Syntactic Semantics and the Proper Treatment of Computationalism

Syntactic Semantics and the Proper Treatment of Computationalism

William J. Rapaport (The State University of New York at Buffalo, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 49
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5622-0.ch007


Computationalism should not be the view that (human) cognition is computation; 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. If semiotic systems are systems that interpret signs, then both humans and computers are semiotic systems. Finally, minds can be considered as virtual machines implemented in certain semiotic systems, primarily the brain, but also AI computers.
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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 & Pitts (1943), Hilary Putnam (1960 or 1961) and Jerry Fodor (1975) (see 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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