What kind of machines are men? During the past three decades, cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind have usually worked on the assumption that we are discrete automata, i.e., entities which have a countable (usually finite) number of possible internal states. Thus, men have variously been described as:
G.J.C. Lokhorst. Analog automata and the foundations of cognitive science. In Abstracts of the 9th International Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, Vol. 3, p. 99. Uppsala University, Uppsala, August 1991.
The supposition that we are discrete automata has recently come under attack from various circles:
Thus, it is becoming more and more plausible that we are analog automata (having a continuum of possible internal states) rather than discrete ones.
In this lecture, I will explore the implications the analog revolution may have for our basic views concerning human cognitive functioning. I will suggest that it may have less dramatic consequences than it might appear. On the one hand, there are some powerful theorems about the possibility of simulating analog automata by discrete ones. These suggest that both types of automata are approximately equivalent after all. (Vergis et al. 1986, Rubel 1989). On the other hand, the philosophical theories which have been stated in terms of discrete automata do not seem to depend crucially on the notion of discrete states. For example, Turing machine functionalism may easily be reformulated as analog automaton functionalism or analog neural network functionalism.
My conclusions are necessarily tentative. The theory of analog automata is still in an extremely underdeveloped state (less than half a dozen fundamental articles have appeared since they were invented by Lord Kelvin), and nobody can tell which surprises the future has in store.
30 Jan 1991
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