The Language of Thought
The language of thought (LOT) approach to the nature of mind has been highly influential in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind; and yet, as Susan Schneider argues, its philosophical foundations are weak. In this philosophical refashioning of LOT and the related computational theory of mind (CTM), Schneider offers a different framework than has been developed by LOT and CTM's main architect, Jerry Fodor: one that seeks integration with neuroscience, repudiates Fodor's pessimism about the capacity of cognitive science to explain cognition, embraces pragmatism, and advances a different approach to the nature of concepts, mental symbols, and modes of presentation.
According to the LOT approach, conceptual thought is determined by the manipulation of mental symbols according to algorithms. Schneider tackles three key problems that have plagued the LOT approach for decades: the computational nature of the central system (the system responsible for higher cognitive function); the nature of symbols; and Frege cases. To address these problems, Schneider develops a computational theory that is based on the Global Workspace approach; develops a theory of symbols, "the algorithmic view"; and brings her theory of symbols to bear on LOT's account of the causation of thought and behavior. In the course of solving these problems, Schneider shows that LOT must make peace with both computationalism and pragmatism; indeed, the new conception of symbols renders LOT a pragmatist theory. And LOT must turn its focus to cognitive and computational neuroscience for its naturalism to succeed.
About the Author
Susan Schneider is Assistant Professor of Philosophy, a faculty member in the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and a member of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.
“[Schneider's] book is good proof of the health of contemporary philosophy of mind....To get rid of old stigmas and to raise issues with certain positions is a necessary step. Schneider has provided this first step in her book, showing LOT as a viable response when she focuses it towards computational and cognitive neuroscience for its naturalism to succeed.”—Metapsychology
“Schneider’s book....is very much in the spirit (and even the style) of what Fodor has said at one point or another. [She] chides philosophers (I suspect she is looking hardest at Fodor and friends) for not following the state of the art in neuroscience and for building theories that fail to reflect findings there. She endorses the ‘‘global workplace’’ theory of central cognition developed by Baars and, later, Dehaene.”—Minds and Machines
“Schneider is concerned to defend some reasonable and important hypotheses....[she] raises some cogent objection to some of the specific arguments Fodor makes....I think she's quite right to observe that the phenomena of globablity, isotropy, and relevance do not per se -- and pace some arguments of Fodor -- show a domain to be computationally intractable.”—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
“Susan Schneider has written a beautifully clear and highly original reappraisal of the language of thought hypothesis, reworking it from its very roots and bringing it into harmony with the latest developments in cognitive and computational neuroscience. Her fine book makes essential reading for philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists alike.”
—E. J. Lowe, Durham University
“A must-read for proponents and opponents of the language of thought alike.”
—John Heil, Professor of Philosophy, Monash University, and Professor of Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, Washington University in St Louis
“Susan Schneider's The Language of Thought: A New Philosophical Direction does precisely what its title claims: it provides a new orientation for the language of thought and the related computational theory of mind. Schneider bravely stakes out new theoretical commitments for LOT, such as a pragmatist theory of concepts and a theory of symbols. Whether you agree or disagree with the LOT approach—I myself am a critic—Schneider's book is an absolutely necessary read for anyone interested in philosophy of mind and the foundations of cognitive science.”
—Mark Bickhard, Henry R. Luce Professor in Cognitive Robotics and the Philosophy of Knowledge, Lehigh University