Representation and Reality

Book Card  -  Volume 5  -  Book Review Number 2  -  Wed, Mar 1, 1989 10:04 PM

TITLE: Representation and Reality
AUTHOR: Hilary Putnam

This book is the corrective to Johnson-Laird's book. Its objective is to show that cognitive science, with its computerized approach to mind, cannot succeed.

The author, Hilary Putnam, is one of the most prominent philosophers alive. He is also one of the more accessible. This book is written so that an educated lay audience can follow most of it.

There are two critical lines of attack against cognitive science. The first is that cognitive science cannot succeed because there cannot be a science of mind. The reason is that to understand the human mind in the way required by cognitive science you would have to be able to write a computer program capable of understanding people. We people understand people (mostly) but we do not do it as a computer would have to. We do it by the application of general intelligence (and by being humans who are trained to understand others). General intelligence cannot be reduced to any algorithm (a rule or recipe capable of being used by a machine) because we have the capability to transcend or change any rule that we can recognize. The upshot is that if we are mere computers, we can never find out that we are. The argument given above does not show human intelligence can't be reduced to a rule, only that it can't be reduced to a rule we can understand. And, of course, if we can't understand a putative rule, we should reject it.

The second main line of attack is on the flexibility and looseness in the cognitive scientist's approach. It looks as if he or she was trying to make his or her claim true by definition.

There are many more intriguing arguments that can be appreciated without too much background.