The Mind's Architecture: Classical Cognitivism and Connectionism

Dissertation, Purdue University (2001)

Mark H. Dixon
Ohio Northern University
This dissertation investigates the current theoretical debate in cognitive science between classical cognitivism and connectionism. The investigation includes an historical, an exegetical and a critical component. The purpose in the historical section is to determine the debate's origins and thus provide a larger historical perspective without which it is impossible to appreciate the debate's substance and significance. This section traces the debate's origins to the 1930s and 1940s. It was during this time that researchers and theorists began to cross the traditional boundaries between disciplines and combine the then available neuroscientific, philosophical, psychological, mathematical and computational research on the brain and mind. It is in these syntheses that classical cognitivism and connectionism have their origins. The exegetical section describes classical cognitivism and connectionism in detail and attempts to isolate their main theoretical and scientific commitments. This section argues that despite differences in detail and interpretation, these rival theories share a common theoretical heritage. Classical cognitivism and connectionism each have a fundamental commitment to cognitive realism, materialism and the realization that cognitive processes are representational, computational and information processes. The purpose in the critical section is to isolate and analyze the issues that classical cognitivism and connectionism consider to separate their respective theories. This section argues that the fundamental issue that separates these theories is whether classical cognitivism is correct to require that cognitive processes must be literal symbolic representational and computational processes. The section concludes that while classical cognitivism's criticism that connectionism's current non-symbolic models are incomplete as cognitive models, nevertheless it has been unable to demonstrate that such models are impossible
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