Faculty Biography


Nicholas S. Thompson

Professor Emeritus
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477


Active learning and research profile

Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1965


Natural designs are patterns of matching between the organic structures and behaviors of organisms and the circumstances of the organisms that bear them. Among the most interesting and intricate natural designs are the complex communications systems of some birds and mammals. We are presently engaged in studying two such complex designs, the song of the mockingbird and the cries of human babies.

Behavioral study at all levels of analysis is on the threshold of a new Darwinian synthesis, in which our knowledge of human behavior will be integrated with the rapidly developing body of knowledge concerning the evolution of animal behavior. This integration has been blocked in the past and will continue to be blocked unless we can solve the problem of intentionality: the fact that mental processes appear to invest behavior with non-natural meaning. Non-natural meaning is fatal to the integration of the behavior sciences with other natural sciences because it breaks the contact between behavioral phenomena and the more basic phenomena of biology, chemistry, and physics. Much of the writing that has come out of our group recently has been an attempt to identify natural meaning in mental states.

Selected Publications

Thompson, N.S., C. Olson, and B. Dessureau. 1997. Babies Cries: Who's Listening? Who's Being Fooled? Social Research (in press).

Thompson, N.S., and P.G. Derr. 1995. On the Use of Mental Terms in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Behavior and Philosophy, pp. 31-37.

Thompson, N.S. 1994. The many perils of ejective anthropomorphism. Behavior and Philosophy, pp.59-70.

Thompson, N.S., and P. Derr. 1993. The Intentionality of Some Ethological Terms. Behavior and Philosopy, Double issue, 20, 2 and 21, 1.

Thompson, N.S. 1993. Are Some Mental States Public Events? Commentary in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, No. 4 (December).