Can Deep CNNs Avoid Infinite Regress/Circularity in Content Constitution?

Minds and Machines 33 (3):507-524 (2023)
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The representations of deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are formed from generalizing similarities and abstracting from differences in the manner of the empiricist theory of abstraction (Buckner, Synthese 195:5339–5372, 2018). The empiricist theory of abstraction is well understood to entail infinite regress and circularity in content constitution (Husserl, Logical Investigations. Routledge, 2001). This paper argues these entailments hold a fortiori for deep CNNs. Two theses result: deep CNNs require supplementation by Quine’s “apparatus of identity and quantification” in order to (1) achieve concepts, and (2) represent objects, as opposed to “half-entities” corresponding to similarity amalgams (Quine, Quintessence, Cambridge, 2004, p. 107). Similarity amalgams are also called “approximate meaning[s]” (Marcus & Davis, Rebooting AI, Pantheon, 2019, p. 132). Although Husserl inferred the “complete abandonment of the empiricist theory of abstraction” (a fortiori deep CNNs) due to the infinite regress and circularity arguments examined in this paper, I argue that the statistical learning of deep CNNs may be incorporated into a Fodorian hybrid account that supports Quine’s “sortal predicates, negation, plurals, identity, pronouns, and quantifiers” which are representationally necessary to overcome the regress/circularity in content constitution and achieve objective (as opposed to similarity-subjective) representation (Burge, Origins of Objectivity. Oxford, 2010, p. 238). I base myself initially on Yoshimi’s (New Frontiers in Psychology, 2011) attempt to explain Husserlian phenomenology with neural networks but depart from him due to the arguments and consequently propose a two-system view which converges with Weiskopf’s proposal (“Observational Concepts.” The Conceptual Mind. MIT, 2015. 223–248).

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Jesse Lopes
Boston College


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