Re-Assessing Informational Atomism: Reflections on Jerry Fodor
PAICS Research Group
Department of Informatics
University of Sussex
“ Not so,” replied I, “besides your motion of Northward and Southward, there is another motion which I call from left to right.” KING. Exhibit to me, if you please, this motion from left to right. I. Nay, that I cannot do, unless you could step out of your Line altogether. KING. Out of my Line? Do you mean out of the world? Out of Space? I. Well, yes. Out of your world. Out of your Space. For your Space is not the true Space. True Space is a Plane; but your Space is only a Line.”
informational atomism =
informational semantics + conceptual atomism
informational semantics : conceptual content consists of a direct law-governed causal (“nomic”) relation between “mind” and “world” conceptual atomism : most concepts (or most lexical concepts) lack internal structure and so compose but do not decompose
...And an Implication
conceptual atomism ⇒ (radical) nativism
atomistic = no internal structure no internal structure ⇒ no means internal to the system of deriving one concept from any other concept ⇒ no induction (also no abduction) no induction ⇒ no acquisition no acquisition ⇒ all concepts that are atomic are innate
Additional Terms: Fodor on Fodor
knowledge at JTB is arrived at by logical analysis of propositions that may be determined to be true or false knowledge as JTB is in some sense derived from experience but that experience does not (cannot) provide the justification for beliefs anti-connectionist symbolist (symbolic AI) the external world exists (and can be understood) independently of our perception of it. objectivist?
Prinz: “The greatest shortcoming of atomism involves categorization. Unstructured mental representations simply cannot explain how we categorize.”
Is Fodor arguing that atomistic concepts can give rise to categorization? Is Fodor arguing that categorization is pre-existing in the world? Is Fodor saying that categorization arises from somewhere else in the mind, other than the realm of conceptual knowledge?
(Radical) Nativism How did we evolve to have all these concepts? And why would evolution pre-equip us with an “eggbeater” concept anyway? Wait – Fodor seems committed to concepts having static content. Every time a concept “changes”, in fact it becomes a new concept. Doesn't this lead to a combinatorial explosion? What exactly do we mean by “innate”? “Present at birth”? “Independent of the environment”? “Coded in the genes”?
Metaphysical Bias What is the nature of the thing being represented? How does the thing being represented relate to the representation (MR)? Fodor assumes that there is no similarity between the two. What if we assume that there is... say something like an isomorphism? The question is not, how does my concept successfully lock onto the correct external referent? The question is, how does the external object give rise to my concept? What is the nature of the connection between the thing being represented and the representation (MR)?
Re-Thinking Informational Atomism
atom – conscious mind structured entity – subconscious mind Two-part relation atom to structured entity (reference-like?) structured entity to external world (reference)
Conscious / Subconscious conscious ⇒ self-conscious? (“I”) conscious ⇒ linear? traditional symbolic AI? subconscious ⇒ not subject to introspection subconscious ⇒ network / web? symbol-driven connectionism?
What this gains us.... No categorization problems. No resort to radical nativism. No rejection of induction as acquisition mechanism. Explanation for “dearth of definitions”. Not more complicated but simpler structure. BUT: Lose possibility of having precisely the same concept.
Lines for Development
What are the metaphysical consequences (if any) of Fodor's approach?
What is the nature of conscious / subconscious I'm referring to?
What does my two-part conceptual structure gain me? What does it lose me?
How could symbolic AI play a role in a connectionist system or connectionism in a symbolic AI system?
I have problems with Fodor's informational atomism, but for somewhat different reasons to the connectionists.
Conceptual atomism as originally presented by Fodor is highly problematic, but Fodor knows this.
Fodor's recent writings can even be read as somewhat apologetic about his earlier views?
I think there are ways of revising informational atomism to make it more palatable all around.