Thursday, April 1, 2010

Correction to: "Cognitive processes involve representations with non-derived content"

Adams and Aizawa often write that what distinguishes cognitive processes from non-cognitive processes is that the former involve representations with non-derived content.

But as Clark points out somewhere (help wanted on this ref), this is probably too loose.  When Otto uses his notebook, there are presumably mental representations in his brain that have non-derived content, so that his use of the notebook in some sense involves representations with non-derived content

Yet, an appropriate clarification of the target concept is ready to hand in terms of the idea of a vehicle of content.  (For its use in the context of the extended cognition debates, see, e.g., (Hurley, 1998).)  The idea is that cognitive vehicles of content must bear non-derived content, so that the vehicles of content in cognitive processes must bear non-derived content.  That seems to work to rule out Otto's use of his notebook involving representations in the relevant sense.
Hurley, S. (1998). Vehicles, contents, conceptual structure, and externalism. Analysis, 58(1), 1-6.


  1. I think this is the Clark reference you're looking for: Supersizing p.90

    "Of course, we are not *required* to think of Otto's notebook as contravening some plausible story about intrinsic content. A plausible response would be to argue that what makes *any* symbol or representation (internal or external) mean what it does is just something about its behavior-supporting role (and maybe its causal history) within some larger system. We might then hold that when we understand enough about that role (and perhaps, history), we will see that the encodings in Otto's notebook are in fact on par with those in his biological memory. In other words, just because the symbols in the notebook happen to look like English words and require some degree of interpretative activity when retrieved and used, that need not rule out the possibility that they have also come to satisfy the demands on being, in virtue of their role within the larger system, among the physical vehicles of various forms of intrinsic content."

  2. Thanks for the ref, but I don't think this is what I was looking for.

    Here, Clark seems to be drawing attention to the possibility of something like a functional role semantics, then noting that, in principle, items in the notebook could meet the conditions of such a functional role semantics.

    I think that this is right. In principle this could happen. But, Clark and I appear to agree that this does not typically happen. Why do I think we agree? Because Clark is only drawing attention to a (logical?) possibility, rather than to something that happens.