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am 18. Februar 2002
Jerry Fodor's "Modularity of Mind" isn't a page turner. Reading it and grasping its content is hard work (for both mind and brain). It is nonetheless worth the struggle because it lays out the basic theory of philosophy of mind (together with Fodor's "Language of Thought", certainly). And - what is more fascinating - it hasn't been seriously challenged since its publication in 1983.
The main tenets of the books are:
1. The mind is in part modular. There are input systems that translate world experience into representations (eg verbal sound waves into concepts, or so). Input systems must have certain (9, in total) properties to count as modules (domain-specificity, informational encapsulation are the most crucial, I think).
2. The central systems, where the output of the input systems (viz mentalese representations, I guess) is computed (processed) isn't modular (since it doesn't have the necessary properties modules should have). In the central systems, we fix our beliefs about the world possibly considering everything we have in mind (which is not very encapsulated, informationally so to say). That "considering everything" Fodor calls "Isotropy" and is the major challenge for connectionism (which still is very hip in cognitive science though it doesn't work as a model of the mind).
The book gives the reader some quite interesting insights into how the mind might work (and a good feeling since Fodor admits that we cannot know).
For those who don't like Fodor's theories: there are some less promising commentaries in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1985, I think) and some more promising in Garfield 1987 (see especially Higginbotham).
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am 26. Februar 2006
Since the two preceding comments are overtly noncritical, I feel it is my duty to point out that Fodor's theories have NOT gone unchallenged. Admittedly, the modulariy hypothesis as defended by Fodor (and in the case of language even more prominently Noam Chomsky) has had historical relevance and led to advances in technical branches like Artificial Intelligence. On the other hand, when it comes to human cognition (as opposed to comparatively simplified computers), the approach has been rather misleading, reducing language to syntax and embracing a very technical notion of language as independent of communication. In fact, the modularity has NOTHING to say about language beyond the word/sentence level or about linguistic meaning. These areas are simply ignored and left to other modules (that other people can deal with). It goes without saying that this enables "theoretical formal elegance", but at what cost?
The heydays of the modulariy hypothesis were the 1980s, and if you are interested in the State of the Art, I suggest that you avoid this track. Note also that the supposedly supporting reference cited in the previous comment is 20 years (!) old, and predates the "decade of the brain" (the 1990s), where research on Cognitive Neuroscience began to become more widespread.
Concerning any proposal as to "how the mind works" in a bioligical or neurophysiological sense, remember that 20 years is A LOT! Even in 2006, neuroimaging (the most likely methodology for gaining more insight) continues to be a crude technique, with laboratory testing being extremely constrained by the size of the machinery. While most studies focus on isolated information processing, those that have attempted to approach more ecologcally valid material (conversations, stories) etc. yield rather different results.
Now, I leave 2 Stars for historical importance. If you want to pursue modularity, go for more recent publications. If you are interested in the counterarguments (as you should be, whether yoy agree with them or not), some keywords to look for: EMBODIMENT, ECOLOGY, CONSTRUCTION GRAMMAR, METAPHOR & NEURAL THEORIES OF LANGUAGE, COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS, ORGANISM-ENVIRONMENT INTERACTIONS.
am 16. Januar 2006
This classic in cognitive science has a great deal to say, but an awkward way of saying it. Author Jerry A. Fodor’s style is academic and dense, a potential barrier to all but the most determined, well-prepared reader. Arcane and brilliant, Fodor intersperses colloquial jests with jargon-burdened exposition, leading one to believe that he could have written a book more accessible to the lay reader had he wished to do so. We find, however, that the book repays the persistent, dedicated reader. The reward is a fascinating exploration of the mind, drawing on the literature of epistemology and psychology, with occasional detours down the rarely explored byways of phrenology.