A Mechanistic Account of Wide Computationalism

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 8 (3):501-517 (2017)
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The assumption that psychological states and processes are computational in character pervades much of cognitive science, what many call the computational theory of mind. In addition to occupying a central place in cognitive science, the computational theory of mind has also had a second life supporting “individualism”, the view that psychological states should be taxonomized so as to supervene only on the intrinsic, physical properties of individuals. One response to individualism has been to raise the prospect of “wide computational systems”, in which some computational units are instantiated outside the individual. “Wide computationalism” attempts to sever the link between individualism and computational psychology by enlarging the concept of computation. However, in spite of its potential interest to cognitive science, wide computationalism has received little attention in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. This paper aims to revisit the prospect of wide computationalism. It is argued that by appropriating a mechanistic conception of computation wide computationalism can overcome several issues that plague initial formulations. The aim is to show that cognitive science has overlooked an important and viable option in computational psychology. The paper marshals empirical support and responds to possible objections.

Author's Profile

Luke Kersten
University of Alberta


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