Information processing, computation, and cognition

Journal of Biological Physics 37 (1):1-38 (2011)
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Computation and information processing are among the most fundamental notions in cognitive science. They are also among the most imprecisely discussed. Many cognitive scientists take it for granted that cognition involves computation, information processing, or both – although others disagree vehemently. Yet different cognitive scientists use ‘computation’ and ‘information processing’ to mean different things, sometimes without realizing that they do. In addition, computation and information processing are surrounded by several myths; first and foremost, that they are the same thing. In this paper, we address this unsatisfactory state of affairs by presenting a general and theory-neutral account of computation and information processing. We also apply our framework by analyzing the relations between computation and information processing on one hand and classicism and connectionism on the other. We defend the relevance to cognitive science of both computation, in a generic sense that we fully articulate for the first time, and information processing, in three important senses of the term. Our account advances some foundational debates in cognitive science by untangling some of their conceptual knots in a theory-neutral way. By leveling the playing field, we pave the way for the future resolution of the debates’ empirical aspects.



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