Modularity his notion, what is referred as
Modularity in CognitionAbstractThe heightened debate on rather controversial notion ofmodularity has been going on for a few decades. The debate has been launched byFodor’s The Modularity of Mind (Fodor, 1983) and in spite of innumerableresearch it had inspired, paucity of the empirical evidence do not support thenotion in explaining the structure of mind which, in overall, clearly lacks acomprehensive theory to date. In this article subsequent to delineating Fodor’shypothesis, will highlight the epigenetics and phenotype of genes as a complementingangle to Carruthers’ approach.Fodor’s HypothesisIn general, modularity hypothesis states that the mind isnot a homogenous, all purpose processing system but consists of task-specificsub-systems that function relatively independent of each other.
In general terms Fodor thinks of modules as task-specific,information wise encapsulated systems and makes a distinction of threemechanisms namely, transducers, input and output systems and central systems.The central system is principally concerned with reasoning, problem solving,making up explanations, etc. Transducers, which are of two types, specificallyinput and output, are a kind of interface between the mind and the world. Inputtransducers take non-symbolic physical input and generate symbols as output.
Onthe other hand output transducers transform these into representation ofexternal world to make them available to thought and both of the transducersoperate automatically. For Fodor there is a separate input system that coincidewith five senses and additionally a language system that forms a distinct inputsystem.The main pillar of Fodor’s modularity thesis is that inputsystems are modules. Even though Fodor does not provide clear definitions oranalysis of his notion, what is referred as “Fodor Modules” are domain-specificinnately specified processing systems with its own transducers that delivernon-conceptual outputs and furthermore of which operations are mandatory andnot available to remaining parts of cognition (i.e.
encapsulated). As such,Fodor ascribes nine properties to them:1. “Input systems are domain specific” (Fodor, 1983, p. 47).These systems perform highly specialized tasks and are restricted with theirspecialization.2. “The operation of input systems is mandatory” (Fodor,1983, p. 52).
Some cognitive processes that we are able to carry out are up toour discretion.3. “There is only limited central access to the mentalrepresentations that input systems compute” (1983: 55). Input modules generateseries of intermediary representations on which they build their outputs thatthey pass on but hide the intermediary representations.4. “Input systems are fast” (Fodor, 1983, p. 61).
Eventhough it is rather difficult to measure accurately, it is apparent that inputsystems are very fast relative to central processes dealing with a problem.5. “Input systems are informationally encapsulated” (Fodor,1983, p. 64). Input systems cannot access information stored in the system theyare part of even if that information would help them perform their taskssuccessfully. They have their own task-specific information to execute theiroperations.6. “Input systems have “shallow”outputs” (Fodor, 1983, p.
86). Information delivered by input systems are notjudgmental, the central system draw conclusions.7. “Input systems are associatedwith a fixed neural architecture” (Fodor, 1983, p. 98).
Input systems arelocalized dedicated structures in the brain.8. “Input systems exhibitcharacteristic and specific breakdown patterns” (Fodor, 1983, p. 99). Inputsystems are prone to functioning deficiencies due to damage to the brain orgenetic impairment. This constitutes a neural localization of input systems.
9. “The ontogeny of input systemsexhibits a characteristic pace and sequencing” (Fodor, 1983, p. 100).
Thehypothesis that input systems and their capacities develop in the same manneracross the species.Discussions onModularityThe debates on modularity are focused around the issues ofwhether the modularity is “massive” comprising the whole mind (Carruthers,2006) or “peripheral” comprising parts of it namely low-level perception andexcluding high level systems and cognition (Fodor, 1983) or if it is organizedof networks of interconnected systems and subsystems (Prinz, 2006).Throughout the above referenced studies the ideas, be itmassive or peripheral modularity or network of interconnected systems, are allbuilt on a common assumption which accepts mind as a static unit, disregarding,not taking into account the evolutionary development of human beings. Humanminds do not function in a vacuum but are integral part of a body with allsorts of sensory arrays. And as such are subject to developmental affects andinfluences the evolution imposes on humans. In this connection, even thoughgenes play a major role in development and formation of human beings,obviously, without any shadow of doubt, genes are not everything. Epigenetics termwhich was coined in an effort to explain cellular differentiation duringdevelopment denotes that a phenotype can be changed without altering thegenotype. Following this notion it is apparent and an accepted fact thatthroughout the lifespan organisms do not remain static but respond dynamicallyto social and environmental stimuli in which epigenetics mediate the brain inadaptability to the environment.
The alterations epigenetics induce are sustainedacross generations and this awesome role that epigenetic mechanisms play leadsto the possibility of altering “normal” brain connectivity and operationthrough changing of the patterns of stimuli experienced in lifespan. Thisimplies that there is not one, single way to define every brain organization assome dimensions may be due to some particular phenotypes. Considering theaccepted fact that the important role social and cultural environment play inhuman brain organization, we need to take into account environmental physicalchanges like global temperature changes, the type of food we consume, thechemicals we are exposed to, the movement skills we use or not use anymore thatmay shape morphology, physiology and metabolism of our bodies if we are to considermultifaceted context the brain develops.Another item taken as granted in the above referencedmodularity discussions is that all neurons are regarded as one, single type.However, findings in neurotechnology revolution show that there are hundreds ofdifferent kinds of neurons which make a considerable difference as the wholepicture may change when we know exactly what type of neurons are interconnectedwhere. In fact, taking into account the laws probability, it is rather quiteunrealistic to think that more than 85 billion neurons are all same doing sametype of work.
ConclusionNeuroscience today is developing on empirical facts ratherthan ideas and it has been more than three decades since Fodor’s “TheModularity of Mind” has been published. This time frame is rather long when oneconsiders the rate of progress in cognitive science. New ideas, hypotheses willbe inspired by changing the vantage point looking at cognitive science. Forexample, the “New Synthesis” in cognitive science is characterized by fourprinciples: computational theory of mind (CTM), modularity (massive), nativismand adaptationism (Weiskopf, 2002, p.
551). If we can shed some light on how ourbrain puts together the smaller pieces of input and make inferences and bindthe output, this will be a quantum leap in understanding the most complex anddiverse structure we know of which solution, I believe, lies in computationaltheory of mind (CTM) contrary to Fodor’s unduly pessimism reached both in “TheModularity of Mind” (1983) and “The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way” (2000) on thegrounds that holistic character of central processing weakens the prospect ofCTM as a theory explaining such a process. ReferencesCain, M.
J.(2002). Fodor: Language, Mind, andPhilosophy. U.S.A.: Blackwells Publishers Inc.
Caruthers, P.(2006). The Architecture of the Mind.New York: Oxford University Press.Fodor, J.A.(1983).
The Modularity of Mind. Cambridge,MA: MIT Press.Prinz, J.J.(2006) Is the mind really modular? In Stainton, R.J. (ed.
), ContemporaryDebates in Cognitive Science (pp. 22—36). Cornwall, U.K.
: BlackwellPublishing Ltd.Weiskopf,D.A. (2002). A critical review of Jerry A.
Fodor’s The mind doesn’t work thatway. Philosophical Psychology, 15(4), pp.551-562.