Lecture 4

Dr. Ron Mallon                                                            Philosophy of Cognitive Science


1.  Functionalism: = design or =realization of a causal relationship


2.  Last time we discussed two different interpretations of functionalism.  One views a function as a mathematical or abstractly specified relation that may be instantiated in a variety of physical systems.  The second views a function as a product of design.  Sterelny endorses the second, pointing out that human evolution ‘designed’ features of human cognition to be intelligent.


3.  We also discussed the project of ‘homuncular functionalism’ or the breaking down of a mind into smaller and smaller pieces.  This project is possible because functions can be characterized at greater or lesser degrees of generality, or what Sterelny calls ‘grain’.  The idea is to engage in a kind of ‘functional decomposition’ with increasing fineness of grain as needed.


4.  Strategically, we as cognitive scientists try to use information about what goes into the box and what comes out of the box to figure out what’s in the box.  We may have to be very careful about inferring from performance the underlying competence.  Noam Chomsky set out to understand the innate human endowment for the acquisition, understanding, and production of language.  In his Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), he discussed cases where performance fails to be a guide to competence.  Cases like:


I called the man who wrote the book that you told me about up.


The man who the boy who the students recognized pointed out is a friend of mine.


Native English speakers have a very hard time understanding these sentences.  However, Chomsky thinks they are not ungrammatical.  Rather, we fail to understand them because they contain multiple center embeddings which overtax the short term memory stores available to the language faculty.  Compare:


Book get now.


The sentence is not grammatical, however, it may be perfectly understandable.


5.  In understanding the ‘boxes’ or functions of the human mind, many cognitive scientists and psychologists employ something sometimes called ‘dual systems theory’.  The idea is that there are two kinds of ‘boxes’ in the head.  Those that are fast, automatic in operation, informationally encapsulated, and therefore ‘stupid’ in their operation are likely the result of evolution’s efforts to ‘hard wire’ solutions that are closely tied to essential human functions.  Other, slower cognitive functions (like thinking) seem to take more time, use more information, and be much more open-ended.



6.  It is these intelligent functions that are most the most puzzling and unique features of human cognition.  This is the part we can best characterize as an ‘intentional system’.

‘Intentional states’ are states that represent the world as being a certain way.  They are about the world.  Folk psychology - the folk theory that ordinary people use to explain their own behaviors and those of others - explains people’s behavior’s via ‘beliefs and desires’.  (propositional attitudes)


7.  What more than just beliefs and desires are needed to have intelligent behavior? Sterelny adds: (1) Rationality (2) internal representation has to be rich (3) rational manipulation of symbols (4 ) mechanisms for the production of behavior


8. Why do we need each of these things?



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