Christopher D. Green (2000) Philosophy and Science; not Philosophy or Science. Psycoloquy: 11(077) Ai Cognitive Science (17)

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Psycoloquy 11(077): Philosophy and Science; not Philosophy or Science

Reply to Zelazo on Green on AI-Cognitive-Science

Christopher D. Green
Department of Psychology,
York University
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3


Zelazo and I are in basic agreement. I don't think it ought to be controversial that AI has only a limited role to play in Cognitive Science either, but apparently it is. I don't believe that Cognitive Scientists should all "down tools" until the conceptual details of mind are worked out either, but neither do I think that conceptual analysis is a waste of time here. Simply "picking the complexity to pieces" will solve the problem on its own. Finally, I am happy to entertain the idea of intelligence that is not at all like human intelligence, but we seem to have our hands full at the moment just trying to figure out what human intelligence is.


artificial intelligence, behaviorism, cognitive science, computationalism, Fodor, functionalism, Searle, Turing Machine, Turing Test.
1. Zelazo (2000) is, I think, trying to make a fight out of something that is not really a fight. He says that I make "Fodor's claim that AI makes bad cognitive science seem radical when in fact it is (or ought to be) uncontroversial" (para. 1). I think he has answered his own question parenthetically. I do not think it should be controversial either, but--to be outrageously empirical for a moment--it is clear from these commentaries that it is, and there is quite a lot of explication to be done, as I have tried to do, concerning just what is controversial, and just what is not.

2. As for my "pessimistic pronouncement concerning the present possibility of computational (or even cognitive) psychology," I suppose that the looseness of my ontological talk, that I have already admitted to, made me deserve this. Again, I don't believe that ontology must precede science holus-bolus. I do think, as I have said several times now, that SOME ontological consensus must be achieved before much (consensually agreed) progress is made. How much more? More than we have now would be a nice beginning. Zelazo construes my position, however, as being "overly-sensitive to the fact that higher cognitive processes ('central systems', in Fodor's terms) has its work cut out for it" (para. 7). I think he has just missed the boat here. The concerns I expressed were not for consensus on "higher" or "central" processes, but on the most basic ones--what are intentionality, qualia, consciousness? These are not what Fodor has in mind when he discusses "central systems" in "Modularity of mind" (1983).

3. Also, I don't think that "picking the complexity to pieces" is going, by itself, to do the trick. Any "complexity" can be "picked to pieces" in infinitely many different ways. We have to find the "right" way. That means, to a first order of approximation, having some idea of what we are looking for. To my mind, Zelazo has fallen right into Meno's paradox, and is trying to get out by brute force. It won't work; witness two millennia of debate about Meno. I take his analogies to physics to be--sans further analysis (as I tried to provide for Fodor's analogy to physics)--just analogies. That is, they may be useful exemplars of Zelazo's position, but they are hardly demonstrative arguments. In any case, I would argue that there is far greater ontological consensus in physics--uncomfortable though it may make some of its exponents--than there is in psychology. At least they are willing to use a common vocabulary. This is far more than you can say about cognitive scientists.

4. Finally, we come to the question of whether real cognition has to be human cognition. As I mentioned in the reply to Plate, there would have to be some pretty amazing conceptual analysis of what it is to be cognitive in order for us to determine that something was truly cognitive without being human-like cognitive. The Turing test was supposed to be such a criterion (at least with regard to the internal mechanisms at work; notice that even with this criterion the external result was to be indistinguishable from human behavior). I take it that everyone is now pretty well convinced that, at least in its original form, it failed as such a criterion. I await the announcement of the new criterion!


Fodor, J. A. (1983). The modularity of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Green, C.D. (2000) Is AI the Right Method for Cognitive Science? PSYCOLOQUY 11(061)

Zelazo, P.D. (2000) The nature (and artifice) of cognition. PSYCOLOQUY 11(076)

Volume: 11 (next, prev) Issue: 077 (next, prev) Article: 17 (next prev first) Alternate versions: ASCII Summary