Publication 7513

Dewhurst J. & Villalobos M. (2017) The enactive automaton as a computing mechanism. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 6(3): 185–192. Fulltext at
Varela, Thompson, and Rosch illustrated their original presentation of the enactive theory of cognition with the example of a simple cellular automaton. Their theory was paradigmatically anti-computational, and yet automata similar to the one that they describe have typically been used to illustrate theories of computation, and are usually treated as abstract computational systems. Their use of this example is therefore puzzling, especially as they do not seem to acknowledge the discrepancy. The solution to this tension lies in recognizing a hidden background assumption, shared by both Varela, Thompson, and Rosch and the computational theories of mind which they were responding to. This assumption is that computation requires representation, and that computational states must bear representational content. For Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, representational content is incompatible with cognition, and so from their perspective the automaton that they describe cannot, despite appearances, be computational. However, there now exist several accounts of computation that do not make this assumption, and do not characterize computation in terms of representational content. In light of these recent developments, we will argue that it is quite straightforward to characterize the enactive automaton as a non-representational computing mechanism, one that we do not think they should have any objections to.

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