The Elimination of Meaning in Computational Theories of Mind

Paul Schweizer


The traditional conception of the mind holds that semantical content is an essential
feature distinguishing mental from non-mental systems. This traditional conception
has been incorporated into the foundations of recent computational theories of mind,
insofar as the notion of ‘mental representation’ is adopted as a primary theoretical
device. But a fundamental tension is then built into the picture – to the extent that
symbolic ‘representations’ are formal elements of computation, their alleged content
is completely gratuitous. Computation is a series of manipulations performed on
uninterpreted syntax, and formal structure alone is sufficient for all effective
procedures. I argue that the computational paradigm is thematically inconsistent with
the search for content or its supposed vehicles. Instead, computational models of
cognition should be concerned only with the processing structures that yield the
right kinds of input/output profiles, and with how these structures can be
implemented in the brain.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; mind; AI; semantics; computation; representation

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