A Note on Computational Models of Cognition

File:Nyhavn lego.jpg

Another set of draft notes to be worked into more elaborate articles:

In https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/a-note-on-analytic-philosophy/ I have already stated what I generally think about analytic philosophy. Cognition can always work in more different ways than any of the formalisms developed inside analytic philosophy or “Artificial Intelligence” (AI)is describing.

The AI people are trying to develop computational models of human cognition. But their idea of “computation” is very limited. I have seen a lot of software during my life (I am myself a programmer) but the only software I have ever seen that was working according to AI principles was, well, a piece of artificial intelligence software (as far as I remember, it was based on what they called “semantic networks”, and the results were not very impressing – I turned away from that field of research). There is a lot of different software working in many different ways. For example, there is software that is controlling air planes or the brakes of your car. There is image processing software processing your photographs. There is some software playing music to you. There is the software of internet applications like the WordPress blogging platform. And so on and so on. None of this software is working in terms of conceptual hierarchies, semantic networks, etc.

I could describe my own ideas about cognition as “computational”, but the approaches I see in AI and analytic philosophy are rather ridiculous. Computation (or software) is a much more ductile, pliable, plastic “material” than these people think. It is not even restricted to fixed representational languages and fixed algorithms. The models of AI and analytic philosophy look like somebody is trying to model the whole world from Lego bricks. Reality is far more complex. It simply does not work that way. These models seem to come from a philosophical tradition that started in the 17th century (or even earlier?), a tradition providing a simplistic model of how thinking and language work.

It is obvious that our processes of perception, thinking and acting are just that: processes. Something is happening. And one can describe them as processes in which information is processed and stored. In that very general sense, one can think of cognition as information processing or computation (although not necessarily digital). In this sense, it makes sense to me to think about it in computational terms. However, we should not buy into the simplistic models as described in http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-representation/. If we buy into those limited and restricted notions of computation, we have, in a sense, already fallen prey to those theories. There might be some thinking processes that work in terms of concepts, propositions and logical inferences and stuff like that, but that is just a fraction of the whole story (just as in the case of our computers, where the majority of applications does not work in such ways).

I would classify my own approach of thinking about cognition as “computational”, but not in the sense this term is used in classical AI.

(The picture, showing a scene from Legoland in Denmark, is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nyhavn_lego.jpg).


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