Explaining the Computational Mind

My book appeared and can be purchased in print or in Kindle, or directly from MIT Press. Oron Shagrir reviewed it in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, and Frances Egan in the Review of Metaphysics (behind a paywall). I also talk about the book with Carrie Figdor in New Books in Philosophy.

For the book, I was awarded the National Science Centre prize in humanities and social sciences for young scientists in 2014.

In the book, I argue that the mind can be explained computationally because it is itself computational—whether it engages in mental arithmetic, parses natural language, or processes the auditory signals that allow us to experience music. All these capacities arise from complex information-processing operations of the mind. By analyzing the state of the art in cognitive science, I develop an account of computational explanation used to explain the capacities in question.

Defending the computational explanation against objections to it—from John Searle and Hilary Putnam in particular— I conclude that computationalism is here to stay but is not what many have taken it to be. In particular, it does not rely on a Cartesian gulf between either software and hardware or mind and brain. The computational method of describing the ways information is processed is usually abstract—but cognition is possible only when computation is realized physically, and the physical realization is not the same thing as its description. The mechanistic construal of computation allows me to show that no purely computational explanation of a physical process will ever be complete. This is because we also need to account for how the computation is physically implemented, and in explaining this, we cannot simply appeal to computation itself. In addition, we need to know how the computational mechanism is embedded in the environment, which, again, is not a purely computational matter. For this reason, computationalism is plausible only if you also accept explanatory pluralism: the proposition that there are acceptable causal explanations that are not spelled out in terms of any computational idiom. This is perfectly in line with the mechanistic philosophy of science.

I sketch a mechanistic theory of implementation of computation against a background of extant conceptions, describing four dissimilar computational models of cognition. The first model is Allen Newell and Herbert Simon’s model of problem solving involved in so-called cryptarithmetics, which is a kind of mathematical puzzle. Then, a connectionist model of past tense acquisition of English verbs, developed by David Rumelhart and James McClelland in 1980s, is scrutinized, to be followed by a biologically plausible model of path integration in rats. The latter one was built in 2005 by John Conklin and Chris Eliasmith and is one of the cutting-edge developments in computational neuroscience. The last case study is a robotic model of phonotaxis in crickets, developed by Barbara Webb, which shows the application of robotic explanations in neuroethology.

I review other philosophical accounts of implementation and computational explanation and defends a notion of representation that is compatible with his mechanistic account and adequate vis à vis the four models discussed earlier. Instead of arguing that there is no computation without representation, I invert the slogan and show that there is no representation without computation—but explains that representation goes beyond purely computational considerations. My arguments vindicate computational explanation in a novel way by relying on mechanistic theory of science and interventionist theory of causation. The overall ambition of the project is to furnish cognitive scientists with an up-to-date conceptual and methodological framework of computational explanation.

This work was supported by Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education grant N N101 138039 under the contract 1380/B/H03/2010/39. In 2013, it won the Tadeusz Kotarbiński prize for the best book in philosophy in 2011-2013 from the Section I of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Regarding the Mind, Naturally

Book coverOur volume is just out! Thanks to all contributors for their excellent work. 

Some of the early versions of the papers in this volume were presented during workshops in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland that we have organized over a number of years, and a certain kind of dualism that seems to correspond to the two kinds of naturalism discussed above is reflected in the names of these workshops. They started out as the Kazimierz Naturalized Epistemology Workshop (KNEW) back in 2005. After some time, roughly at the point when we decided that there was enough material about normativity to think of editing a volume about it (which appeared as Beyond Description), we retained only the acronym, as we felt that epistemology was already successfully naturalized. The unofficial expansion was Kazimierz Naturalized Everything Workshop, while the official one – Kazimierz Naturalist Workshop. We wanted to stress that we are no longer so much interested in meta-philosophical reflection about the status of naturalism as in the real work done.
Because many of the participants of the workshops have decided to come regularly, we believe we can say that there is something that brings them together; this is exactly the second kind of naturalism, as described above. For the present volume, we asked some of our regulars to contribute chapters related to naturalistic approaches to the mind.
Naturalism is currently the most vibrantly developing approach to philosophy, with naturalised methodologies being applied across all the philosophical disciplines. One of the areas naturalism has been focussing upon is the mind, traditionally viewed as a topic hard to reconcile with the naturalistic worldview. A number of questions have been pursued in this context. What is the place of the mind in the world? How should we study the mind as a natural phenomenon? What is the significance of cognitive science research for philosophical debates? In this book, philosophical questions about the mind are asked in the context of recent developments in cognitive science, evolutionary theory, psychology, and the project of the naturalisation. Much of the focus is upon what we have learned by studying natural mental mechanisms as well as designing artificial ones. In the case of natural mental mechanisms, this includes consideration of such issues as the significance of deficits in these mechanisms for psychiatry. The significance of the evolutionary context for mental mechanisms as well as questions regarding rationality and wisdom is also explored. Mechanistic and functional models of the mind are used to throw new light on discussions regarding issues of explanation, reduction and the realisation of mental phenomena. Finally, naturalistic approaches are used to look anew at such traditional philosophical issues as the correspondence of mind to world and presuppositions of scientific research.


Introduction 1

Naturalizing the Mind

Marcin Miłkowski and Konrad Talmont-Kaminski

Chapter One 12

Reverse Engineering in Cognitive Science

Marcin Miłkowski

Chapter Two 30

Carving the Mind by its Joints: Culture-bound Psychiatric

Disorders as Natural Kinds

Samuli Pöyhönen

Chapter Three 49

Naturalizing Wisdom

Mark Alfino

Chapter Four 71

A Biological Perspective on the Nature of Cognition:
Some Remarks for a Naturalistic Program

Alvaro Moreno

Chapter Five 86

Do Animals See Objects?

Paweł Grabarczyk

Chapter Six 103

Grounding the Origins of the State in the Evolution of the Mind

Benoît Dubreuil

Chapter Seven 119

Realization and Robustness: Naturalizing Nonreductive


Markus I. Eronen


Chapter Eight 138

Can the Mental be Causally Efficacious?

Panu Raatikainen

Chapter Nine 167

On Reduction and Interfield Integration in Neuroscience

Witold M. Hensel

Chapter Ten 182

Challenges to Cartesian Materialism: Understanding

Consciousness and the Mind-World Relation

Jonathan Knowles

Chapter Eleven 203

Qualia as Intrinsic Properties

Tadeusz Ciecierski

Chapter Twelve 216

A HOT Solution to the Problem of the Explanatory Gap

Dimitris Platchias

Chapter Thirteen 232

Naturalizing Epistemology for Autonomous Systems

Jaime Gomez Ramirez

Chapter Fourteen 248

How Truth could be Reduced? Field’s Deflationism as a Kind
of Supervenience Thesis

Krystyna Bielecka

Chapter Fifteen 262

How to Naturalize Truth

María J. Frápolli


Automating rule generation for grammar checkers


In this paper, I describe several approaches to automatic or semi-automatic creating symbolic rules for grammar checkers and propose a pure corpora-based approach.

Traditional a priori approaches can reuse existing positive or negative knowledge that is not based on empirical corpora research. For example, they reuse knowledge such as usage dictionaries, spelling dictionaries or formalized grammars. Mixed approaches apply linguistic knowledge to corpora to refine intuitive prescriptions described for humans in dictionaries. For example, it is relatively easy to use machine-learning methods, such as transformation-based learning (TBL) to create error-matching rules using real corpora material. TBL algorithms can start with dictionary knowledge (Mangu & Brill 1997) or with artificially introduced errors to corpora that were known to be relatively free from errors (Sjöberg & Knuttson 2005). Approaches based on reusing error corpora were often discarded as non-realistic, as creating such corpora is costly. Yet, there are ways to automate building such corpora by observing frequency of user revisions to the text (Miłkowski 2008).

I show how an error corpus generated from Wikipedia revision history can be used to automatically generate error-matching symbolic rules for grammar checkers. Though no error corpora can be considered complete, TBL algorithms deal with small corpora sufficiently well. Automated building of rules can also enhance grammar checkers’ rules precision.

I show some of the automatically generated rules for Polish and English: as they were learned using TBL, they had a symbolic form and were easily translatable to the notation required by LanguageTool, an open-source general-purpose proofreading software. As will be shown, some of the automatically generated rules tend to have higher recall than the ones manually crafted. TBL rules don’t allow the level of generality offered by LanguageTool (no regular expressions, not to mention such mechanisms as feature unification) so human intervention is useful to join the resulting rules together in a single LanguageTool rule.

See the full paper draft here.

The Polish Language in the Digital Age

Information technology changes our everyday lives. We typically use computers for writing, editing, calculating, and information searching, and increasingly for reading, listening to music, viewing photos and watching movies. We carry small computers in our pockets and use them to make phone calls, write emails, get information and entertain ourselves, wherever we are. How does this massive digitisation of information, knowledge and everyday communication affect our language? Will our language change or even disappear? These are the kinds of questions that I answer in the META-NET publication: The Polish Language in The Digital Age. Freely downloadable!


Microsoft Office contains a decent OCR engine, yet it does not create PDF files with a text layer on it. This project contains a script that takes a tif file and converts it into HOCR format (HTML + OCR). This can be then processed with a simple Java program to get a PDF file. Grab it here.

Conferences and Talks

  1. III Sympozjum Trans-dyscyplinarne “Uniwersalność w nauce i filozofii”, Modzele Bartłomieje (31.05. 1997)
  2. “Nietzsche and the Post-Analytical Philosophy”, University of Southampton (11-12.09.1999); in section 2a ( Powers of Freedom) I had a talk Freedom as Creativity. The Significance of Nietzsche’s Thought for Contemporary Post-Analytical Philosophy
  3. IX. Internationaler Kant-Kongress, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (26- 31.03.2000)
  4. Internationaler Kongress zum 100. Todestag Friedrich Nietzsches, Naumburg (24-27.08.2000); in the section Ethik bei Friedrich Nietzsche I had a talk Freiheit als Ethik bei Friedrich Nietzsche
  5. “The Tree Fell, But Did Anyone Hear It? Nietzsche and Bildung”, University of Durham (8-10.09. 2000); in section 2 I had a talk Nietzsche and Classical Philology. The Controversy over the Bildung
  6. Pragmatism Today, Universität Konstanz (12-15.05.2001)
  7. Czym jest umysł?, Polskie Towarzystwo Filozoficzne w Cieszynie, Bielsko-Biała 25-27 września 2003
  8. Jak istnieje umysł, Polskie Towarzystwo Kognitywistyczne, UMK Toruń, 17.12.2003 (I had a talk Heterofenomeologia a zagadnienie introspekcji)
  9. Debate over Urszula Żegleń’s book Filozofia umysłu. Dyskusja z naturalistycznymi koncepcjami, Polskie Towarzystwo Filozoficzne i IF UMCS, Lublin, 11.03.2004 (I had a talk Przypisywanie intencji, czyli jak to z termostatem było)
  10. Formy reprezentacji umysłowych, IFiS PAN i WP-A UAM, Jarocin, 18-19. 06.2004 (I had a talk Rzeczywiste wzorce intencjonalności)
  11. VII Polski Zjazd Filozoficzny, Szczecin, 14-18.08.2004 (I had a talk O typach argumentacji przeciwko qualiom w sekcji Filozofia umysłu)
  12. Cognitive Systems as Representational Systems, Polskie Towarzystwo Kognitywistyczne i Sekcja Metodologii Nauk Komitetu Naukoznawstwa PAN, Toruń, 29-30.09.2004 (I had a talk Why cognitive systems are not only intentional, but representational as well?)
  13. EMPATIA – kategoria kulturowa, językowa i kognitywistyczna, III Seminarium Kognitywistyczne, UMCS, Lublin, 19-20 May 2005 (I had a talk Empatia contra teoria analogii)
  14. E-CAP 2005 @ MDH (European Computing and Philosophy Conference), Uniwersytet Mälardalen, Sweden, 2-4 June 2005 (I had a talk Is computationalism trivial? – tu znajduje się abstrakt w formacie PDF, a tu prezentacja w formacie PDF)
  15. Toward the Science of Consciousness (TSC2005), Methodological and Conceptual Issues, Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 17-20 August 2005 (I had a talk Is there any difference between heterophenomenology and neurophenomenology? – the whole book of abstracts is here)
  16. Fifth European Congress for Analytic Philosophy, Lisbona University, 27-31st August 2005 (I had a talk On types of arguments against qualia)
  17. Kazimierz Naturalized Epistemology Workshop ’05, UMCS & KUL, 2-6 September 2005 (I had a talk Making naturalized epistemology normative)
  18. Poznańskie Kolokwia Kognitywistyczne I. Funkcje umysłu, 17-19 November 2005 (I had a talk Poziomy funkcjonalnej analizy umysłu)
  19. Computers and Philosophy (i-C&P), 3-5 May 2005, Laval, France (I had a talk Is evolution algorithmical?)
  20. Kazimierz Naturalized Epistemology Workshop 2006 (KNEW’06), 1-5 September 2006, Kazimierz Dolny (organized with Konrad Talmont-Kamiński as a member of Center of Philosophical Research)
  21. Modularność Umysłu, IFiS PAN i WPA UAM w Kaliszu, 18-20 September 2006, Jarocin (I had a talk Architektury modularne – funkcje, indywiduacja modułów i poziomy opisu)
  22. Przyszłość uniwersytetów w Polsce i Unii Europejskiej, Instytut Badania nad Gospodarką Rynkową, Warszawa, 12 October 2006 (I took part in the panel Jak zreformować polskie uniwersytety? – my presentation is here).
  23. Embodied and Situated Cognition, UMK, Toruń, 16-18 November 2006 (I had a talk Extended Computational Systems and Extended Minds – my presentation is here, and the abstract here). There are also video clips from the conference.
  24. V Zjazd Polskiego Towarzystwa Kognitywistycznego, Umysł w świecie – świat w umyśle, 1-2 December 2006, Poznań (I had a talk Czy architektura umysłu to taka sobie bajeczka? (Na przykładzie psychologii ewolucyjnej) – my presentation is here, and the abstract – here).
  25. Practical Applications in Language and Computers PALC 2007, 22 April 2007, Łódź (in the Polish section I had a talk Zautomatyzowane tworzenie korpusów błędów dla języka polskiego – my presentation is here).
  26. XVII Interuniversity Workshop on Philosophy and Cognitive Science: Peter Carruthers, 24-26th May 2007, Palma de Mallorca (I had a talk When weak modularity is robust enough?)
  27. European Computing and Philosophy Conference, Twente University, 21-23 June 2007, Twente, Holand (I had a talk What difference does embodiment make? – my presentation is here)
  28. Toward a Science of Consciousness, Budapest, Hungary, 23-26th July 2007 (I had a talk QuantumMary meets computationalism, which is in the book of abstracts – the presentation is here)
  29. Utajone Funkcje Umysłu, Jarocin, 27-28th September 2007 (I had a talk Antyrealizm i realizm w postulowaniu utajonych funkcji umysłu)
  30. VI Zjazd Polskiego Towarzystwa Kognitywistycznego, Poznań, UAM, 18-19th April 2008 (I had a talk Modularność: ujęcie funkcjonalne czy architekturalne?)
  31. Drugie Łódzkie Warsztaty Filozoficzne. Język i technologia. Wątki lemowskie w filozofii nauki i kultury, Łódź, UŁ/KNF, 25-27th April 2008, (I had a talk Nauki reinżynieryjne)
  32. Argumentation as a Cognitive Process, Toruń, UMK/PTK, 15-17th May 2008 (I had a talk What kind of cognitive process is argumentation)
  33. 31st International Wittgenstein Symposium, Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society, 10-16th August 2008 (I had a talk Defining ontological naturalism – here is the presentation)
  34. 6th European Congress of Analytic Philosophy, Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Cracow, 21st-26th August 2008 (I had a talk When physical systems realize computation? – here is the abstract)


I will be putting the presentations from my lecture (based on the book project) here.

Lecture 1: Computational Explanation and Computer Metaphor

Lecture 2: Computation in cognitive science: classical case studies

Lecture 3: Modern case studies and a funeral

Lecture 4: Computational processes: the black-box account

Lecture 5: Computational processes: mechanistic account of causal organization

Lecture 6: Computational processes: mechanistic account of system boundaries

Lecture 7: Computational processes: Does my wall compute?

Lecture 8: Computational explanation a la Hempel

Lecture 9: Functional account of computational explanation

Lecture 10: Magical number three, plus minus one

Lecture 11: Mechanistic account of computational explanation

Lecture 12: Theoretical unification. Classical accounts of representation

Lecture 13. Towards a theory of representational mechanisms

Lecture 14. Limits of computational explanation

Explaining the Computational Mind

I’m writing a book on computational explanation in cognitive science under the tentative title Explaining the Computational Mind. The book is on contract with MIT Press.

A good summary of what is going to be the main argument of the book is contained in the syllabus of my lecture at Warsaw University (English programme in the Institute of Philosophy).

If you are interested in reading the drafts of the chapters, simply ask me for the id and password for the below files and presentations. Here is my contact form.

Continue reading “Explaining the Computational Mind”


W pakiecie Microsoft Office jest niezła funkcja rozpoznawania znaków (OCR), ale niestety, nie pozwala tworzyć graficznych plików PDF z warstwą tekstową. Zapisuje pliki w dziwnym formacie .modi lub .tif o nietypowej budowie. Stworzyłem narzędzie, które jednak coś z tym robi. Do pobrania tutaj.

Explanation in Cognitive Science

The purpose of the seminar is to review explanatory methods used in cognitive science. Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary enterprise, with various research agendas and profiles, so to understand various explanatory methods it is indispensable to look at different approaches used to explain cognitive phenomena. We will start with classical computational and symbolic theories of cognition, and then look at parallel distributed processing (PDP) models, dynamical, sensorimotor and embodied theories of the mind, and behavioral robotics. It will be also important to see what is the role of mental representation in explaining cognition, on the various approaches to computer simulation and models. In a way, this seminar can be treated as an introduction to the methodology of cognitive science. This introduction stresses the explanatory pluralism in contemporary research rather than argues for a single model that would fit all needs.


The model of explanation used in cognitive science that will be reconstructed based on actual and classical research papers. Yet, we will also look at programmatic manifestos and briefly review the accounts of explanation used from philosophy of science (the covering-law model and mechanistic explanation).

Continue reading “Explanation in Cognitive Science”