Jerry Fodor & Co. 


In his Doing Without What’s Within..., Fodor's topic is 'nature vs. nurture.'  Generally speaking, rationalism and nativism are pitted against empiricism, naturalism and associationism. 

Fodor is quite amenable to having his nativism be explained by a genetically inherited computational functionalism, much as Chomsky has been with his innate grammar.  I am not aware that either of them has ever spoken favorably of idealism.  But both of them are realists concerning ideas, and that is a big step beyond mere materialism.  

Once Fodor calls himself a reductionist [but only at heart, too many other things going on] which might square with his computational functionalism, but more frequently he speaks of his rationalism, something not normally considered mechanical or naturalistic.  He does repudiate naturalism.  It would seem that Jerry is trying to hang out on a slender, multidimensional pinnacle, requiring considerable philosophical dexterity.  There is no solid high ground here.  His sympathetic colleagues watch mostly form a safe distance as he performs his aerial jousting. 

One alternative to computational functionalism is connectionism.  It seems to be generally accepted, however, that connectionism is much too mushy in its general construct to be even slightly amenable to the compositionality that is a fundamental characteristic of our thought processes.  There is no physical basis for the sequentiality of thought.  Another alternative is associationism, going back to the origins of empiricism.  It is a recurring glimmer of an idea that has never been able to acquire substance. 

One problem facing the computationalists is to explain how their mental tokens can be both representational and causally efficacious at the same time.  It seems rather like a preordained harmony.  Is this not also the problem of intentionality in general? 

Fodor is a long time defender of mentalese or the language of thought hypothesis (LOTH).

[Later: see The Language of Thought Hypothesis -- Murat Aydede. Excerpts: 

(A2 ) Representational Theory of Thinking: Mental processes, thinking in particular, consists of causal sequences of tokenings of mental representations."

(B1) representations of the system have a combinatorial syntax and semantics: structurally complex (molecular) representations are systematically built up out of structurally simple (atomic) constituents, and the semantic content of a molecular representation is a function of the semantic content of its atomic constituents together with its syntactic/formal structure, and

(B2) the operations on representations (constituting, as per (A2), the domain of mental processes, thinking) are causally sensitive to the syntactic/formal structure of representations defined by this combinatorial syntax.] 

When we think to ourselves we tend to do so in our native tongue, but at a deeper level there is often thought to be a private system of symbols, physically realized in the brain.  Many others find the very idea of a private language to be oxymoronic.  However, the more widely accepted notion of a universal grammar might also provide a foundation for subliminal symbol processing, if the symbols could be given a more universal aspect.  Some aspects of sign language are now being touted as a possible precursor to spoken language. 

[Later: It was said that Fodor has been moving toward the functionalism of Dennett.  I'm not sure how this should be taken.] 

[8/26:  but see From Intangibles to Memes]

As you can see, the field of cognitive science remains in a nearly complete disarray, even after much initial promise.  It is a scattered collection of half-baked ideas in need of a foundation, and I don't mean the charitable kind.  If idealism could make any substantial offer, the cognitivists would hardly be in a position to refuse, and the AI crowd would be likely to take up arms at a moments notice.  It would be exciting.  

Aren't we in need of a top-down, teleological process?  How might that be demonstrated?  How could ideas not be associational and teleological at the same time?   A monadology of ideas?  A mathematical analogy?  Ideas vs. numbers.  Perhaps all we need is a better search term for Google.  Invariably my best ideas are scooped by the web.  That's the scoop, throops. 

It appears that cognitivism is in a late Ptolemaic phase, and does not know where or how to look for a new sun. Epicycles of the mind.   


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