Tutorial on Embodiment

5.1.1. Cognitivism


The initial foundations of cognitive sciences were laid down by cognitivism (e.g., Fodor 1975, Pylyshyn 1984). The aspects of intelligence or cognition that were modeled were the high-level cognitive functions, such as problem-solving, representation of knowledge and reasoning, and planning. The essence of this paradigm is that the key to intelligence is computation with symbols that represent the world. The keywords are algorithmic nature, symbolic computation and representation. Newell and Simon (1976) put forth the Physical Symbol Systems Hypothesis which states, in essence, that a physical symbol system has the necessary and sufficient means for intelligent action. The body is thus of marginal importance here, it can be any physical system (e.g., Emmental cheese) as long as it can perform the same function - the right computation on symbols. The cognitivist paradigm is thus also known as functionalism.
Although, in theory, the physical machinery can be arbitrary, the field has quickly adopted one dominant platform to run the computation over symbols: a digital computer. This has had far-reaching implications, since the computer was not only the tool on which these models could run, but also quickly became the leading metaphor for mind.



Fodor, J. A. (1975). The language of thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1976). Computer science as empirical inquiry: Symbols and search. Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, 19(3), 113-126.
Pylyshyn, Z. (1984). Computation and cognition: Toward a foundation for cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT.