In «Simulating Minds», his ninth and latest book, Alvin Goldman provides a comprehensive survey of the principal theories devised to explain the mind's ability to ascribe mental states to other minds as well as to itself. Minds --human and to all appearances those of other intelligent fellow creatures-- possess the capability not only of having mental states (things such as notions, emotions and sensations) but of conceiving that other individuals or organisms are equally capable of having their own mental states. This more complex, second-order activity is referred to in psychology as mentalizing or mindreading.
Mindreading seems to be essential for the development and functioning of complex social organization. The question arises as to how the brain accomplishes mindreading. Goldman discusses several variants of the three main competing views that purport to explain the neurocognitive processes thought to underlie mindreading: theorizing, rationalizing, and simulating. The theorizing approach posits that people employ naïve (folk psychology) theories to guide them in assessing what others think or mentally experience. People then impute mental states to others based on those naïve theories. The rationalizing approach states that people assume others are as rational as they themselves are and thus infer the other person's mental contents by an exercise of rational deduction. The simulation approach holds that people try to replicate (emulate) the target's mental states in their own mind based on perceived behavioral cues and their own prior experiences. Specifically, the mind reader deploys his or her emotive and cognitive apparatus to simulate the target's perceived (or perhaps, imagined) situation and thus intuitively feel what the target should (or would) be experiencing. "Thus," asserts Goldman, "mindreading is an extended form of empathy."
Goldman then provides a very clear articulation of the theoretical construct of simulation followed by discussions of simulation theory's principal rivals: rationality theory, child-scientist theory, and modularity theory. He then conducts in-depth analyses of the hybrid simulation model he favors (one that admits a role for theorizing, although secondary to the default simulation approach). He supports his position with a wide range of evidence, including well-replicated findings from the neuroscience literature. The book closes with an examination of the relationship between simulational propensities and the distinctively social traits that characterize human experience.
This book provides an excellent account of simulation theory as well as the competing perspectives. It should be of major interest to researchers in philosophy of mind, cognitive neuroscience, and social psychology. Lay readers with a strong interest in cognitive science should also find the book a worthwhile read given the clarity and accessibility of the exposition.