Semiotic Systems, Computers, and the Mind: How Cognition Could Be Computing

Semiotic Systems, Computers, and the Mind: How Cognition Could Be Computing

William J. Rapaport
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 40
DOI: 10.4018/ijsss.2012010102
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In this reply to James H. Fetzer’s “Minds and Machines: Limits to Simulations of Thought and Action”, the author argues that computationalism should not be the view that (human) cognition is computation, but that it should be the view that cognition (simpliciter) is computable. It follows that computationalism can be true even if (human) cognition is not the result of computations in the brain. The author also argues that, if semiotic systems are systems that interpret signs, then both humans and computers are semiotic systems. Finally, the author suggests that minds can be considered as virtual machines implemented in certain semiotic systems, primarily the brain, but also AI computers. In doing so, the author takes issue with Fetzer’s arguments to the contrary.
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2. The Proper Treatment Of Computationalism

Computationalism is often characterized as the thesis that cognition is computation. Its origins can be traced back at least to Thomas Hobbes:

“For REASON, in this sense [i.e., “as among the faculties of the mind”], is nothing but reckoning—that is, adding and subtracting—of the consequences of general names agreed upon for the marking and signifying of our thoughts…” (Hobbes 1651, Part I, Ch. 5, p. 46)2

It is a view whose popularity, if not its origins, has been traced back to McCulloch and Pitts (1943), Putnam (1960 or 1961), and Fodor (1975) (Horst, 2009; Piccinini, 2010). This is usually interpreted to mean that the mind, or the brain—whatever it is that exhibits cognition—computes, or is a computer. Consider these passages, more or less (but not entirely) randomly chosen:3

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