The Resilience of Computationalism

Philosophy of Science 77 (5):852-861 (2010)
Abstract
Roughly speaking, computationalism says that cognition is computation, or that cognitive phenomena are explained by the agent‘s computations. The cognitive processes and behavior of agents are the explanandum. The computations performed by the agents‘ cognitive systems are the proposed explanans. Since the cognitive systems of biological organisms are their nervous 1 systems (plus or minus a bit), we may say that according to computationalism, the cognitive processes and behavior of organisms are explained by neural computations. Some people might prefer to say that cognitive systems are ―realized‖ by nervous systems, and thus that—according to computationalism—cognitive computations are ―realized‖ by neural processes. In this paper, nothing hinges on the nature of the relation between cognitive systems and nervous systems, or between computations and neural processes. For present purposes, if a neural process realizes a computation, then that neural process is a computation. Thus, I will couch much of my discussion in terms of nervous systems and neural computation.1 Before proceeding, we should dispense with a possible red herring. Contrary to a common assumption, computationalism does not stand in opposition to connectionism. Connectionism, in the most general and common sense of the term, is the claim that cognitive phenomena are explained (at some level and at least in part) by the processes of neural networks. This is a truism, supported by most neuroscientific evidence. Everybody ought to be a connectionist in this general sense. The relevant question is, are neural processes computations? More precisely, are the neural processes to be found in the nervous systems of organisms computations? Computationalists say ―yes‖, anti-computationalists say ―no‖. This paper investigates whether any of the arguments on offer against computationalism have a chance at knocking it off.2 Ever since Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (1943) first proposed it, computationalism has been subjected to a wide range of objections..
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References found in this work BETA
Gualtiero Piccinini (2008). Computers. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 89 (1):32–73.
Gualtiero Piccinini (2007). Computing Mechanisms. Philosophy of Science 74 (4):501-526.

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