Cover image for The mind doesn't work that way : the scope and limits of computational psychology
The mind doesn't work that way : the scope and limits of computational psychology
Fodor, Jerry A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
126 pages ; 21 cm.
General Note:
"A Bradford book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library BD418.3 .F627 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this engaging book, Jerry Fodor argues against the widely held view that mental processes are largely computations, that the architecture of cognition is massively modular, and that the explanation of our innate mental structure is basically Darwinian. Although Fodor has praised the computational theory of mind as the best theory of cognition that we have got, he considers it to be only a fragment of the truth. In fact, he claims, cognitive scientists do not really know much yet about how the mind works (the book's title refers to Steve Pinker's How the Mind Works). Fodor's primary aim is to explore the relationship among computational and modular theories of mind, nativism, and evolutionary psychology. Along the way, he explains how Chomsky's version of nativism differs from that of the widely received New Synthesis approach. He concludes that although we have no grounds to suppose that most of the mind is modular, we have no idea how nonmodular cognition could work. Thus, according to Fodor, cognitive science has hardly gotten started.

Author Notes

Jerry A. Fodor was born Jerome Alan Fodor in New York City on April 22, 1935. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1959 to 1986, the City University of New York Graduate Center from 1986 to 1988, and Rutgers University from 1988 until his death, when was the State of New Jersey professor of philosophy there.

He was one of the world's foremost philosophers of mind. He wrote several books including The Structure of Language written with Jerrold J. Katz, The Language of Thought, The Modularity of Mind, Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong, The Mind Doesn't Work That Way, and What Darwin Got Wrong written with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. He died from complications of Parkinson's disease and a recent stroke on November 29, 2017 at the age of 82.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

How does the mind really work? We don't yet know, but in his previous writings, prolific Rutgers philosopher Fodor (Modularity of Mind; The Elm and the Expert) helped provide cognitive science with what he calls a Computational Theory of Mind (CTM). (The theory in brief: the mind works like a certain kind of computer, with built-in modes of operation; some of these modes are involved in language, as predicted by Noam Chomsky.) Fodor still supports such a theory of mind, but other scientists, he thinks, have misused the model: popular writers and influential thinkers like Steven Pinker (How the Mind Works) have hooked up CTM to sociobiology to give an inaccurate picture of thoughts and feelingsÄone that, Fodor argues, relies on wrong generalizations, unreliable assumptions and an unsupportable confidence that we already have the whole picture. This picture is called the New Synthesis, and Fodor writes to refute it. He also wishes to show, by contrast, what remains useful about computational models of biologically based mental processes. One of Fodor's arguments distinguishes between local and global cognition. Local cognitionÄlike understanding the word "cat"Äcan be explained by CTM, studied by linguists and traced to particular parts of the brain. Global cognitionÄlike deciding to acquire a catÄgenerally can't and may never be explained. The New Synthesis, Fodor says, has confused the two, and he sets out to untangle them. His prose is informal, exact and aimed at fairly serious nonspecialists: those who don't know who Chomsky or Alan Turing are, or what a syntactic structure is, aren't the audience for this book. Those who do know, you may read Fodor's case in one sitting, and with intense interestÄ whether or not they find his logic persuasive. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In this thin and pithy book, Fodor (Rutgers Univ.) takes on computational psychology and evolutionary psychology. Some of the contents are familiar. Fodor recaps his pessimistic message about the scope of computational psychology: it can explain very little of how the mind works. He also reaffirms his allegiance to Chomsky's nativism. Finally, he reiterates his arguments against connectionism. What is new is the collection of arguments against evolutionary psychology (EP). EP goes wrong in attempting to salvage computational psychology by adopting "massive modularity": the mind is entirely made up of domain-specific modules, each of which performs a specific task. Fodor casts doubt on a priori arguments for massive modularity and then offers some a priori arguments against it. Fodor's final target is EP's claim that our cognitive modules are products of natural selection. Fodor, with Chomsky, believes it is consistent to hold that some modules (for example, our language acquisition module) are innate but are in no way products of natural selection. His arguments here presuppose that actions and traits of one's conspecifics cannot produce selection pressure; this seems mistaken. Fodor's lively and strident presentation will raise hackles, produce a few laughs, and should make some cognitive scientists carefully reassess their cherished beliefs. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates through professionals and practitioners. S. M. Downes; University of Utah

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
List of Abbreviationsp. xi
Introduction: Still Snowingp. 1
Chapter 1 Varieties of Nativismp. 9
Chapter 2 Syntax and Its Discontentsp. 23
Chapter 3 Two Ways That You Probably Can't Explain Abductionp. 41
Chapter 4 How Many Modules Would You Say There Are?p. 55
Chapter 5 Darwin among the Modulesp. 79
Appendix Why We Are So Good at Catching Cheatersp. 101
Notesp. 105
Referencesp. 121
Author Indexp. 125

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