Philosophy of Cognition: Topic4

From Wikiversity

A Brief Intro[edit]

According to the Computational Theory of Mind, cognition is a kind of computer. That means that cognitive systems are basically computational systems. As said in Topic 3, the analogy with computers is based on a very simple and catchy argument: if the performance of a artificial cognitive system is somehow comparable to that of a natural cognitive one - say, human cognition - then we can use the former as a model to investigate the latter. In other words, we can open up the black box and look into it by building up an artificial black box which supposedly simulates a natural one. By simulating how a natural cognitive system works we can also put a cognitive theory to empirical test. In this topic we will start to investigate if the analogy mind-computer is able to hold water or not. There are two points that are worth considering when starting questioning the idea about cognition as a computer.

The first point is related to the so-called “unit of analysis”. The CTM assumes that what counts as cognitive only happens in our “head”. So, for instance, the environment doesn’t play any cognitive role. It provides input that is later processed “within” the mind. But is that true? Does the environment play no role at all?

The second point is about cognition (or the mind) as a representative device. The CTM assumes that computational rules can only be applied to mental representations that are indeed “internal”. But that would imply that the mind should have a complete representation of its environment in order to solve problems in it. This doesn’t really seem parsimonious. Do we really keep track of everything around us?


Consider the following statements:

The mind doesn’t work like a kind of computer at all.

The mind partly works like a kind of computer.

The mind doesn’t work like a kind of computer YET.

The mind does work like a kind of computer.

The computer is a model of a kind of mind.

Pick your favorite and give a short explanation of your choice.


Compulsory readings[edit]

A. Clark and D. J. Chalmers, The Extended Mind. Available here:

Recommended readings[edit]

Youtube clip: The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence.