Context and background. Dreyfus and cognitive science

In Hubert Dreyfus’s critique of artificial intelligence1, considerable importance is given to the matter of context –used here as a blanket term covering an immense and possibly heterogeneous phenomenon, which includes situation, background, circumstances, occasion and possibly more. Perhaps the best way to point to context in this most general sense is to proceed dialectically, and take as a first approximation context to be whatever is revealed as an obstacle whenever one attempts to account for mental dynamics on the formal model of a combinatorial game over families of interchangeable, fixed, self-standing – context-free as it were– elements. Dreyfus has argued persuasively that the human mind always ‘operates’, if that is the right word, within a setting which permeates whatever it is it operates on. Dreyfus’s thought on these matters was shaped during the years when artificial intelligence (AI) was at the height of early hopes and initial successes. This was also a period during which what was to become known as ‘cognitive science’ was little more than a ray of light falling on psychology..
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