• Gualtiero Piccinini presents a systematic and rigorous philosophical defence of the computational theory of cognition. His view posits that cognition involves neural computation within multilevel neurocognitive mechanisms, and includes novel ideas about ontology, functions, neural representation, neural computation, and consciousness.
  •  16
    Composition as Trans-Scalar Identity
    with Alexander Schumm and Waldmar Rohloff
    We define mereologically invariant composition as the relation between a whole object and its parts when the object retains the same parts during a time interval. We argue that mereologically invariant composition is identity between a whole and its parts taken collectively. Our reason is that parts and wholes are equivalent measurements of a portion of reality at different scales in the precise sense employed by measurement theory. The purpose of these scales is the numerical representation of …Read more
  •  128
    Towards a Cognitive Neuroscience of Intentionality
    Minds and Machines 28 (1): 119-139. 2018.
    We situate the debate on intentionality within the rise of cognitive neuroscience and argue that cognitive neuroscience can explain intentionality. We discuss the explanatory significance of ascribing intentionality to representations. At first, we focus on views that attempt to render such ascriptions naturalistic by construing them in a deflationary or merely pragmatic way. We then contrast these views with staunchly realist views that attempt to naturalize intentionality by developing theorie…Read more
  •  57
    Conceived This Way: Innateness Defended
    Philosophers' Imprint 18. 2018.
    We propose a novel account of the distinction between innate and acquired biological traits: biological traits are innate to the degree that they are caused by factors intrinsic to the organism at the time of its origin; they are acquired to the degree that they are caused by factors extrinsic to the organism. This account borrows from recent work on causation in order to make rigorous the notion of quantitative contributions to traits by different factors in development. We avoid the pitfalls o…Read more
  •  24
    The Evolution of Psychological Altruism
    with Armin Schulz
    Philosophy of Science 85 (5): 1054-1064. 2018.
    We argue that there are two different kinds of altruistic motivation: classical psychological altruism, which generates ultimate desires to help other organisms at least partly for those organisms’ sake, and nonclassical psychological altruism, which generates ultimate desires to help other organisms for the sake of the organism providing the help. We then argue that classical psychological altruism is adaptive if the desire to help others is intergenerationally reliable and, thus, need not be l…Read more
  •  37
    According to pancomputationalism, all physical systems – atoms, rocks, hurricanes, and toasters – perform computations. Pancomputationalism seems to be increasingly popular among some philosophers and physicists. In this paper, we interpret pancomputationalism in terms of computational descriptions of varying strength—computational interpretations of physical microstates and dynamics that vary in their restrictiveness. We distinguish several types of pancomputationalism and identify essential fe…Read more
  •  100
    Neural Representations Observed
    with Eric Thomson
    Minds and Machines 28 (1): 191-235. 2018.
    The historical debate on representation in cognitive science and neuroscience construes representations as theoretical posits and discusses the degree to which we have reason to posit them. We reject the premise of that debate. We argue that experimental neuroscientists routinely observe and manipulate neural representations in their laboratory. Therefore, neural representations are as real as neurons, action potentials, or any other well-established entities in our ontology.
  •  34
    Mechanistic Abstraction
    Philosophy of Science 83 (5): 686-697. 2016.
    We provide an explicit taxonomy of legitimate kinds of abstraction within constitutive explanation. We argue that abstraction is an inherent aspect of adequate mechanistic explanation. Mechanistic explanations—even ideally complete ones—typically involve many kinds of abstraction and therefore do not require maximal detail. Some kinds of abstraction play the ontic role of identifying the specific complex components, subsets of causal powers, and organizational relations that produce a suitably g…Read more
  •  111
    The following three theses are inconsistent: (1) (Paradigmatic) connectionist systems perform computations. (2) Performing computations requires executing programs. (3) Connectionist systems do not execute programs. Many authors embrace (2). This leads them to a dilemma: either connectionist systems execute programs or they don't compute. Accordingly, some authors attempt to deny (1), while others attempt to deny (3). But as I will argue, there are compelling reasons to accept both (1) and (3). …Read more
  •  249
    The Physical Church–Turing Thesis: Modest or Bold?
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (4): 733-769. 2011.
    This article defends a modest version of the Physical Church-Turing thesis (CT). Following an established recent trend, I distinguish between what I call Mathematical CT—the thesis supported by the original arguments for CT—and Physical CT. I then distinguish between bold formulations of Physical CT, according to which any physical process—anything doable by a physical system—is computable by a Turing machine, and modest formulations, according to which any function that is computable by a physi…Read more
  •  228
    Access denied to zombies
    Unpublished 1-13. 2008.
    According to the zombie conceivability argument, phenomenal zombies are conceivable, and hence possible, and hence physicalism is false. Critics of the conceivability argument have responded by denying either that zombies are conceivable or that they are possible. Much of the controversy hinges on how to establish and understand what is conceivable, what is possible, and the link between the two—matters that are at least as obscure and controversial as whether consciousness is physical. Becau…Read more
  •  120
    Scientific Methods Must Be Public, and Descriptive Experience Sampling Qualifies
    Journal of Consciousness Studies 18 (1): 102-117. 2011.
    I defend three main conclusions. First, whether a method is public is important, because non-public methods are scientifically illegitimate. Second, there are substantive prescriptive differences between the view that private methods are legitimate and the view that private methods are illegitimate. Third, Descriptive Experience Sam-pling is a public method
  •  270
    Neural Computation and the Computational Theory of Cognition
    with Sonya Bahar
    Cognitive Science 37 (3): 453-488. 2013.
    We begin by distinguishing computationalism from a number of other theses that are sometimes conflated with it. We also distinguish between several important kinds of computation: computation in a generic sense, digital computation, and analog computation. Then, we defend a weak version of computationalism—neural processes are computations in the generic sense. After that, we reject on empirical grounds the common assimilation of neural computation to either analog or digital computation, conclu…Read more
  •  363
    Functionalism, computationalism, and mental contents
    Canadian Journal of Philosophy 34 (3): 375-410. 2004.
    Some philosophers have conflated functionalism and computationalism. I reconstruct how this came about and uncover two assumptions that made the conflation possible. They are the assumptions that (i) psychological functional analyses are computational descriptions and (ii) everything may be described as performing computations. I argue that, if we want to improve our understanding of both the metaphysics of mental states and the functional relations between them, we should reject these assumptions…Read more
  •  175
    Computing mechanisms
    Philosophy of Science 74 (4): 501-526. 2007.
    This paper offers an account of what it is for a physical system to be a computing mechanism—a system that performs computations. A computing mechanism is a mechanism whose function is to generate output strings from input strings and (possibly) internal states, in accordance with a general rule that applies to all relevant strings and depends on the input strings and (possibly) internal states for its application. This account is motivated by reasons endogenous to the philosophy of computing, n…Read more
  •  171
    Information without truth
    with Andrea Scarantino
    Metaphilosophy 41 (3): 313-330. 2010.
    Abstract: According to the Veridicality Thesis, information requires truth. On this view, smoke carries information about there being a fire only if there is a fire, the proposition that the earth has two moons carries information about the earth having two moons only if the earth has two moons, and so on. We reject this Veridicality Thesis. We argue that the main notions of information used in cognitive science and computer science allow A to have information about the obtaining of p even when …Read more
  •  93
    This paper offers an account of what it is for a physical system to be a computing mechanism—a mechanism that performs computations. A computing mechanism is any mechanism whose functional analysis ascribes it the function of generating outputs strings from input strings in accordance with a general rule that applies to all strings. This account is motivated by reasons that are endogenous to the philosophy of computing, but it may also be seen as an application of recent literature on mechanisms…Read more
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    The cognitive neuroscience revolution
    Synthese 193 (5): 1509-1534. 2016.
    We outline a framework of multilevel neurocognitive mechanisms that incorporates representation and computation. We argue that paradigmatic explanations in cognitive neuroscience fit this framework and thus that cognitive neuroscience constitutes a revolutionary break from traditional cognitive science. Whereas traditional cognitive scientific explanations were supposed to be distinct and autonomous from mechanistic explanations, neurocognitive explanations aim to be mechanistic through and thro…Read more
  •  322
    Information processing, computation, and cognition
    with Andrea Scarantino
    Journal of Biological Physics 37 (1): 1-38. 2011.
    Computation and information processing are among the most fundamental notions in cognitive science. They are also among the most imprecisely discussed. Many cognitive scientists take it for granted that cognition involves computation, information processing, or both – although others disagree vehemently. Yet different cognitive scientists use ‘computation’ and ‘information processing’ to mean different things, sometimes without realizing that they do. In addition, computation and information pro…Read more
  •  340
    Computation without representation
    Philosophical Studies 137 (2): 205-241. 2008.
    The received view is that computational states are individuated at least in part by their semantic properties. I offer an alternative, according to which computational states are individuated by their functional properties. Functional properties are specified by a mechanistic explanation without appealing to any semantic properties. The primary purpose of this paper is to formulate the alternative view of computational individuation, point out that it supports a robust notion of computational ex…Read more
  •  292
    Computational explanation in neuroscience
    Synthese 153 (3): 343-353. 2006.
    According to some philosophers, computational explanation is proprietary
    to psychology—it does not belong in neuroscience. But neuroscientists routinely offer computational explanations of cognitive phenomena. In fact, computational explanation was initially imported from computability theory into the science of mind by neuroscientists, who justified this move on neurophysiological grounds. Establishing the legitimacy and importance of computational explanation in neuroscience is one thing; shedd…
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  •  156
    Turing's rules for the imitation game
    Minds and Machines 10 (4): 573-582. 2000.
    In the 1950s, Alan Turing proposed his influential test for machine intelligence, which involved a teletyped dialogue between a human player, a machine, and an interrogator. Two readings of Turing's rules for the test have been given. According to the standard reading of Turing's words, the goal of the interrogator was to discover which was the human being and which was the machine, while the goal of the machine was to be indistinguishable from a human being. According to the literal reading, th…Read more
  •  108
    Access Denied to Zombies
    Topoi 36 (1): 81-93. 2017.
    I argue that metaphysicians of mind have not done justice to the notion of accessibility between possible worlds. Once accessibility is given its due, physicalism must be reformulated and conceivability arguments must be reevaluated. To reach these conclusions, I explore a novel way of assessing the zombie conceivability argument. I accept that zombies are possible and ask whether that possibility is accessible from our world in the sense of ‘accessible’ used in possible world semantics. It turn…Read more
  •  159
    Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel’s groundbreaking book, Describing Inner Experience: Proponent Meets Skeptic, examines a research method called Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES). DES, which was developed by Hurlburt and collaborators, works roughly as follows. An investigator gives a subject a random beeper. During the day, as the subject hears a beep, she writes a description of her conscious experience just before the beep. The next day, the investigator interviews the subject, asks for more deta…Read more
  •  76
    Allen Newell
    In Noretta Koertge (ed.), New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Thomson Gale. 2007.
    Newell was a founder of artificial intelligence and a pioneer in the use of computer simulations in psychology. In collaboration with J. Cliff Shaw and Herbert A. Simon, Newell developed the first list-processing programming language as well as the earliest computer programs for simulating human problem solving. Over a long and prolific career, he contributed to many techniques, such as protocol analysis and heuristic search, that are now part of psychology and computer science. Colleagues remem…Read more