Referring to Localized Cognitive Operations in Parts of Dynamically Active Brains

Abstract
The project of referring to localized cognitive operations in the brain has a long history and many impressive successes. It is a core element in the practice of giving mechanistic explanations of mental abilities. But it has also been challenged by prominent critics. One of the critics’ claims is that brain regions are not specialized for specific cognitive operations and any science that refers to them is misguided. Most recently this claim has been advanced by theorists promoting a dynamical-systems perspective on cognition. There are, however, two ways to view the dynamical-systems perspective. The first is as a competitor to the mechanist perspective, rejecting altogether the conception of the brain as a mechanism or set of mechanisms underlying mental phenomena and thereby rejecting any reference to localized cognitive operations. The second is as a corrective to an overly simplistic conception of a mechanism and as complementary to a more adequate understanding of how mechanisms function. In this chapter I defend the later perspective. On this perspective, the traditional project of referring to localized mental operations in the brain is still important, but both the cognitive operations and brain regions in which they are localized must be conceived in the context of a dynamically active system.
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