Gualtiero Piccinini

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195309799
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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The introduction of the concept of computation in cognitive science is discussed in this article. Computationalism is usually introduced as an empirical hypothesis that can be disconfirmed. Processing information is surely an important aspect of cognition so if computation is information processing, then cognition involves computation. Computationalism becomes more significant when it has explanatory power. The most relevant and explanatory notion of computation is that associated with digital computers. Turing analyzed computation in terms of what are now called Turing machines that are the kind of simple processor operating on an unbounded tape. Turing stated that any function that can be computed by an algorithm could be computed by a Turing machine. McCulloch and Pitts's account of cognition contains three important aspects that include an analogy between neural processes and digital computations, the use of mathematically defined neural networks as models, and an appeal to neurophysiological evidence to support their neural network models. Computationalism involves three accounts of computation such as causal, semantic, and mechanistic. There are mappings between any physical system and at least some computational descriptions under the causal account. The semantic account may be formulated as a restricted causal account.

Keywords: computationalism; digital computers; cognitive capacities; Turing Machines; computational neuroscience

Article.  11404 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic

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