Prof Carrie Figdor (University of Iowa) on "Psychological concepts in non-psychological sciences: a case study in conceptual drift"
Abstract: It is increasingly common for scientists to use psychological concepts to describe patterns of behavior of all manner of living things, from individual cells in multi-cellular organisms to multi-organism colonies. Are these uses of such concepts as deciding, preferring, and communicating linguistically just metaphors or reflections of anthropomorphism run amok? I suggest, to the contrary, that a literal interpretation makes most sense of this usage and preserves the idea that the results or hypotheses articulated using such language express growing knowledge about the true extension of the capacities they pick out. In this talk I will outline a theory of conceptual drift that explains why such uses are best understood as literal without reference change, drawing on recent work in meaning and metaphor as it applies to scientific theorizing.