Cognition needs syntax but not rules

In Robert J. Stainton (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Cognitive Science. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing 147--158 (2006)
Human cognition is rich, varied, and complex. In this Chapter we argue that because of the richness of human cognition (and human mental life generally), there must be a syntax of cognitive states, but because of this very richness, cognitive processes cannot be describable by exceptionless rules. The argument for syntax, in Section 1, has to do with being able to get around in any number of possible environments in a complex world. Since nature did not know where in the world humans would find themselves—nor within pretty broad limits what the world would be like —nature had to provide them with a means of “representing” a great deal of information about any of indefinitely many locations. We see no way that this could be done except by way of syntax— that is, by a systematic way of producing new, appropriate representations as needed. We discuss what being systematic must amount to, and what, in consequence, syntax should mean. We hold that syntax does not require a part/whole relationship. The argument for the claim that human cognitive processes cannot be described by exceptionless rules, in Section 2, appeals to the fact that there is no limit to the factors one might..
Keywords Cognition  Language  Syntax
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