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Patterns in mind: systematicity in the extended mind
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posted on 28.02.2017by Coram, Alicia
One of the most influential recent arguments regarding the nature of the cognitive
architecture takes as its starting point the existence of certain patterns in cognitive
abilities, termed the systematicity of thought and inference, and concludes that the
best explanation of these patterns is a classically computational cognitive architecture
that processes language-like mental representations. While most alternative
explanations offered for these patterns have accepted some of the central tenets
underlying the classical computational account of mind-in particular, the
assumption that mental representations are both syntactically and semantically
internal- the extended theory of mind explicitly challenges these claims.
In this thesis, I consider how the nature of both the cognitive abilities at the
heart of the systematicity argument and the psychological resources used to explain
these patterns can be reframed from this perspective, providing the basis for an
alternative explanation for patterns of systematicity that locates their explanatory
structure in a wider cognitive system that includes the structures of public
representational schemes. A comparison to a similar strategy employed by Zenon
Pylyshyn in his work on imagistic phenomenon provides a framework for
understanding, and potentially empirically verifying, the proposed alternative
explanation. This explanation is supported by a comprehensive review of the
empirical evidence that exists for systematicity, which points to pervasive semantic
effects that are not easily reconciled with the classically computational model.
Reconsidering the systematicity debate in this way sheds new light on the nature of
explanation in psychology and the prospects of the extended theory of mind as a
basis for cognitive science.