Martin Davies
Faculty of Philosophy and Department of Experimental Psychology
University of Oxford


It is widely accepted that there is no way of putting a boundary around the kinds of evidence that might be relevant to the confirmation or disconfirmation of an empirical hypothesis or theory. Nevertheless, the relevance of neuroscientific evidence – particularly, neuroimaging evidence – to psychological theories cast purely in terms of cognitive structures and processes is contested. I shall discuss the following argument (Coltheart, 2006):

  1. Theories in cognitive psychology speak about modularity, representations and algorithms, but they are silent on neuroscientific matters.
  2. Consequently, cognitive theories make no neuroscientific predictions.
  3. Therefore, neuroscientific findings neither support, nor count against, cognitive theories.

The ‘silence of psychology’ argument invites a parity of reasoning response: Cognitive psychological theories are silent, not only about the brain, but also about behaviour. So I shall discuss whether there is a dialectically relevant difference between behavioural evidence and neuroscientific (particularly, neuroimaging) evidence.

The ‘silence of psychology’ argument is an argument for an in principle claim (Coltheart, 2004): ‘No facts about the activity of the brain could be used to confirm or refute some information-processing model of cognition.’ At the end of the talk, I shall consider whether, even if the ‘silence of psychology’ argument is not compelling, there are still reasons to expect that neuroimaging evidence will be of little help to cognitive psychology.


Coltheart, M. 2004: Brain imaging, connectionism, and cognitive neuropsychology. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 21, 21–5.

Coltheart, M. 2006: Perhaps functional neuroimaging has not told us anything about the mind (so far). Cortex, 42, 422–7.

Prof Martin Davies is Wilde Professor of Mental Philosophy at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University. See Davies' webiste for more information.