Computationalism Essay Example for Students

Published: 2022-06-17
Computationalism Essay Example for Students
Type of paper:  Dissertation chapter
Categories:  Psychology Philosophy
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 942 words
8 min read

The mind may be the most sophisticated natural system. Over the ages, philosophers and psychologists have forwarded different models and theories to explain the functioning of the human mind. The computational theory of the mind is one such proposition that forms the subject of analysis by Scheutz in "Computationalism: The Next Generation."

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The historical context in philosophy

The philosophy has its roots as early as the 17th century when humankind could first conceive of machines that could change their state depending on inputs. These contraptions constituted a mechanism and had three essential elements - a set of inputs, internal states that were altered by the inputs and outputs that were representations of the internal state. However, a significant distinction between these machines and the human brain and even some of the modern devices is that they were reliant on human beings for both "energy and control of information." Later on, Descartes applied a mechanistic explanation of the body as an aggregate of its parts, and La Mettrie expounded to describe the brain as a mechanism, a move that would usher in an entire school of thought on the understanding of the human mind.

One essential element that remained to be understood was the fact that the mind worked on abstract data, which is intangible. This meaning was coded in sensation and machines needed similar functions to represent the mind. Vieta's introduction of representativeness allowed representation to be used to eliminate "slow and error-prone operations" and bring computation a step closer to cognition. By showing that computation is the process where representations allow manipulation of abstracts, the conjecture that "everything done by our mind is a computation" followed. Later, Leibniz posited that reasoning could be equated to calculation if the process can be reduced to simple rules applied to constructs. The ideology received a boost with renewed interest in the 19th and 20th centuries where computation was studied more, and split into the practical or technological and the logical and theoretical branch.

Summary of text

In the text, Scheutz explores the question of computationalism as a theory of the mind. According to the author, there is a new brand of computationalism in the making, and it is futuristic in its nature. Over the years, computationalism has achieved much from the advancement in technology and psychology. The initial formulation was that the mind is a mechanism since it takes input and the corresponding change in state generates output that drives cognition. This understanding sets the agenda of using the theory of computationalism to explain the working of the mind. Hence, cognition and computation are delineated as parallel processes.

Scheutz shows that through the advancement in the understanding of the nature of computation, philosophers such as Leibniz theorize that reasoning is the process of computation since it involves the application of select rules on representations to yield outputs. However, there are elements of representation that cannot be altered at all and are called the "grounded representations". These elements are the irreducible minimums and in cognition, for the basis for the development of more complex representations. However, their exact nature remains a mystery and glares as one of the fundamental flaws of the theory.

Still, cognitive science closely parallels computationalism as explained in earlier years. The brain can be considered the hardware while the mind and all the logical functions that are carried out in this hardware are the software. Turing's made a proposition that human cognition could be operationalized as a computation that relies on different states, cells and a table representing the storage capacity. Hence, decision-making very likely relies on the current state and the symbol occupying or previously erased from the cell. He proposed a machine which could replicate "any function that could be computed by a human being following fixed rules". Therefore, computation is a fitting candidate for explaining cognition because of several shared properties. First, computation has semantics, is causally efficacious, has semantics and is algorithmically specifiable". Even so, the uptake of computational theory has been quite problematic primarily due to the critique by the dynamicists who explain that the computational approach does not adequately address natural systems and that a newer understanding of computation is needed.


The "internal state" and computation based on "algorithms" are critical to the definition of computationalism. The cognition of the mind is assumed to be based on the continuous computation of representation. However, dynamicists argue against any form of conception of the system that does not account for the dynamic nature. Hence, even computationalism is inadequate if the cognition is not modeled after a dynamic process of computation that is representative of natural systems.

Another group points to the shortcoming of the theory in the explanation of intelligence, which is not based on internal functions. Instead, it is the situational interaction with the environment that provides the ungrounded internal functions any meaning. Furthermore, intentionality and responsibility are not accounted for by computationalism.

Other Recent Arguments

The description of information as a measure of "reduction in uncertainty". Replaying this information comprises computation, yet in a form that is not adequately described by previous models of computation such as the Turing machine formalism or the network formalism. However, the generic computation model fronted by Piccini and Scarantino (2010) explains this phenomenon adequately. Another model addresses the question of computation from the perspective of "natural meaning" where different states convey specific information that can be translated by natural systems in a process very similar to computation.


Scheutz, Matthias. "Computationalism - The Next Generation." In Comupationalism: new directions.2002.

-."The Cognitive Computational Story." 2000.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 16, 2015. Accessed June 9, 2018.

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