The next Neural Mechanisms Online webinar “The Untenable Status Quo: The Concept of Representation in the Neural and Psychological Sciences” will be delivered by Luis Favela and Edouard Machery on May 20th. See below for details about the free talk and how to join.
The Untenable Status Quo:
The Concept of Representation in the Neural and Psychological Sciences
h 14-16 Greenwhich Mean Time / 16-18 CEST (check your local time here)
|Join the meeting via Webex (the link will be activated 10 mins before the talk)|
Abstract. The concept of representation is commonly treated as indispensable to research on brains, behavior, and cognition. We argue that not only is the concept of representation applied with considerable imprecision in such research, but it appears to be used in unclear and confused ways. We present results of a preregistered experiment aimed at making explicit what researchers mean by “representation.” Participants consisted of an international group of psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers (N = 736). Applying elicitation methodology, participants responded via an online survey platform to four experimental scenarios aimed at invoking applications of various representational concepts. While we find very little disciplinary variation in the application of “representation” and related concepts (e.g., “about,” “carry information,” “processing,” etc.), we show that researchers exhibit confusion about what counts as a representation and are uncertain about what sorts of brain activity involve representations or not. We argue on this basis that the concept of representation—especially in the neural and psychological sciences—should be reformed or eliminated from use. Consequently, the theoretical status quo concerning the concept of representation endorsed by many neuroscientists and psychologists is untenable.
You can preview the paper here.
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I’m a bit surprised that the paper doesn’t mention the meaning of “representation” in computer science. (If I missed it, I apologize.) It might not match exactly what philosophers and neuroscience mean by the term but that alone makes it worth examining. Although computer science is my field so I’m perhaps biased, I doubt the term is very controversial in that context and the inevitable multiple definitions pretty much agree.