- Understanding Human Action. Integraiting Meanings, Mechanisms, Causes, and Contexts
- Book title
- Transdisciplinarity in Philosophy and Science: Approaches, Problems, Prospects
- Pages (from-to)
- Moscow: "Navigator" Publishing House
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies (ISS)
Humans are capable of understanding an incredible variety of actions performed by other humans. Even though these range from primary biological actions, like eating and fleeing, to acts in parliament or in poetry, humans generally can make sense of each other’s actions. Action understanding is the cognitive ability to make sense of another person’s action by integrating perceptual information about the behavior with knowledge about the immediate and sociocultural contexts of the action, understanding of relevant meanings and one’s own experience. Given the importance of action understanding in every domain of human life and society, and in light of the complexities that surround it, a comprehensive scientific understanding of this capacity is needed.
Scholars are increasingly dissatisfied with monodisciplinary approaches to understanding human action, like when an action is interpreted only in sociocultural terms while overlooking cognitive constraints, or when an action is understood in biological terms while neglecting its psychological impact on the agent.
Recent interdisciplinary endeavors demonstrate how an interdisciplinary approach is possible when investigating complex functions like action understanding. Ever more insight is gained in the mutual influences between biological, cognitive and sociocultural processes that together contribute to action and action understanding. The purpose of this paper is to describe how a ‘mechanistic explanation’, or a ‘mechanism-based explanation’ of action understanding provides a theoretical framework for integrating various and often conflicting disciplinary insights. By applying the heuristics of ‘definition’, ‘decomposition’ and ‘localization’, researchers can determine the phenomenon that they collaboratively investigate while at the same time dividing this task into smaller component tasks of which the results must eventually be put together. Some researchers, for example, can apply a hermeneutic approach to the sociocultural environment in which action understanding takes place, while others aim to specify the cognitive processes or the neuro-electrical pathways that are activated under those conditions.
After having presented a step-by-step analysis of an interdisciplinary investigation of action understanding by way of developing a mechanistic explanation the chapter closes with some suggestions for testing its result and mentions some limitations of this approach.
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