Connectionism and the Philosophy of Psychology

Connectionism and the Philosophy of Psychology

By Terence E. Horgan and John Tienson

A Bradford Book





Human cognition is soft. It is too flexible, too rich, and too open-ended to be captured by hard (precise, exceptionless) rules of the sort that can constitute a computer program. In Connectionism and the Philosophy of Psychology, Horgan and Tienson articulate and defend a new view of cognition. In place of the classical paradigm that take the mind to be a computer (or a group of linked computers), they propose that the mind is best understood as a dynamical system realized in a neural network.

Although Horgan and Tienson assert that cognition cannot be understood in classical terms of the algorithm-governed manipulation of symbols, they don't abandon syntax. Instead, they insist that human cognition is symbolic, and that cognitive processes are sensitive to the structure of symbols in the brain: the very richness of cognition requires a system of mental representations within which there are syntactically complex symbols and structure-sensitive processing.

However, syntactic constituents need not be parts of complex representations, and structure sensitive processes need not conform to algorithms. Cognition requires a language of thought, but a language of thought implicated in processes that are not governed by hard rules. Instead, symbols are generated and transformed in response to interacting cognitive forces, which are determined by multiple, simultaneous, (robustly) soft constraints. Thus, cognitive processes conform to soft (ceteris paribus) laws, rather than to hard laws. Cognitive forces are subserved by, but not identical with, physical forces in a network; the organization and the interaction of cognitive forces are best understood in terms of the mathematical theory of dynamical systems.

The concluding chapter elaborates the authors' proposed dynamical cognition framework.

A Bradford Book


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262082488 224 pp. | 6.3 in x 9 in


$20.00 X ISBN: 9780262519854 224 pp. | 6.3 in x 9 in


  • In the debate between 'classical' cognitive science and connectionism, Horgan and Tienson have staked out an original third position, immediate between the two alternatives. They elaborate an unexplored and underappreciated species of cognition within the connectionist or 'dynamical systems' approach, and defend, with clarity and rigor, the adequacy of their new way of seeing the mind. The book will make a significant contribution to the cognitive sciences and to philosophy of the mind.

    Dan Lloyd

    Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College

  • Horgan and Tienson's Connectionism and the Philosophy of Psychology develops an outline of a truly original theory of cognition. No one interested in the theory of cognitive architecture can afford to ignore this book.

    Brian P. McLaughlin

    Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University

  • A fascinating read. The book is original and thought-provoking. Horgan and Tienson has staked out a new and sophisticated position on cognition, which is likely to find a very wide audience indeed in both philosophy and cognitive science.

    Michael Tye

    Professor of Philosophy, Temple University; Visiting Professor of Philosophy, King's College, London