Explaining the Computational Mind

Explaining the Computational Mind

By Marcin Milkowski

A defense of the computational explanation of cognition that relies on mechanistic philosophy of science and advocates for explanatory pluralism.





A defense of the computational explanation of cognition that relies on mechanistic philosophy of science and advocates for explanatory pluralism.

In this book, Marcin Milkowski argues that the mind can be explained computationally because it is itself computational—whether it engages in mental arithmetic, parses natural language, or processes the auditory signals that allow us to experience music. Defending the computational explanation against objections to it—from John Searle and Hilary Putnam in particular—Milkowski writes that computationalism is here to stay but is not what many have taken it to be. It does not, for example, rely on a Cartesian gulf between software and hardware, or mind and brain. Milkowski's mechanistic construal of computation allows him to show that no purely computational explanation of a physical process will ever be complete. Computationalism is only plausible, he argues, if you also accept explanatory pluralism.

Milkowski sketches a mechanistic theory of implementation of computation against a background of extant conceptions, describing four dissimilar computational models of cognition. He reviews other philosophical accounts of implementation and computational explanation and defends a notion of representation that is compatible with his mechanistic account and adequate vis à vis the four models discussed earlier. Instead of arguing that there is no computation without representation, he inverts the slogan and shows that there is no representation without computation—but explains that representation goes beyond purely computational considerations. Milkowski's arguments succeed in vindicating computational explanation in a novel way by relying on mechanistic theory of science and interventionist theory of causation.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262018869 256 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 12 figures


  • Explaining the Computational Mind is a substantial and excellent contribution to the growing literature on the foundations of computational cognitive neuroscience....The book is a must-read piece that will have to be dealt with by anyone writing on computation in cognitive science.

    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

  • Milkowski's inclusive notion of computation provides a very useful framework for considering a wide range of computational approaches....The book is clearly written and engaging throughout; it is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in scientific explanation of the mind.

    Review of Metaphysics

  • In Explaining the Computational Mind, Marcin Milkowski is driven by a similar desire to offer a non-semantic, mechanistic account of computation that accommodates scientific practice...This leads Milkowski to develop a 'transparent' account of computation...That such a unitary account of computation can be given is, according to Milkowski, warranted by the presumed fact that it is a natural kind.


  • Milkowski addresses the notion of a computational mind in a concise and yet remarkably comprehensive manner... We appreciate the pluralistic flavor of this work... Milkowski gives a compelling and scientifically solid argument for the idea that computation can be described in various ways... An interesting contribution. The accurate and comprehensive presentation of both scientific and philosophical insights makes it a recommendation for anyone interested in computation and/or in cognitive science.

    Constructivist Foundations


  • In this book, Marcin Milkowski presents some bold claims as well as interesting analysis of computational approaches for understanding the mind. The book may engender meaningful debates that will eventually put computational approaches on more solid footing for future intellectual endeavors of exploring the mind.

    Ron Sun

    Cognitive Sciences Department, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

  • This is not just another book on computationalism. Instead, Milkowski has deftly constructed a new, well-informed, scientifically driven account of information processing. Insightful discussions of explanation, causation, mechanism, and representation allow Milkowski to deliver what he promises—an account of computation, be it digital or analog, cognitive or neural, that can be shared by all comers.

    Chris Eliasmith

    University of Waterloo, Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience, Professor of Philosophy and of Systems Design Engineering

  • A thought-provoking look at the various conceptualizations of computationalism used in cognitive science and what we've gotten right and wrong along the way. Marcin Milkowski suggests that it is a bit too soon to relegate computational frameworks to the graveyard, and proposes a pure information processing approach intended to withstand the skeptical objections aimed at current theories. Regardless of one's theoretical position, this book provides ample arguments to inspire a healthy reexamination of the current state of computationalism.

    Flip Phillips

    Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Skidmore College


  • Winner, 2014 National Science Centre Award in the area of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences