The central system as a computational engine

Abstract

The Language of Thought program has a suicidal edge. Jerry Fodor, of all people, has argued that although LOT will likely succeed in explaining modular processes, it will fail to explain the central system, a subsystem in the brain in which information from the different sense modalities is integrated, conscious deliberation occurs, and behavior is planned. A fundamental characteristic of the central system is that it is “informationally unencapsulated” -- its operations can draw from information from any cognitive domain. The domain general nature of the central system is key to human reasoning; our ability to connect apparently unrelated concepts enables the creativity and flexibility of human thought, as does our ability to integrate material across sensory divides. The central system is the holy grail of cognitive science: understanding higher cognitive function is crucial to grasping how humans reach their highest intellectual achievements. But according to Fodor, the founding father of the LOT program and the related Computational Theory of Mind (CTM), the holy grail is out of reach: the central system is likely to be non-computational (Fodor 1983, 2000, 2008). Cognitive scientists working on higher cognitive function should abandon their efforts. Research should be limited to the modules, which for Fodor rest at the sensory periphery (2000).1 Cognitive scientists who work in the symbol processing tradition outside of philosophy would reject this pessimism, but ironically, within philosophy itself, this pessimistic streak has been very influential, most likely because it comes from the most well-known proponent of LOT and CTM. Indeed, pessimism about centrality has become assimilated into the mainstream conception of LOT. (Herein, I refer to a LOT that appeals to pessimism about centrality as the “standard LOT”). I imagine this makes the standard LOT unattractive to those philosophers with a more optimistic approach to what cognitive science can achieve..

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