The University of Sussex

The Cognizer's Innards: a psychological and philosophical perspective on the development of thought

Andy Clark, Annette Karmiloff-Smith

What is special about human thought? What, if anything, distinguishes the nature of our thoughts from the information processing states of a sea-slug or a VAX mainframe? We examine the hypothesis that the distinctive mark of higher cognition is that the organisms which sustain it engage in endogenously-driven processes of representational redescription. The representational redescription hypothesis (RRH) is part of a theory of cognitive development aimed at accounting for how the human mind goes beyond its domain-specific constraints. RRH involves the process by which information implicit in an organism's special purpose responses to an environment is repeatedly recoded and made available to serve a wider variety of ends. This process is conservative and thus results in a multi-levelled representational array in which no levels are lost or destroyed and in which (ultimately in adult development) different levels may be accessed when this is appropriate to current goals. We analyse the hypothesis in some detail, and highlight the ways in which it interacts with the claim (Smolensky 1988) that connectionism provides the complete formal model of human cognition. We show that a popular class of connectionist models (which we label "first order connectionism") looks unlikely to provide the kind of resources required by the hypothesis. We examine some alternative hybrid models that seem more promising. Finally, we raise a more purely philosophical issue concerning the conditions under which a being can count as a genuine believer or cognizer.

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