Parsimony II

13 02 2017

After a break of a whole semester (and not much contact over the summer), it was great to make a GTA Animal Cognition Reading Group meeting on Friday. We covered parsimony, but of a particular type (one very different from what my group read on a while ago): focussing on chimps’ interpretations of each other’s and human behaviour, parsimony in this context is the preference for one single elegant intervening variable (“behaviour-reading”, say) versus two (e.g. “behaviour reading” and thence “mind-reading”, say). AIC was given great prominence too, though I’m not convinced this statistical way to avoid over-fitting really applies here. The readings were by Haley Clutterbuck (who was there), Eliott Sober, and the group’s very own Kristin Andrews. One key question was: does mind-reading actually allow animals to do something that behaviour-reading does not, and if so, how can you get at this empirically? (Both being very hard issues)

As ever, I was slightly out of my depth (everyone else in the room was a psychologist or philosopher). And as ever this made me insanely happy – working at my intellectual limit with a bunch of very very clever (also very very nice) people: really nothing like it.

My plans to then go to the fur auction went belly up though: what should have been a 30 minute drive took 3 hours: snow had turned Toronto into a war zone.  So it was long over by the time I got there to pick up Lauren (who’d had a good day making more contacts to talk to about enrichment). Going to try again today.


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