From Computer Metaphor to Computational Modeling: The Evolution of Computationalism

Minds and Machines 28 (3):515-541 (2018)
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In this paper, I argue that computationalism is a progressive research tradition. Its metaphysical assumptions are that nervous systems are computational, and that information processing is necessary for cognition to occur. First, the primary reasons why information processing should explain cognition are reviewed. Then I argue that early formulations of these reasons are outdated. However, by relying on the mechanistic account of physical computation, they can be recast in a compelling way. Next, I contrast two computational models of working memory to show how modeling has progressed over the years. The methodological assumptions of new modeling work are best understood in the mechanistic framework, which is evidenced by the way in which models are empirically validated. Moreover, the methodological and theoretical progress in computational neuroscience vindicates the new mechanistic approach to explanation, which, at the same time, justifies the best practices of computational modeling. Overall, computational modeling is deservedly successful in cognitive science. Its successes are related to deep conceptual connections between cognition and computation. Computationalism is not only here to stay, it becomes stronger every year.
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