Friday, July 19, 2013

The Modular Mind

From Wiki:

Modularity of Mind

Modularity of mind is the notion that a mind may, at least in part, be composed of innate neural structures or modules which have distinct established evolutionarily developed functions.

Somewhat different definitions of "module" have been proposed by different authorities.

Evolutionary Psychology and Massive Modularity

Other perspectives on modularity come from evolutionary psychology, particularly from the work of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. This perspective suggests that modules are units of mental processing that evolved in response to selection pressures. On this view, much modern human psychological activity is rooted in adaptations that occurred earlier in human evolution, when natural selection was forming the modern human species.

Evolutionary psychologists propose that the mind is made up of genetically influenced and domain-specific mental algorithms or computational modules, designed to solve specific evolutionary problems of the past. Cosmides and Tooby also state in a brief "primer" on their website, that "…the brain is a physical system. It functions like a computer," "…the brain’s function is to process information," "different neural circuits are specialized for solving different adaptive problems," and "our modern skulls house a stone age mind."

Critics of the Theory

Several groups of critics, including psychologists working within evolutionary frameworks, argue that the massively modular theory of mind does little to explain adaptive psychological traits.
Proponents of other models of the mind argue that the computational theory of mind is no better at explaining human behavior than a theory with mind entirely a product of the environment. Even within evolutionary psychology there is discussion about the degree of modularity, either as a few generalist modules or as many highly specific modules.

Other critics suggest that there is little empirical support in favor of the domain-specific theory beyond performance on the Wason selection task, a task critics state is too limited in scope to test all relevant aspects of reasoning. Moreover, critics argue that Cosmides and Tooby's conclusions contain several inferential errors and that the authors use untested evolutionary assumptions to eliminate rival reasoning theories.

Wallace (2010) observes that the evolutionary psychologists' definition of "mind" have been heavily influenced by cognitivism and/or information processing definitions of the mind.

Critics point out that these assumptions underlying evolutionary psychologists' hypotheses are controversial and have been contested by some psychologists, philosophers, and neuroscientists.

For example, Jaak Panksepp, an affective neuroscientist, point to the "remarkable degree of neocortical plasticity within the human brain, especially during development" and states that "the developmental interactions among ancient special-purpose circuits and more recent general-purpose brain mechanisms can generate many of the "modularized" human abilities that evolutionary psychology has entertained.

In contrast to modular mental structure, some theories posit domain-general processing, in which mental activity is distributed across the brain and cannot be decomposed, even abstractly, into independent units. A staunch defender of this view is William Uttal, who argues in The New Phrenology (2003) that there are serious philosophical, theoretical, and methodological problems with the entire enterprise of trying to localise cognitive processes in the brain. Part of this argument is that a successful taxonomy of mental processes has yet to be developed.

Merlin Donald argues that over evolutionary time the mind has gained adaptive advantage from being a general problem solver. The mind, as described by Donald, includes module-like "central" mechanisms, in addition to more recently evolved "domain-general" mechanisms.

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