Radical connectionism: Thinking with (not in) language

Language and Communication 22 (3):313-329 (2002)
Authors
Gerard O'Brien
University of Adelaide
Jonathan Opie
University of Adelaide
Abstract
In this paper we defend a position we call radical connectionism. Radical connectionism claims that cognition _never_ implicates an internal symbolic medium, not even when natural language plays a part in our thought processes. On the face of it, such a position renders the human capacity for abstract thought quite mysterious. However, we argue that connectionism is committed to an analog conception of neural computation, and that representation of the abstract is no more problematic for a system of analog vehicles than for a symbol system. Natural language is therefore not required as a representational medium for abstract thought. Since natural language is arguably not a representational medium _at all_, but a conventionally governed scheme of communicative signals, we suggest that the role of internalised (i.e., self- directed) language is best conceived in terms of the coordination and control of cognitive activities within the brain
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