[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
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        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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