The mindlessness of computationism: the neglected aspects of cognition

D. Hutto

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The emergence of cognitive science as a multi-disciplinary investigation into the nature of mind has historically revolved around the core assumption that the central ‘cognitive’ aspects of mind are computational in character. Although there is some disagreement and philosophical speculation concerning the precise formulation of this ‘core assumption’ it is generally agreed that computationalism in some form lies at the heart of cognitive science as it is currently conceived. Von Eckardt’s recent work on this topic is useful in enabling us to get a sense of the scope of the computational assumption. She makes clear that there are two rather different ways in which we could understand cognitive science’s commitment to computationalism and hence two ways to understand the claim that the ‘mind is a computer’, by appeal to either (1) A mathematical theory of computability or (2) A theory of data-processing or information-processing. Importantly, she also argues that although there are many aspects of claim that the ‘mind is a computer’ that can be nicely captured by Boyd’s account of the way scientific metaphors are employed, not to direct attention to the hitherto unnoticed, but to encourage investigation of the unknown. Nonetheless, cognitive scientists are not making the claim that the ‘mind is a computer’ in a metaphorical sense. If Von Eckhardt is correct, when cognitive scientists assume the ‘mind is a computer’ and give a sense to the notion of the computer in the sense of (2) above, they are making a literal claim about the nature of mind (Von Eckardt, 1993, p. 116). And as she points out that if one reads (2) in a theoretically committed way then there is no a priori reason to exclude the organic brain from the list of entities that might fall under the description of being a ‘computer’. Important, we can truly describe it as a data-processing (or information-processing) device. What is useful about Von Eckardt’s general analysis of computationalism’s core assumption is that it provides a clear angle from which to view the flaws of computationalism. This paper defends the claim that if there is an account of information adequate to capture those aspects of mind that we regard as essential to mentality it is one that requires us to surrender the idea that the mind is a computer.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew directions in cognitive science : proceedings of the International Symposium
PublisherFinnish Artificial Intelligence Society
ISBN (Print)9789512226450
Publication statusPublished - 1995


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