Formal operations and simulated thought

Philosophical Explorations 9 (2):221-234 (2006)
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A series of representations must be semantics-driven if the members of that series are to combine into a single thought: where semantics is not operative, there is at most a series of disjoint representations that add up to nothing true or false, and therefore do not constitute a thought at all. A consequence is that there is necessarily a gulf between simulating thought, on the one hand, and actually thinking, on the other. A related point is that a popular doctrine - the so-called 'computational theory of mind' (CTM) - is based on a confusion. CTM is the view that thought-processes consist in 'computations', where a computation is defined as a 'form-driven' operation on symbols. The expression 'form-driven operation' is ambiguous, as it may refer either to syntax-driven operations or to morphology-driven operations. Syntax-driven operations presuppose the existence of operations that are driven by semantic and extra-semantic knowledge. So CTM is false if the terms 'computation' and 'form-driven operation' are taken to refer to syntax-driven operations. Thus, if CTM is to work, those expressions must be taken to refer to morphology-driven operations. CTM therefore fails, given that an operation must be semantics-driven if it is to qualify as a thought. CTM therefore fails on each possible disambiguation of the expressions 'formal operation' and 'computation,' and it is therefore false.

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John-Michael Kuczynski
University of California, Santa Barbara (PhD)


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