As Andrew alluded to in the comments to his last post, I'm cooking up some replies to various questions that have been raised. Being relatively time poor at the moment, I'm going to take these in small bits, rather than attempt a more comprehensive reply. The first thing I want to do is consider a few of the major issues, as I see them, with the notion of representations. As a cognitive psychologist, I spent many years endorsing a representational framework, but over time I have encountered enough problems/limitations with this approach that I consider the idea of representations to be seriously flawed. As a result, I've spent the past couple of years figuring out how to do cognitive psychology without them (but that's another post). What I want to do here are go through some of the things that have convinced me to abandon representations.
1) We don't know what we're talking about when we talk about representations
This criticism goes beyond the fact that there are multiple, competing definitions of representation. It goes beyond the fact that most cognitive psychologists are never asked to seriously wrestle with their own definition of representation, to consider its historical origins, or to consider whether there are alternative approaches to cognition. This criticism is more basic and is summed up nicely by Larry Barsalou: "We have no accounts of how propositional representations arise in the cognitive system, either innately or through experience. We haven't the faintest idea of how biological mechanisms could produce abstract propositions" (Barsalou, 1993, p. 173). Regarding this quote, Linda Smith says "When we cannot imagine how our basic ideas about cognition can possibly be realized, we ought to consider the possibility that they are wrong" (Smith & Jones, 1993, p. 181).
2 days ago