Notationality and the information processing mind

Vinod Goel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognitive science uses the notion of computational information processing to explain cognitive information processing. Some philosophers have argued that anything can be described as doing computational information processing; if so, it is a vacuous notion for explanatory purposes. An attempt is made to explicate the notions of cognitive information processing and computational information processing and to specify the relationship between them. It is demonstrated that the resulting notion of computational information processing can only be realized in a restrictive class of dynamical systems called physical notational systems (after Goodman's theory of notationality), and that the systems generally appealed to by cognitive science-physical symbol systems-are indeed such systems. Furthermore, it turns out that other alternative conceptions of computational information processing, Fodor's (1975) Language of Thought and Cummins' (1989) Interpretational Semantics appeal to substantially the same restrictive class of systems. The necessary connection of computational information processing with notationality saves the enterprise from charges of vacuousness and has some interesting implications for connectionism. But, unfortunately, it distorts the subject matter and entails some troubling consequences for a cognitive science which tries to make notationality do the work of genuine mental representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-165
Number of pages37
JournalMinds and Machines
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1991


  • cognition
  • Computation
  • information processing
  • language of thought
  • physical symbol systems
  • representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence


Dive into the research topics of 'Notationality and the information processing mind'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this