Lesion studies, spared performance, and cognitive systems

Cortex 39 (1):145-7 (2003)
The term ‘module’ has – to my ear – too many associations with Fodor’s (1983) seminal book, and I will concentrate here on the more general notion of a cognitive system. The latter, as I will understand the term, is – roughly – a computational mechanism which can operate independently of all other computational mechanisms (for a much fuller and more precise treatment, see Lyons, 2001). To say that there is a face recognition system, for example, is to say, at least in part, that there is a mechanism which by itself is capable of effecting a transformation from some set of inputs to face identification outputs. If there is one such system, there are likely to be several. Since systems may contain various subsystems, it is generally impossible to specify a system uniquely without specifying a set of inputs. The largest system that would count as a face recognition system would be the one that takes retinal irradiation arrays as inputs and delivers face identifications as outputs, but the last subsystem in this system would map high level representations to face identifications. For any task (where a task is construed as an input/output mapping), take away all cortical regions whose absence does not affect the ability of what is left to perform the task, and you are left with the system that performs that task
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