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The Architecture of Cognition

Rethinking Fodor and Pylyshyn's Systematicity Challenge

Paco Calvo

Publication Year: 2014

In 1988, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn challenged connectionist theorists to explain the systematicity of cognition. In a highly influential critical analysis of connectionism, they argued that connectionist explanations, at best, can only inform us about details of the neural substrate; explanations at the cognitive level must be classical insofar as adult human cognition is essentially systematic. More than twenty-five years later, however, conflicting explanations of cognition do not divide along classicist-connectionist lines, but oppose cognitivism (both classicist and connectionist) with a range of other methodologies, including distributed and embodied cognition, ecological psychology, enactivism, adaptive behavior, and biologically based neural network theory. This volume reassesses Fodor and Pylyshyn's "systematicity challenge" for a post-connectionist era. The contributors consider such questions as how post-connectionist approaches meet Fodor and Pylyshyn's conceptual challenges; whether there is empirical evidence for or against the systematicity of thought; and how the systematicity of human thought relates to behavior. The chapters offer a representative sample and an overview of the most important recent developments in the systematicity debate.<B>Contributors</B>Ken Aizawa, William Bechtel, Gideon Borensztajn, Paco Calvo, Anthony Chemero, Jonathan D. Cohen, Alicia Coram, Jeffrey L. Elman, Stefan L. Frank, Antoni Gomila, Seth A. Herd, Trent Kriete, Christian J. Lebiere, Lorena Lobo, Edouard Machery, Gary Marcus, Emma Martín, Fernando Martínez-Manrique, Brian P. McLaughlin, Randall C. O'Reilly, Alex A. Petrov, Steven Phillips, William Ramsey, Michael Silberstein, John Symons, David Travieso, William H. Wilson, Willem Zuidema

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Is human thought systematic? How can we best explain it? The present volume aims to explore a variety of conceptual and empirical strategies for responding to these two questions. Twenty-five years after Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn originally challenged connectionist theorists to explain the systematicity of cognition, our task in this volume is to reassess and rethink systematicity in the post-connectionist era...


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1. Systematicity: An Overview

John Symons and Paco Calvo

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pp. 3-30

In 1988, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn published “ Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture: A Critical Analysis. ” Their article presented a forceful and highly influential criticism of the explanatory relevance of neural network models of cognition. At the time, connectionism was reemerging as a popular and exciting new field of research, but according to Fodor and Pylyshyn, the approach rested on a flawed model of the human mind. Connectionism is the view that the mind can be understood in terms of an interconnected network of simple mechanisms...

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2. Can an ICS Architecture Meet the Systematicity and Productivity Challenges?

Brian P. McLaughlin

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pp. 31-76

It has been a quarter of a century since the publication of Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn ’ s “ Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture: A Critical Analysis. ” Their seminal paper presents several related challenges to the hypothesis that the cognitive architecture of beings with the ability to think is a connectionist architecture.1 None concern computational power. There are kinds of multilayered connectionist networks that are Turing equivalent — that can compute all and only the same functions as a universal Turing machine...

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3. Tough Times to Be Talking Systematicity

Ken Aizawa

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pp. 77-100

During the 1980s and 1990s, Jerry Fodor, Brian McLaughlin, and Zenon Pylyshyn argued that thought is in various respects systematic. Further, they argued that a so-called classical syntactically and semantically combinatorial system of mental representations provides a better explanation of the systematicity of thought than do nonclassical alternatives.1 During the 1990s, part of what made the systematicity arguments problematic was the subtlety of the idea of providing a better explanation...


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4. PDP and Symbol Manipulation: What’s Been Learned Since 1986?

Gary Marcus

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pp. 103-114

Nobody could doubt that the brain is made up of neurons and connections between them. But how are they organized?
In cognitive science, much of the excitement of mid-1980s connectionism came from a specific hypothesis: that the mind did its work without relying on the traditional machinery of symbol manipulation. Rumelhart and McClelland (1986, 119), for instance, clearly distanced themselves from those that would explore connectionist implementations of symbolmanipulation when they wrote, ...

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5. Systematicity in the Lexicon: On Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

Jeffrey L. Elman

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pp. 115-146

Fodor and Pylyshyn’s (1988, henceforth F & P) seminal work marked an important step forward in the debate about what kind of architecture is required for human cognition. By focusing on core concepts of “systematicity,” “symbolic,” and “compositionality,” F & P suggested new ways to consider the competing claims about connectionist versus symbolic systems in an explicit and precise way...

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6. Getting Real about Systematicity

Stefan L. Frank

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pp. 147-164

In the twenty-five years since its inception, the systematicity debate has suffered from remarkably weak empirical grounding. For a large part, the debate has relied on purely theoretical arguments, mostly from the classicists’ side (e.g., Aizawa 1997a; Fodor and Pylyshyn 1988; Phillips 2000), but occasionally from the connectionist camp as well (Bechtel 1993; Van Gelder 1990)...

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7. Systematicity and the Need for Encapsulated Representations

Gideon Borensztajn, Willem Zuidema, and William Bechtel

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pp. 165-190

Debates about systematicity originated with Fodor and Pylyshyn’s (1988) challenge to connectionist models of cognition in the 1980s (Hinton and Anderson 1981; Rumelhart and McClelland 1986; McClelland and Rumelhart 1986). They identified systematicity as a feature not just of language but also of thought in general, and argued that connectionist networks lacked the resources to account for it unless they implemented more traditional symbolic architectures...

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8. How Limited Systematicity Emerges: A Computational Cognitive Neuroscience Approach

Randall C. O ’ Reilly, Alex A. Petrov, Jonathan D. Cohen, Christian J. Lebiere, Seth A. Herd, and Trent Kriete

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pp. 191-226

In this chapter, we address the claims made by Fodor and Pylyshyn (1988) (FP88 hereafter). We strike a middle ground between classic symbolic and connectionist perspectives, arguing that cognition is less systematic than classicists claim, but that connectionist, neural-processing-based theories have yet to explain the extent to which cognition is systematic. We offer a sketch of an emerging understanding of the basis of human systematicity in terms of interactions between specialized brain systems, leveraging the computational principles identified and empirical work done in the quarter- century since the target work was published.

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9. A Category Theory Explanation for Systematicity: Universal Constructions

Steven Phillips and William H. Wilson

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pp. 227-250

When, in 1909, physicists Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden fired charged particles into gold foil, they observed that the distribution of deflections followed an unexpected pattern. This pattern afforded an important insight into the nature of atomic structure. Analogously, when cognitive scientists probe mental ability, they note that the distribution of cognitive capacities is not arbitrary. Rather, the capacity for certain cognitive abilities correlates with the capacity for certain other abilities...


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10. Systematicity and Architectural Pluralism

William Ramsey

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pp. 253-276

In 1987, Jerry Fodor came to the University of California, San Diego to present his now-famous systematicity argument(s) against the connectionist outlook on cognitive processes that was just beginning to blossom there at the time. Somehow I wound up with the task of picking him up at the airport, although it was hardly a task I minded. Fodor had sent an earlier draft of the paper he had cowritten with Zenon Pylyshyn and because I was finishing a dissertation on the philosophical implications of connectionism, I was happy to get a chance to discuss the argument with him before all the shouting began...

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11. Systematicity Laws and Explanatory Structures in the Extended Mind

Alicia Coram

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pp. 277-304

The systematicity argument championed by Jerry Fodor, Zenon Pylyshyn, and Brian McLaughlin (Fodor and Pylyshyn 1998; Fodor and McLaughlin 1990) became a magnet for debates over the cognitive architecture, providing an empirically based challenge to those who did not accept classical computationalism. In general, the alternative explanations of systematic patterns that were proposed by connectionist models did not directly challenge the assumption that mental representations are both syntactically and semantically internal, focusing instead on alternative means of achieving compositionality without classical vehicles of content (see, e.g., Van Gelder 1990; Chalmers 1993; Smolensky 1995)...

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12. Systematicity and Conceptual Pluralism

Fernando Mart í nez-Manrique

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pp. 305-334

The systematicity argument (henceforth SA), offered by Fodor and Pylyshyn (1988) against the plausibility of connectionism as an alternative theory of cognition, can be characterized in terms of three claims—an empirical claim, an explanatory claim, and a definitional claim—from which a dilemma arises for connectionism. Let me present the four elements in outline before saying a little more about each of them: ...

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13. Neo-Empiricism and the Structure of Thoughts

Edouard Machery

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pp. 335-350

Neo-empiricism is one of the most exciting theories of concepts developed in the last twenty years in philosophy and in psychology. According to this theory, the vehicles of tokened concepts are not different in kind from the vehicles of perceptual representations. Proponents of neo-empiricism have touted the virtues of their theory (Barsalou 1999 , 2010 ; Prinz 2002 ; Gallese and Lakoff 2005), including its alleged empirical support, while critics have raised various concerns (e.g., Markman and Stilwell 2004; Machery 2006 , 2007; Mahon and Caramazza 2008; Dove 2009 , 2011; McCaffrey and Machery 2012)...


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14. Systematicity and Interaction Dominance

Anthony Chemero

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pp. 353-370

In their massive 1988 article in Cognition, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn introduced the world to something they called “systematicity” and used it over the course of sixty-eight pages to bludgeon the then nascent reintroduction of artificial neural network research into the cognitive sciences. This was not their first attempt to squash a new research program in the cognitive sciences. They published, in the same journal, a similarly lengthy attempt at taking down Gibsonian ecological psychology (Fodor and Pylyshyn 1981)...

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15. From Systematicity to Interactive Regularities: Grounding Cognition at the Sensorimotor Level

David Travieso, Antoni Gomila, and Lorena Lobo

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pp. 371-396

The systematicity debate initially turned on the issue of the best explanation for the systematicity of cognition — then a property taken for granted, so that it barely required anything more than cursory exemplification. Connectionists challenged the idea that a “ language of thought ” of atomic constituents, plus formal combinatorial rules, was the only (best) approach to account for that claimed property of cognition. In these post-cognitivist times, we rather think that the proper reaction to the Fodor and Pylyshyn ’s (1988) challenge is to deny that cognition is systematic in general...

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16. The Emergence of Systematicity in Minimally Cognitive Agents

Paco Calvo, Emma Martín, and John Symons

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pp. 397-434

The honeybee bounces against the pane of glass, the moth circles the lightbulb, and the dog chases its tail. Honeybees, moths, and dogs are each capable of a complex and interesting set of behaviors. But sometimes we notice animals failing to accomplish their goals and being unable to adapt their behavior successfully in light of their failures. At moments like these it is natural to think less of the family dog, the honeybee, or the moth...

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17. Order and Disorders in the Form of Thought: The Dynamics of Systematicity

Michael Silberstein

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pp. 435-452

Fodor, for all his recent changes of mind about how the mind works, is still convinced that systematicity is real and cannot be explained in connectionist terms (Fodor 2000, 50). On the other hand, there are those who doubt the very existence of linguistic systematicity à la Fodor and Pylyshyn (e.g., Chemero, this vol.). It would be nice if we could make some empirical headway on this debate. The idea behind this chapter, then, is to exploit the fact that various related sorts of systematicity appear to be very often damaged in those with schizophrenia...


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pp. 453-456


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pp. 457-470

E-ISBN-13: 9780262322461
E-ISBN-10: 0262322463
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262027236

Page Count: 488
Publication Year: 2014