Defending the Semantic Conception of Computation in Cognitive Science

Volume 12
Issue 4
Gerard O’Brien
Cognitive science is founded on the conjecture that natural intelligence can be explained in terms of computation. Yet, notoriously, there is no consensus among philosophers of cognitive science as to how computation should be characterised. While there are subtle differences between the various accounts of computation found in the literature, the largest fracture exists between those that unpack computation in semantic terms (and hence view computation as the processing of representations) and those, such as that defended by Chalmers (2011), that cleave towards a purely syntactic formulation (and hence view computation in terms of abstract functional organisation). It will be the main contention of this paper that this dispute arises because contemporary computer science is an amalgam of two different historical traditions, each of which has developed its own proprietary conception of computation. Once these historical trajectories have been properly delineated, and the motivations behind the associated conceptions of computation revealed, it becomes a little clearer which should form the foundation for cognitive science.

Key words: cognition, computation, representation, cognitive science, computer science