Theoria: Beograd 2 (63):135-164 (2020)

Miljana Milojevic
University of Belgrade
Vanja Subotić
University of Belgrade
This paper aims to offer a new view of the role of connectionist models in the study of human cognition through the conceptualization of the history of connectionism – from the simplest perceptrons to convolutional neural nets based on deep learning techniques, as well as through the interpretation of criticism coming from symbolic cognitive science. Namely, the connectionist approach in cognitive science was the target of sharp criticism from the symbolists, which on several occasions caused its marginalization and almost complete abandonment of its assumptions in the study of cognition. Criticisms have mostly pointed to its explanatory inadequacy as a theory of cognition or to its biological implausibility as a theory of implementation, and critics often focused on specific shortcomings of some connectionist models and argued that they apply to connectionism in general. In this paper, we want to show that both types of critique are based on the assumption that the only valid explanations in cognitive science are instances of homuncular functionalism and that by removing this assumption and by adopting an alternative methodology – exploratory mechanistic strategy, we can reject most objections to connectionism as irrelevant, explain the progress of connectionist models despite their shortcomings and sketch the trajectory of their future development. By adopting mechanistic explanations and by criticizing functionalism, we will reject the objections of explanatory inadequacy, by characterizing connectionist models as generic rather than concrete mechanisms, we will reject the objections of biological implausibility, and by attributing the exploratory character to connectionist models we will show that practice of generalizing current to general failures of connectionism is unjustified.
Keywords connectionism, deep learning, exploration, mechanistic explanation
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