The Reflex Machine and the Cybernetic Brain: The Critique of Abstraction and its Application to Computationalism

Perspectives on Science 28 (3):421-457 (2020)
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Objections to the computational theory of cognition, inspired by twentieth century phenomenology, have tended to fixate on the embodiment and embeddedness of intelligence. In this paper I reconstruct a line of argument that focusses primarily on the abstract nature of scientific models, of which computational models of the brain are one sort. I observe that the critique of scientific abstraction was rather commonplace in the philosophy of the 1920s and 30s and that attention to it aids the reading of The Organism ([1934] 1939) by the neurologist Kurt Goldstein. With this background in place, we see that some brief but spirited criticisms of cybernetics by two later thinkers much influenced by Goldstein, Georges Canguilhem (1963) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1961), show continuity with the earlier discussions of abstraction in science.



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Mazviita Chirimuuta
University of Pittsburgh

References found in this work

How the laws of physics lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Minds, brains, and programs.John Searle - 1980 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3):417-57.
The aim and structure of physical theory.Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem - 1954 - Princeton,: Princeton University Press.
The structure of behavior.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 1963 - Boston,: Beacon Press.

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