A Cognitive Computation Fallacy? Cognition, Computations and Panpsychism

Cognitive Computation 1 (3):221-233 (2009)
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The journal of Cognitive Computation is defined in part by the notion that biologically inspired computational accounts are at the heart of cognitive processes in both natural and artificial systems. Many studies of various important aspects of cognition (memory, observational learning, decision making, reward prediction learning, attention control, etc.) have been made by modelling the various experimental results using ever-more sophisticated computer programs. In this manner progressive inroads have been made into gaining a better understanding of the many components of cognition. Concomitantly in both science and science fiction the hope is periodically re-ignited that a manmade system can be engineered to be fully cognitive and conscious purely in virtue of its execution of an appropriate computer program. However, whilst the usefulness of the computational metaphor in many areas of psychology and neuroscience is clear, it has not gone unchallenged and in this article I will review a group of philosophical arguments that suggest either such unequivocal optimism in computationalism is misplaced—computation is neither necessary nor sufficient for cognition—or panpsychism (the belief that the physical universe is fundamentally composed of elements each of which is conscious) is true. I conclude by highlighting an alternative metaphor for cognitive processes based on communication and interaction.

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John Mark Bishop
Goldsmiths College, University of London


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