Fort Pitt
Nov 10, 2022 08:30 AM - 10:00 AM(America/New_York)
20221110T0830 20221110T1000 America/New_York SPP Session: The metaphysics of computation

The premise (and promise) of cognitive science is that we will come to understand ourselves better by integrating the insights and contributions from multiple fields of inquiry. This interdisciplinary project has been especially vibrant when it has explored the intersection of philosophy and psychology (for example when work in ethics integrates empirical work from moral psychology, or when work in the philosophy of mind integrates neuroscientific studies of consciousness). But cognitive science has interacted far less with metaphysics - the philosophical exploration of the fundamental nature of reality. This may seem surprising, since there has been a great deal of fascinating empirical research on the mental representations and cognitive processes involved in such topics. Accordingly, this panel will attempt to bridge this gap, with a special focus on the metaphysical reality of higher-level computational explanation, exploring different levels of analysis and ontology involving computation.

The interest in computation in particular derives from David Marr's view, deeply influential in contemporary computational research, that any information processing system can be analyzed at three levels, (1) the computational problem the system is solving; (2) the algorithm the system uses to solve that problem; and (3) how that algorithm is implemented in the physical hardware of the system. 

But what is (1), the computational level of analysis? And how is it related to (2) and (3), the algorithmic level and the physical hardware of the system? We see parallels here to classic debates about levels of explanation and ontology in philosophy of science, as well as to work in the metaphysics and science of consciousness and mind.

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The premise (and promise) of cognitive science is that we will come to understand ourselves better by integrating the insights and contributions from multiple fields of inquiry. This interdisciplinary project has been especially vibrant when it has explored the intersection of philosophy and psychology (for example when work in ethics integrates empirical work from moral psychology, or when work in the philosophy of mind integrates neuroscientific studies of consciousness). But cognitive science has interacted far less with metaphysics - the philosophical exploration of the fundamental nature of reality. This may seem surprising, since there has been a great deal of fascinating empirical research on the mental representations and cognitive processes involved in such topics. Accordingly, this panel will attempt to bridge this gap, with a special focus on the metaphysical reality of higher-level computational explanation, exploring different levels of analysis and ontology involving computation.


The interest in computation in particular derives from David Marr's view, deeply influential in contemporary computational research, that any information processing system can be analyzed at three levels, (1) the computational problem the system is solving; (2) the algorithm the system uses to solve that problem; and (3) how that algorithm is implemented in the physical hardware of the system. 


But what is (1), the computational level of analysis? And how is it related to (2) and (3), the algorithmic level and the physical hardware of the system? We see parallels here to classic debates about levels of explanation and ontology in philosophy of science, as well as to work in the metaphysics and science of consciousness and mind.

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