The External Tape Hypothesis : a Turing machine based approach to cognitive computation
The symbol processing or "classical cognitivist" approach to mental computation suggests that the cognitive architecture operates rather like a digital computer. The components of the architecture are input, output and central systems. The input and output systems communicate with both the internal and external environments of the cognizer and transmit codes to and from the rule governed, central processing system which operates on structured representational expressions in the internal environment. The connectionist approach, by contrast, suggests that the cognitive architecture should be thought of as a network of interconnected neuron-like processing elements (nodes) which operates rather like a brain. Connectionism distinguishes input, output and central or "hidden" layers of nodes. Connectionists claim that internal processing consists not of the rule governed manipulation of structured symbolic expressions, but of the excitation and inhibition of activity and the alteration of connection strengths via message passing within and between layers of nodes in the network. A central claim of the thesis is that neither symbol processing nor connectionism provides an adequate characterization of the role of the external environment in cognitive computation. An alternative approach, called the External Tape Hypothesis (ETH), is developed which claims, on the basis of Turing's analysis of routine computation, that the Turing machine model can be used as the basis for a theory which includes the environment as an essential part of the cognitive architecture. The environment is thought of as the tape, and the brain as the control of a Turing machine. Finite state automata, Turing machines, and universal Turing machines are described, including details of Turing's original universal machine construction. A short account of relevant aspects of the history of digital computation is followed by a critique of the symbol processing approach as it is construed by influential proponents such as Allen Newell and Zenon Pylyshyn among others. The External Tape Hypothesis is then developed as an alternative theoretical basis. In the final chapter, the ETH is combined with the notion of a self-describing Turing machine to provide the basis for an account of thinking and the development of internal representations.