Wittgenstein and irreducible uncertainty
: Therapeutic implications for education of a non-local model of mind

  • Noel Purdy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis proposes a new model of mind based on the philosophy of Wittgenstein and offers an application of the model to the current educational context. The thesis first analyses the context of the major contending models of mind. Despite widely differing approaches, each model provides a theory of how the human mind works. The thesis then presents the major arguments of Wittgenstein's philosophy of mind. Wittgenstein maintains that the confusions evident in existing models of mind could be resolved, not by proposing an alternative theory, but by acknowledging the limits of our ordinary language in talking about mental phenomena which cannot be observed directly. While the uncertainty of physical description can be reduced by careful observation and measurement, the uncertainty of psychological description can not be reduced since it is not possible to observe and measure unseen mental phenomena with objectivity. The uncertainty in the language we use to describe psychological concepts is therefore irreducible. The irreducible uncertainty of Wittgenstein's epistemological argument also has an analogue in the description of unseen quantum phenomena in the physical world. The thesis details the equivalences between Wittgenstein's philosophy of mind and quantum theory, and notes that while irreducible uncertainty has been accepted as fact by the world of physics, many within the fields of education and psychology have long resisted the same acceptance. Moreover it is claimed that local, hidden mental states can not explain human rule-following. Even if we had access to the full array of mental states and a complete list of previous examples it is argued that there could still be no local e planation or prediction of future behaviour. Instead the cause in non-local through our training in the past. Finally a therapy is offered to the confusion which arises from local models of mind, are exemplified first in interviews conducted with three student teachers, and second, in a number of central areas of educational concern.
Date of AwardDec 2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJannette Elwood (Supervisor) & Hugh Morrison (Supervisor)

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