The Logic & Philosophy of Science Colloquium Series presents

"Are Great Apes Capable of Level 1 Visual Perspective Taking?"
with Marta Helina, University of California, San Diego

Thursday, February 23, 2012
3:00 p.m.
Social Science Tower, Room 777

Level 1 visual perspective taking (VPT1) is the ability of one agent to infer what objects another agent can or cannot see, given that other agent’s point of view. Over the last decade, comparative psychologists have conducted a variety of experiments aimed at testing whether chimpanzees have VPT1 abilities. The results of these experiments have been largely positive, leading to a consensus among researchers that chimpanzees are capable of VPT1. However, several psychologists and philosophers have recently leveled a criticism against this consensus. Their criticism is two-pronged: First, they argue that all of the results that are taken as evidence that great apes have VPT1 abilities are obtained from experiments that cannot, even in principle, provide evidence for or against a subject being capable of VPT1. Second, the critics argue that there are two experimental paradigms, experience-projection and false-belief, that can provide evidence for or against VPT1 abilities, and great apes are unable to pass tests in either paradigm. Given these two points, the critics hold that the empirical evidence strongly suggests that apes do not have VPT1 abilities. In this talk, Helina will show that experience-projection and false-belief experiments fail to pass the critics’ own requirements of what counts as a properly designed test of VPT1 abilities. In fact, it is difficult to imagine any experiment that could meet these criteria. One lesson that one might draw from this is that it is not possible to empirically test for VPT1 abilities in great apes. An alternative lesson, however, is that the critics’ criteria for what counts as experimental evidence for VPT1 abilities is overly demanding. Helina argues for the latter position and suggests that we instead adopt the criteria that are already implicitly endorsed by comparative psychologists.

For further information, please contact Patty Jones, or 949-824-1520.


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