Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Functional fixedness fallacy

A&A’s mistake is to assume that the parts and wholes of cognitive systems are fixed by how they sometimes function. That is, they assume that because Haugeland himself sometimes  functions as a self-contained cognitive system, he must always function as such.  The case of the road to San Jose is designed as a counter-example to precisely that inference. A&A, therefore, are themselves guilty of a fallacy, that of assuming that because something sometimes  functions in a certain way, it must always  function in that way.

I don't think we assume this.  In fact, that assumption is inconsistent with our idea that extended cognition is possible.  So, in principle, you might give Otto some sort of ultra-fancy neural prosthetic (unlike the humble notebook) that really does function just like a brain region.  That could be a case of extended cognition.  

Instead, we assume that just because something causally contributes to successful performance does not suffice to establish it as a constitutive element of a cognitive process.  The sun contributes to one's reading a newspaper outside, but is not a cognitive processor, right?

Of course, A&M may have some other conditions that distinguish mere causation from constitution, but let's have those on the table.

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