[Humanist] 31.187 'computational'?
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jul 19 12:17:14 CEST 2017
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 187.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 09:28:31 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: the computational model of mind
The Oxford English Dictionary lists three main senses for 'computation'
-- updated, please note, as of 2008:
1. The action or process of computing, reckoning, or counting;
arithmetical or mathematical calculation; an instance of this.
2. In wider sense: estimation, reckoning; consideration. [marked as
3. The use of (electronic) computers, esp. as a field of study or
research; computer science.
Some might say that the editors of the OED have paid insufficient
attention to cognitive science, including philosophers (such as Dan
Dennett) who move in its circles. But it seems to me that the editors
have been wise to set down active senses which hug the mathematical and
refer to computing machinery -- and, with some bravery, that they have
marked as obsolete the sense which the now widely assumed computational
model of mind would bring back into currency.
One must be careful here not to shun mathematics, which is as much an
expression of human creativity and imaginative thought as any of the
humanities. (See, if you think otherwise, Ian Hacking's unsurprisingly
magisterial Why is There a Philosophy of Mathematics At All?, CUP 2014.)
What I think deserves our sharp critical attention is, rather, the
largely silent assumption that 'computational' simply describes what
happens in the head, or in the mind-body, if you prefer. I wish to be
confrontational about this assumption -- without for one moment spurning
the fascinating work going on in cognitive science. I want 'as if' to be
inscribed in large, bold letters above that house so that everyone knows
it's seriously playful toys that are being made there, not, at long
last, reality being glimpsed just around the next corner (or perhaps the
one after that, or the one after that...).
And here's a test. Read John Tooby's and Leda Cosmides' Foreword to
Simon Baron-Cohen's Mindblind: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind
(1995), then do a self-assessment of your cognitive equilibrium. For the
convenience of those here who are curious, I reproduce as an attachment
(below) a paragraph from this Foreword.
What struck me about this paragraph when I first read it, and what
strikes me still, is how close it comes to something I might write if I
had their command of their field. How vividly it thus brings out, at least
for me, the differences -- what I would not write. The crucial word is
Or have I got the matter badly wrong?
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)
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