Connectionism and the Mind

  • Publish Date: 1991-09-02
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: William Bechtel;Adele Abrahamsen
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Something remarkable is happening in the cognitive sciences. After a quarter of a century of cognitive models that were inspired by the metaphor of the digital computer, the newest cognitive models are inspired by the properties of the brain itself. Variously referred to as connectionist, parallel distributed processing, or neutral network models, they explore the idea that complex intellectual operations can be carried out by large networks of simple, neuron-like units. The units themselves are identical, very low-level and 'stupid'. Intelligent performance is derived from the pattern of connection strengths between units, and the fundamental cognitive activity is pattern recognition and completion.

Connectionism and the Mind provides an introduction to this newly emerging approach to understanding the mind. The first few chapters focus on network architecture, offering accessible treatment of the equations that describe learning and the propagation of activation (including a glossary for reference). Furthermore, the reader is walked step-by-step through the activities of networks engaged in pattern recognition, learning, and cognitive tasks such as memory retrieval and prototype formation. The remainder of the book addresses the implications of connectionism for theories of the mind, both philosophical and psychological. Foe example: What Role is played by pattern recognition and completion as basic as cognitive functions? Connectionist models have particular strength in learning and pattern recognition; should they be limited to those functions, or can they provide an overall account of cognitive functioning? In particular, can connectionist models provide an adequate account of the ability to employ linguistic and other symbol systems, or must an adequate system incorporate symbol processing as a basic cognitive capacity?

Finally, Connectionism and the Mind examines the relation of connectionist models to philosophical accounts of propositional attitudes, and to a variety of other inquiries in cognitive psychology, linguistics, developmental psychology, artificial intelligence and neuroscience.