the heart of conscious, deliberate, explicit, and language-based human thinking, and it is the fuel of higher mental activities. Understanding the uniqueness and representational power of the human mind, Bogdan contends, requires an explanation of why and how predication came to be.

Evolving a Reflexive Mind by Interpreting Others

Mental reflexivity, or metamentation—a mind thinking about its own thoughts—underpins reflexive consciousness, deliberation, self-evaluation, moral judgment, the ability to think ahead, and much more. Yet relatively little in philosophy or psychology has been written about what metamentation actually is, or about why and how it came about. In this book, Radu Bogdan proposes that humans think reflexively because they interpret each other's minds in social contexts of cooperation, communication, education, politics, and so forth. As naive psychology, interpretation was naturally selected among primates as a battery of practical skills that preceded language and advanced thinking. Metamentation began as interpretation mentally rehearsed: through mental sharing of attitudes and information about items of common interest, interpretation conspired with mental rehearsal to develop metamentation.

Drawing on philosophical, psychological, and evolutionary perspectives, Bogdan analyzes the main phylogenetic and ontogenetic stages through which primates' abilities to interpret other minds evolve and gradually create the opportunities and resources for metamentation. Contrary to prevailing views, he concludes that metamentation benefits from, but is not a predetermined outcome of, logical abilities, language, and consciousness.

Unlike most current researchers in philosophy and psychology, who view interpretation as a way to understand the minds and behavior of others, Radu J. Bogdan sets out to establish a new evolutionary and practical view of interpretation. According to Bogdan, the ability to interpret others' mental states has evolved under communal, political, and epistemic pressures to enable us to cope with the impact of other organisms on our own goals in the competition to survive. Interpretation evolved among primates by natural and then cultural selection. As an adaptation, it is a competence in the form of a battery of practical skills that serve the interpreter's interests in social interactions. Evolutionary theory does not just deepen our understanding of interpretation; without it, we cannot understand what interpretation is and how it does its job. Interpreting Minds raises many thought-provoking issues for philosophers of mind and culture; evolutionary, developmental, and social psychologists; ethologists; cognitive and cultural anthropologists; evolutionary biologists; and others interested in cognitive development.