Another look at McCulloch and Pitts's “logical calculus”

Ken Aizawa
Rutgers University - Newark
To date, almost every historical examination of Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts’s, “A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity” has focused its attention on one dimension of their paper, namely, the attempt to relate neuronal action potentials to formulae in (an extension of) Boolean logic.[1] The implicit justification for this focus begins with the observation that this constitutes the most substantial conceptual innovation of the paper. Earlier work in theoretical neurophysiology had provided mathematical descriptions of neural networks using the continuous mathematics of differential equations.[2] The use of mathematical logic was entirely novel. Further, it is this feature of the paper that had the greatest impact on subsequent developments in artificial intelligence, automata theory, cognitive science, computation theory, and connectionism. What the standard perspective undervalues, however, is the highly significant role of closed loops of neurons, both in “A Logical Calculus,” and in McCulloch’s and Pitts’s theorizing about the central nervous system. The principal aim of the present paper, therefore, is to provide a more balanced account of the intellectual context and content of “A Logical Calculus.”.
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