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- Mental Representation (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
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There are two basic types of contemporary naturalistic theories of content-determination, causal-informational and functional. Causal-informational theories Dretske , , hold that the content of a mental representation is grounded in the information it carries about what does Devitt or would Fodor , a cause it to occur. Such relations are common, but representation is not. Tree trunks, smoke, thermostats and ringing telephones carry information about what they are causally related to, but they do not represent in the relevant sense what they carry information about.
Further, a representation can be caused by something it does not represent, and can represent something that has not caused it. The main attempts to specify what makes a causal-informational state a mental representation are Asymmetric Dependency Theories e. The Asymmetric Dependency Theory distinguishes merely informational relations from representational relations on the basis of their higher-order relations to each other: For example, if tokens of a mental state type are reliably caused by horses, cows-on-dark-nights, zebras-in-the-mist and Great Danes, then they carry information about horses, etc.
If, however, such tokens are caused by cows-on-dark-nights, etc. According to Teleological Theories, representational relations are those a representation-producing mechanism has the selected by evolution or learning function of establishing. For example, zebra-caused horse-representations do not mean zebra , because the mechanism by which such tokens are produced has the selected function of indicating horses, not zebras. The horse-representation-producing mechanism that responds to zebras is malfunctioning.
Functional theories Block , Harman , hold that the content of a mental representation is determined, at least in part, by its causal, computational, inferential relations to other mental representations. They differ on whether relata should include all other mental representations or only some of them, and on whether to include external states of affairs. The non-functional view that the content of a mental state depends on none of its relations to other mental states is atomism.
Functional theories that recognize no content-determining external relata have been called solipsistic Harman Some theorists posit distinct roles for internal and external connections, the former determining semantic properties analogous to sense, the latter determining semantic properties analogous to reference McGinn , Sterelny Reductive representationalists Dretske, Lycan, Tye usually take one or another of these theories to provide an explanation of the non-conceptual content of experiential states.
They thus tend to be externalists see the next section about phenomenological as well as conceptual content.
Phenomenalists and non-reductive representationalists Block, Chalmers, Loar, Peacocke, Siewert , on the other hand, take it that the representational content of such states is at least in part determined by their intrinsic phenomenal properties. Further, those who advocate a phenomenally-based approach to conceptual content Horgan and Tienson, Kriegel, Loar, Pitt, Searle, Siewert also seem to be committed to internalist individuation of the content if not the reference of such states. Generally, those who, like informational theorists, think relations to one's natural or social environment are at least partially determinative of the content of mental representations are externalists , or anti-individualists e.
Putnam , Fodor b. This issue is widely taken to be of central importance, since psychological explanation, whether commonsense or scientific, is supposed to be both causal and content-based. Beliefs and desires cause the behaviors they do because they have the contents they do. For example, the desire that one have a beer and the beliefs that there is beer in the refrigerator and that the refrigerator is in the kitchen may explain one's getting up and going to the kitchen.
If, however, a mental representation's having a particular content is due to factors extrinsic to it, it is unclear how its having that content could determine its causal powers, which, arguably, must be intrinsic see Stich , Fodor , , Some who accept the standard arguments for externalism have argued that internal factors determine a component of the content of a mental representation. This distinction may be applied to the sub-personal representations of cognitive science as well as to those of commonsense psychology. See von Eckardt Narrow content has been variously construed.
Putnam , Fodor On this construal, narrow content is context-independent and directly expressible. Fodor and Block , however, have also characterized narrow content as radically inexpressible. On both construals, narrow contents are characterized as functions from context to wide content. The narrow content of a representation is determined by properties intrinsic to it or its possessor, such as its syntactic structure or its intramental computational or inferential role.
Burge b has argued that causation-based worries about externalist individuation of psychological content, and the introduction of the narrow notion, are misguided. Fodor , has more recently urged that a scientific psychology might not need narrow content in order to supply naturalistic causal explanations of human cognition and action, since the sorts of cases they were introduced to handle, viz.
One might maintain that since thoughts are individuated by their contents, and some thought contents are partially constituted by objects external to the mind, then some thoughts are partly constituted by objects external to the mind. On such a view, a singular thought — i. Symbolic representations on external media would thus count as mental representations. Clark and Chalmers's paper has inspired a burgeoning literature on extended, embodied and interactive cognition. Menary is a recent collection of essays.
Mental Representation (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
See also the entry on embodied cognition. The leading contemporary version of the Representational Theory of Mind, the Computational Theory of Mind CTM , claims that the brain is a kind of computer and that mental processes are computations. According to CTM, cognitive states are constituted by computational relations to mental representations of various kinds, and cognitive processes are sequences of such states. CTM develops RTM by attempting to explain all psychological states and processes in terms of mental representation.
Putnam’s Change of Mind
In the course of constructing detailed empirical theories of human and other animal cognition, and developing models of cognitive processes implementable in artificial information processing systems, cognitive scientists have proposed a variety of types of mental representations. Though many philosophers believe that CTM can provide the best scientific explanations of cognition and behavior, there is disagreement over whether such explanations will vindicate the commonsense psychological explanations of prescientific RTM.
According to Stich's Syntactic Theory of Mind, for example, computational theories of psychological states should concern themselves only with the formal properties of the objects those states are relations to. Commitment to the explanatory relevance of content , however, is for most cognitive scientists fundamental Fodor a, Pylyshyn , Von Eckardt That mental processes are computations, that computations are rule-governed sequences of semantically evaluable objects , and that the rules apply to the symbols in virtue of their content, are central tenets of mainstream cognitive science.
Computational explanations have been offered of, among other mental phenomena, belief Fodor , Field , visual perception Marr , Osherson, et al. A fundamental disagreement among proponents of CTM concerns the realization of personal-level representations e. The central debate here is between proponents of Classical Architectures and proponents of Connectionist Architectures.
The nodes themselves are, typically, not taken to be semantically evaluable; nor do the patterns have semantically evaluable constituents. It is arguable, however, that localist theories are neither definitive nor representative of the connectionist program Smolensky , , Chalmers Classicists are motivated in part by properties thought seems to share with language. Fodor's Language of Thought Hypothesis LOTH Fodor , , , according to which the system of mental symbols constituting the neural basis of thought is structured like a language, provides a well-worked-out version of the classical approach as applied to commonsense psychology.
According to the LOTH, the potential infinity of complex representational mental states is generated from a finite stock of primitive representational states, in accordance with recursive formation rules. This combinatorial structure accounts for the properties of productivity and systematicity of the system of mental representations.
As in the case of symbolic languages, including natural languages though Fodor does not suppose either that the LOTH explains only linguistic capacities or that only verbal creatures have this sort of cognitive architecture , these properties of thought are explained by appeal to the content of the representational units and their combinability into contentful complexes. That is, the semantics of both language and thought is compositional: Connectionists are motivated mainly by a consideration of the architecture of the brain, which apparently consists of layered networks of interconnected neurons.
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They argue that this sort of architecture is unsuited to carrying out classical serial computations. For one thing, processing in the brain is typically massively parallel. In addition, the elements whose manipulation drives computation in connectionist networks principally, the connections between nodes are neither semantically compositional nor semantically evaluable, as they are on the classical approach.
This contrast with classical computationalism is often characterized by saying that representation is, with respect to computation, distributed as opposed to local: Another way of putting this is to say that for classicists mental representations are computationally atomic , whereas for connectionists they are not.
Moreover, connectionists argue that information processing as it occurs in connectionist networks more closely resembles some features of actual human cognitive functioning. Further, degradation in the performance of such networks in response to damage is gradual, not sudden as in the case of a classical information processor, and hence more accurately models the loss of human cognitive function as it typically occurs in response to brain damage.
Some philosophers have maintained that connectionism entails that there are no propositional attitudes. Ramsey, Stich and Garon have argued that if connectionist models of cognition are basically correct, then there are no discrete representational states as conceived in ordinary commonsense psychology and classical cognitive science. See also Von Eckardt Whereas Stich accepts that mental processes are computational, but denies that computations are sequences of mental representations, others accept the notion of mental representation, but deny that CTM provides the correct account of mental states and processes.
Van Gelder denies that psychological processes are computational. He argues that cognitive systems are dynamic , and that cognitive states are not relations to mental symbols, but quantifiable states of a complex system consisting of in the case of human beings a nervous system, a body and the environment in which they are embedded. Cognitive processes are not rule-governed sequences of discrete symbolic states, but continuous, evolving total states of dynamic systems determined by continuous, simultaneous and mutually determining states of the systems' components.
Representation in a dynamic system is essentially information-theoretic, though the bearers of information are not symbols, but state variables or parameters. See also Port and Van Gelder ; Clark a, b, Horst , on the other hand, argues that though computational models may be useful in scientific psychology, they are of no help in achieving a philosophical understanding of the intentionality of commonsense mental states.
CTM attempts to reduce the intentionality of such states to the intentionality of the mental symbols they are relations to. But, Horst claims, the relevant notion of symbolic content is essentially bound up with the notions of convention and intention. So CTM involves itself in a vicious circularity: To say that a mental object has semantic properties is, paradigmatically, to say that it is about , or true or false of, an object or objects, or that it is true or false simpliciter.
Suppose I think that ocelots take snuff. I am thinking about ocelots, and if what I think of them that they take snuff is true of them, then my thought is true. Big issues and little issues: His latest book is motivated by large considerations, most of its arguments are driven by small ones, and its topic is deliberately restricted to something middle-sized: At the end he soars and contemplates all of metaphysics and epistemology. The thoughts which he wants to avoid, but which tug at him still, are his list: The truth about the world is independent of what we think about it.
What we say is true when it corresponds to the world. Anything with content that we affirm must be either true or false. The truths that we do know should be thought of as fragments of the one true complete description of reality. Strawson describes an alternative position, "naturalized Cartesianism," which couples the materialist view that mind is entirely natural and wholly physical with a fully realist account of the nature of conscious experience.
Naturalized Cartesianism is an adductive as opposed to reductive form of materialism. Adductive materialists don't claim that conscious experience is anything less than we ordinarily conceive it to be, in being wholly physical.