The causal topography of cognition

Harnad, Stevan (2012) The causal topography of cognition [in special issue: A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition] Journal of Cognitive Science, 13, (2), pp. 181-196.


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The causal structure of cognition can be simulated but not implemented computationally, just as the causal structure of a furnace can be simulated but not implemented computationally. Heating is a dynamical property, not a computational one. A computational simulation of a furnace cannot heat a real house (only a simulated house). It lacks the essential causal property of a furnace. This is obvious with computational furnaces. The only thing that allows us even to imagine that it is otherwise in the case of computational cognition is the fact that cognizing, unlike heating, is invisible (to eveyrone except the cognizer). Chalmers’s “Dancing Qualia” Argument is hence invalid: Even if there could be a computational model of cognition that was behaviorally indistinguishable from a real, feeling cognizer, it would still be true that if, like heat, feeling is a dynamical property of the brain, a flip-flop from the presence to the absence of feeling would be undetectable anywhere along Chalmers’s hypothetical component-swapping continuum from a human cognizer to a computational cognizer -- undetectable to everyone except the cognizer. But that would only be because the cognizer was locked into being incapable of doing anything to settle the matter simply because of Chalmers’s premise of input/output indistinguishability. That is not a demonstration that cognition is computation; it is just the demonstation that you get out of a premise what you put into it. But even if the causal topography of feeling, hence of cognizing, is dynamic rather than just computational, the problem of explaining the causal role played by feeling itself – how and why we feel – in the generation of our behavioral capacity – how and why we can do what we can do – will remain a “hard” (and perhaps insoluble) problem.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Commentary on: Chalmers, David (2012) A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition. Journal of Cognitive Science
ISSNs: 2158-9216 (print)
Related URLs:
Keywords: chalmers, causation, cognition, computation, computationalism, consciousness, dynamics, dancing qualia, feeling, functionalism, hard problem, mind/body problem, symbol grounding, turing
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Organisations: Web & Internet Science
ePrint ID: 273232
Date :
Date Event
April 2012Published
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2012 20:27
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2017 17:32
Further Information:Google Scholar

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