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Shaping your own mind: the self-mindshaping view on metacognition

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Abstract

Starting from Proust’s distinction between the self-attributive and self-evaluative views on metacognition, this paper presents a third view: self-mindshaping. Based on the notion of mindshaping as the core of social cognition, the self-mindshaping view contends that mindshaping abilities can be turned on one’s own mind. Against the self-attributive view, metacognition is not a matter of accessing representations to metarepresent them but of giving shape to those representations themselves. Against the self-evaluative view, metacognition is not blind to content but relies heavily on it. We characterize our view in terms of four issues that, according to Proust, distinguish the previous approaches, namely, whether metacognitive mechanisms are the same as those employed to access other minds, whether metacognitive control requires conceptual representation, whether metacognition is propositional, and whether metacognitive access is linked to mental action. After describing some of the mechanisms for self-mindshaping, we show how this view regards metacognition as (1) grounded on social interaction mechanisms, (2) conceptually driven, (3) possibly, but not necessarily, propositional, and (4) engaged in the practical regulation of mental states. Finally, we examine the prospects for the primacy of self-mindshaping as the primary metacognitive function. We argue that self-attributive processes typically subserve the practical goals emphasized by the mindshaping view, and that the evaluative role played by procedural metacognition can be grounded on social cues rather than on experiential feelings. Even if this is not enough to claim the primacy of self-mindshaping, it still appears as a third kind of metacognition, not reducible to the other two.

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Notes

  1. As an anonymous reviewer observes, there are alternative terms, such as ‘use’, which in certain cases could avoid the connotations that ‘access’ involves. We agree that it is difficult to find a single term that covers all cases and we hope that our explanation of how to understand it suffices the reader to avoid the undesired connotations.

  2. For explanatory purposes, we will also reverse the order in which she presents claims 2 and 3.

  3. Zawidzki is concerned with providing an alternative story to tell about how the capacity for structurally complex language came into being if it was not to serve the expression of structurally complex thoughts. His own proposal is that such a capacity “is a product of selection, in prehistory, for costly, honest signals of commitment to groups and cooperative endeavors in ritualistic displays” (2013, p. 167). We do not wish to endorse this proposal, or other alternative stories. Our concern is limited to a putative role of language in mindshaping that does not require metarepresenting mental states. Some authors put the focus on language as a capacity to construct external symbols that can be manipulated in a second order cognitive dynamics (Clark 1998). Vierkant (2012) capitalizes on this observation to point out that language allows attention to the content of the linguistic vehicles without understanding the relationship between content and mental states. So mindshaping would require language but not metapresentation. (We will come back to his views on section 5.1).

  4. Answering a concern from an anonymous reviewer, we want to clarify that by “indirect way” we do not mean “unintentional way”. It does not include all actions that facilitate or influence cognition. So turning my head towards a certain stimulus because it became salient should not count as mindshaping; but turning my head towards a stimulus because you made a gesture pointing at it may count as a form of mindshaping inasmuch as you want to make the stimulus salient to me so that both of us perceive it in the same manner and coordinate our attitudes toward it. Of course, intentional processes can exploit automatic mechanisms, e.g., tendency to imitation or conformity to norms. But just as one should not confuse the process of reasoning with inference-drawing mechanisms –that can be automatic–, one should not confuse the process of mindshaping with the mechanisms employed in the process.

  5. This is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky 1978, p. 86).

  6. The notion of concept that is at issue is not as the constituent of a propositional thought but as a content-involving structure that is relatively independent from stimulus. This is a minimal sense of concept that a number of authors posit to account for complex behaviors and instrumental reasoning in certain nonhuman animals (Newen and Bartels 2007; Camp 2009). In our view, the complex relational abilities displayed by social creatures such as Taï chimpanzees qualify as concept-involving in that minimal sense. An anonymous reviewer points out that assigning the right label seems like a proto-linguistic ability that requires richer concept uses than those allowed in this minimal sense. We think that even if it can be regarded as proto-linguistic, this use still falls short of constituting a propositional activity.

  7. It is worth mentioning that Taï Chimpanzees also exhibit the metacognitive capacity for selecting the role depending on internal information sources, for instance, their experience or expertise. As Boesch (200: 35–36) notices, the percentage of young chimpanzees with low expertise and low experience in hunting taking the roles of ambushers and blocks is significantly lower than those with higher experience, which implies that chimpanzees restrict themselves to assume certain roles depending on information they have about their expertise and experience.

  8. We owe this objection to an anonymous reviewer.

  9. In Boesch's (2005) own words, “drivers and ambushers achieve only 1% and 11% of the captures respectively, while 81% are achieved by individuals following the hunt from the ground…Interestingly, ambushers that anticipate movements of the prey and the other hunters are granted an amount of meat equal to captors, even when they have not made the capture.” (p. 692).

  10. We will get back to this issue in section 5.2.

  11. One may argue that, to the extent that deliberation requires a linguistic vehicle, it is necessarily a metarepresentational endeavor consisting in accessing the stable content represented in a linguistic format (Bermúdez 2003). However, we often engage in reasoning chains in inner speech format that lead us to a private judgement that we did not hold before (Fernández Castro 2019; see also Geurts 2018). Such kinds of reasoning demonstrate that we do not represent previous mental states, and that however, when we arrive at these judgments, we can modify or regulate our actions in accordance with the commitments associated to these judgments without the need of self-ascribing a mental state.

  12. This view on the regulative role of narratives has to be distinguished from narrative theories of the self, which often endorse a stronger function for narratives as constitutive of self-identity (see Schechtman 2011 for a review). Our point is about a more “local” role for narratives as ways of controlling one’s current mental states by aligning them with the expectations created by a certain storyline, which need not be a lifelong story but a more temporary contextually driven narrative. For a different formulation of a modest narrative self-shaping hypothesis see Hutto (2016).

  13. This dependence is expressed in terms of dual-systems in Proust (2015, p. 22): “A purely automatic, reactive type of evaluation is possible, and is present in nonhumans and young children. It is prone, however, to generating throughout life illusions of competence and reasoning errors. A conceptually-controlled type of evaluation, on the other hand, can partially inhibit the influence of the expressive system, but it still depends on the latter to weigh the impact of context on ability, and to assess the trade-off between ease of processing and informativeness—that is, relevance—that is crucial in communication and in problem solving”.

  14. An anonymous reviewer points out that we have not offered an argument to support the thesis that all instances of metacognition require socially instituted norms. So it is still an open question whether concept-using creatures can have a mindshaping-independent evaluative metacognition –i.e., some way of assessing the reliability of their cognitive processes that does not depend on social interaction. Even though we share Carruthers’s reluctance to regard such assessments as metacognitive, we agree that his reasons for this rejection still come short as an argument against the possible coexistence of different (low and high) varieties of metacognition.

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Acknowledgements

This is a wholly collaborative paper, so order of authorship is arbitrary. The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers as well as the participants in the workshop 'Metacognition in individuals and groups' at the University of Stuttgart, where a preliminary version of this work was presented.

Funding

Víctor Fernández-Castro’s research is funded by Research Project ANR-16-CE33–0017, Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France.

Fernando Martínez-Manrique’s research is funded by Research Project FFI2015–65953-P, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Spain.

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Fernández-Castro, V., Martínez-Manrique, F. Shaping your own mind: the self-mindshaping view on metacognition. Phenom Cogn Sci 20, 139–167 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-020-09658-2

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