Short works

Books : reviews

Michael Wheeler.
Reconstructing the Cognitive World: the next step.
MIT Press. 2005

In Reconstructing the Cognitive World, Michael Wheeler argues that we should turn away from the generically Cartesian philosophical foundations of much contemporary cognitive science research and proposes instead a Heideggerian approach. Wheeler defines Cartesian psychology as a conceptual framework of explanatory principles and shows how each of these principles is part of the deep assumptions of orthodox cognitive science (both classical and connectionist). He then turns to Heidegger’s radically non-Cartesian account of everyday cognition, which, he argues, can be used to articulate the philosophical foundations of a genuinely non-Cartesian cognitive science. Finding that Heidegger’s critique of Cartesian thinking falls short, even when supported by Hubert Dreyfus’s influential critique of orthodox artificial intelligence, Wheeler suggests a new Heideggerian approach. He points to recent research in “embodied-embedded” cognitive science and proposes a Heideggerian framework to identify, amplify, and clarify the underlying philosophical foundations of this new work. He focuses much of his investigation on recent work in artificial intelligence—oriented robotics, discussing, among other topics, the nature and status of representational explanation, and whether (and to what extent) cognition is computation rather than a noncomputational phenomenon best described in the language of dynamical systems theory.

Wheeler’s analysis demonstrates that Heideggerian continental philosophy and naturalistic cognitive science need not be mutually exclusive and shows further that a Heideggerian framework can act as the “conceptual glue” for new work in cognitive science.

Philip Husbands, Owen E. Holland, Michael Wheeler.
The Mechanical Mind in History.
MIT Press. 2008

The idea of intelligent machines has become part of popular culture, and tracing the history of the actual science of machine intelligence reveals a rich network of cross-disciplinary contributions—the unrecognized origins of ideas now central to artificial intelligence, artificial life, cognitive science, and neuroscience. In The Mechanical Mind in History, scientists, artists, historians, and philosophers discuss the multidisciplinary quest to formalize and understand the generation of intelligent behavior in natural and artificial systems as a wholly mechanical process.

The contributions illustrate the diverse and interacting notions that chart the evolution of the idea of the mechanical mind. They describe the mechanized mind as, among other things, an analogue system, an organized suite of chemical interactions, a self-organizing electromechanical device, an automated general-purpose information processor, and an integrated collection of symbol manipulating mechanisms. They investigate the views of pivotal figures that range from Descartes and Heidegger to Alan Turing and Charles Babbage, and they emphasize such frequently overlooked areas as British cybernetic and pre-cybernetic thinkers. The volume concludes with the personal insights of five highly influential figures in the field: John Maynard Smith, John Holland, Oliver Selfridge, Horace Barlow, and Jack Cowan.