Minds and Computers Book

I just discovered this new, nice little book (2007, Edimburgh University Press).  It’s surprisingly clear, concise, and yet wide in scope at the same time.  A great option for a very basic intro course.  Too bad that the story Matt Carter tells is superceded at various points by recent literature (including this).


  1. gualtiero piccinini

    Well, the story about minds and computers. 

    If you are asking what is wrong with that story, one thing that I remember is that you simply introduce computationalism as a version of functionalism.  This is quite common but it fails to distinguish between computationalism as a metaphysics of mind (which would be better called ‘computational functionalism’) and computationalism as an empirical hypothesis about neural/psychological mechanisms.  See my “The Mind as Neural Software?”, forthcoming in PPR, for an extended discussion of this and related issues.

  2. I’m afraid I still don’t know what story you’re referring to!

    If there is a specific claim you take exception to, I’d be more than happy to address your concern.

    I very much appreciate the praise with respect to clarity and breadth, but I can’t help but feel that saying ‘the story’ I tell has been superceded is something of a throwaway claim.

    Remember, this is an introductory textbook, pitched at readers who have no background in any of the disciplines it covers.

    The primary aim is to introduce the main philosophical theories of mind – culminating with the computational theory – and then evaluate the way research in various other disciplines bears on the tenability of the computational theory, in order that readers might be in an informed position to make determinations about the possibility of developing strong artificial intelligence. Or at least have some sense of how to go about making such determinations.

    With respect to your concern about conflating computationalism qua philosophical theory with computationalism qua methodological commitment in the empirical sciences, you are absolutely correct that one wants to be careful.

    Most of the time, when I refer to ‘computationalism’ I intend the philosophical theory, and I believe I’m fairly clear about this in the book. I also make a point of lauding computationalism for the methodological direction that a computational commitment confers in the empirical sciences.

    In much the same way, I’m careful to distinguish behaviourism in the philosophy of mind – which is a substantive philosophical commitment – from behaviourism in psychology, which is a methodological commitment.

    In both cases (computationalism and behaviourism), the philosophical theory entails the methodological commitment, but the converse doesn’t hold (hence, they’re clearly logically distinct).

    One of the challenging things about cross-disciplinary analysis – and interdisciplinary engagement broadly – is that terms tend to mean different things in the mouths of different disciplines (think e.g. of the term ‘theory of mind’ in philosophy as opposed to linguistics).

    I tried to be careful (and hope the glossary of terms goes some way towards ameliorating potential conflation) but I take your criticism – thank you.

    Kind regards,


  3. gualtiero


    I appreciate your efforts in writing an accessible, broad introductory book. As I said, I think you did a great job with respect to the standard textbook account of cognitive science and AI, as it has been told over the last decade or two.

    I just happen to think that in order to make progress on some longstanding debates pertaining to cognitive science and AI, we need to move beyond the standard account of what computation is, how to tell whether something is computational, and surrounding topics. I’ve published several articles on this topic over the last five years or so, so if you’d like to know more about my concerns, all you need to do is follow the link in the main post.

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