The problem of mental overpopulation is pretty easy to see. It is visible in situations like freezing on a test, cramping on the field, or overthrowing the first baseman. Basically, those times when you overthink or try to do too much in a situation, those thoughts actually become detrimental and stop us from performing as well as expected. Philosophers Ruben and Dreyfus do a really good job of highlighting this problem in the Causal Theory of Action. Thinkers like Davidson and Clarke do not do enough to solve this problem of mental overpopulation. They attempt to show that the Causal Theory of Action forms the foundation on which we act. The problem of mental overpopulation reveals the cracks in the casual theory’s foundation. Thus, the Causal Theory of Action cannot withstand the problem of mental overpopulation.
The Causal Theory of Action is one way that philosophers try to explain why humans act the way we do. Davidson is really the first to formulate and popularize the theory. He believed a person’s action was the result of a primary reason and belief under a description. In other words, “the primary reason for an action is its cause” (Davidson 686). Primary reasons consist of pro attitudes and beliefs, “which are states or dispositions, not events; therefore they cannot be causes” (Davidson 693). It is hard for me to see the cause-effect relationship Davidson talks about at times. He tries to create a causal explanation for action, but does not fully connect the dots between primary reasons and actions for every situation. He tries to create a pretty generalizable formula to explain human action. But it does not seem to apply in every situation. This is where Ruben and Dreyfus and the problem of mental overpopulation seem to come in to the discussion.
Ruben and Dreyfus highlight thinkers that show the Causal Theory of Action is not the end all be all explanation for identifying the roots of human action. In reference to the causal theory, Ruben states that in order to account for skilled activity, “the theory must overpopulate the mind” (Clarke 532). He goes on to say that “the appeal to causation by psychological attitudes of the speciﬁed types,” that is to say desires and beliefs, “cannot alone” answer the question of how and why humans act. Ruben is not alone in this belief. As Montero put it, “once you have developed the ability to play an arpeggio on the piano, putt a golf ball or parallel park, attention to what you are doing leads to inaccuracies, blunders and sometimes even utter paralysis.” Desires and reasoning fall by the wayside after a while because our minds and bodies become so in tune with the activity we are engaging in that we do not need to think about it. But when we do, that is when we mess up.
This is apparent in a classic study by Timothy Wilson and Jonathan Schooler that is frequently cited in support of the notion that experts, when performing at their best, act intuitively and automatically and don’t think...