Communications Project

Document Type:Master's Thesis
Name:Christopher Alan Greenlee
Title:Situated Cognition, Dynamicism, and Explanation in Cognitive Science
Degree:Master of Arts
Committee Chair: Valerie Hardcastle
Committee Members:Harlan B. Miller
John Roach
Keywords:Cognitive Science, Dynamical Systems, Situated Cognition
Date of defense:June 19, 1998
Availability:Release the entire work for Virginia Tech access only.
After one year release worldwide only with written permission of the student and the advisory committee chair.


Situated Cognition, Dynamicism, and Explanation in Cognitive Science

Christopher A. Greenlee


The majority of cognitive scientists today view the mind as a computer, instantiating some function mapping the inputs it gets from the environment to the gross behaviors of the organism. As a result, the emphasis in most ongoing research programmes is on finding that function, or some part of that function. Moreover, the types of functions considered are limited somewhat by the preconception that the mind must be instantiating a function that can be expressed as a computer program.

I argue that research done in the last two decades suggests that we should approach cognition with as much consideration to the environment as to the inner workings of the mind. Our cognition is often shaped by the constraints the environment places on us, not just by the "inputs" we receive from it. I argue also that there is a new approach to cognitive science, viewing the mind not as a computer but as a dynamical system, which captures the shift in perspective while eliminating the requirement that cognitive functions be expressable as computer programs.

Unfortunately, some advocates of this dynamical perspective have argued that we should replace all of traditional psychology and neuroscience with their new approach. In response to these advocates, I argue that we cannot develop an adequate dynamical picture of the mind without engaging in precisely those sorts of research and hypothesizing that traditional neuroscience and psychology engage in. In short, I argue that we require certain types of explanations in order to get our dynamical (or computational) theories off the ground, and we cannot get those from other dynamical (or computational) theories.

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