Computers, Dynamical Systems, Phenomena, and the Mind

Dissertation, Indiana University (1992)
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This work addresses a broad range of questions which belong to four fields: computation theory, general philosophy of science, philosophy of cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. Dynamical system theory provides the framework for a unified treatment of these questions. ;The main goal of this dissertation is to propose a new view of the aims and methods of cognitive science--the dynamical approach . According to this view, the object of cognitive science is a particular set of dynamical systems, which I call "cognitive systems". The goal of a cognitive study is to specify a dynamical model of a cognitive system, and then use this model to produce a detailed account of the specific cognitive abilities of that system. The dynamical approach does not limit a-priori the form of the dynamical models which cognitive science may consider. In particular, this approach is compatible with both computational and connectionist modeling, for both computational systems and connectionist networks are special types of dynamical systems. ;To substantiate these methodological claims about cognitive science, I deal first with two questions in two different fields: What is a computational system? What is a dynamical explanation of a deterministic process? ;Intuitively, a computational system is a deterministic system which evolves in discrete time steps, and which can be described in an effective way. In chapter 1, I give a formal definition of this concept which employs the notions of isomorphism between dynamical systems, and of Turing computable function. In chapter 2, I propose a more comprehensive analysis which is based on a natural generalization of the concept of Turing machine. ;The goal of chapter 3 is to develop a theory of the dynamical explanation of a deterministic process. By a "dynamical explanation" I mean the specification of a dynamical model of the system or process which we want to explain. I start from the analysis of a specific type of explanandum--dynamical phenomena--and I then use this analysis to shed light on the general form of a dynamical explanation. Finally, I analyze the structure of those theories which generate explanations of this form, namely dynamical theories
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