Directions in connectionist research: Tractable computations without syntactically structured representations

Jonathan Waskan, William Bechtel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Should connectionists abandon the quest for tractably computable cognitive transition functions while retaining syntactically structured mental representations? We argue, in opposition to Horgan, that it should not. We argue that the case against tractably computable functions, based upon the claimed isotropic and Quinean character of cognition, fails since cognition is not as isotropic and Quinean as Fodor and Horgan contend. Moreover, we illustrate how current research in both connectionism and cognitive neuroscience suggests that tractability can be preserved through division of overall computations into modular sub-processes, each of which is tractable. As to syntactically structured representations, we argue that they are unneeded for most cognitive tasks organisms confront, and that when they are needed, they may be provided by external representational media such as natural language. Moreover, we note that increasingly cognitive linguistics has become the ally of connectionism and that the research program of cognitive linguistics suggests that abilities to use natural languages may be developed without requiring syntactically structured mental representations to exist prior to natural language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-62
Number of pages32
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

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