Connectionism and Phenomenology

  • Tom Nenon
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 16)


After a brief introduction to Connectionism and some general remarks on the relationship between Phenomenology and the empirical sciences, this paper presents examples of the way that both Phenomenology and Connectionism can benefit from insights derived from the other approach.


Empirical Science Mental Life Connectionist System Transcendental Phenomenology Phenomenological Reduction 
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  1. 1.
    See here, for instance, William Bechtel and Adele Abrahamsen, Connectionism and the Mind: An Introduction to Parallel Processing in Networks (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Basil Blackwell, 1991); John Tienson’s Introduction and William Bechtel’s survey of connectionism in: Terence Horgan and John Tienson (edd.), “Connectionism and the Philosophy of Mind,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, 26 (1988) Spindel Conference Supplementary Issue; and Teinson’s Introduction along with the revised version of Bechtel’s paper in: Tienson and Horgan (edd.), Connectionism and the Philosophy of Mind (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer, 1991). For an overview of the current philosophical debate on Connectionism, see in addition to these three volumes: William Ramsey, Stephen Stich, and David Rumelhart (edd.) Philosophy and Connectionist Theory (Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1991).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    An intriguing critique of current cognitive psychology and the computer model of the mind from a Continental perspective has recently been advanced by Fred Evans, Psychology and Nihilism: A Geneological Critique of the Computational Model of Mind, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992). Chapter 5 includes an explicit treatment of connectionism, which is followed in the next chapter by a critique of cognitive psychology that draws on Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the “body-subject.”Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tienson 1991, 1.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See here especially Bechtel and Abrahamsen, 8–14.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Tienson 1991: “Connectionist mathematics is the mathematics of dynamical systems; its equations look like equations in a physics text book. The mathematics of the classical picture is discrete mathematics. Its formulae look comfortingly (to the philosopher) like the formulae of formal logic.” (1–2)Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    An only somewhat longer and much clearer introduction to the basic model can be found in Tienson 1988, 6–13.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Compare, for instance, the title of the two important volumes by Rummelhart and McClelland that describe one research group’s experience in designing and employing such systems, volumes which were decisive in the emergence of connectionism as a widespread movement: D. E. Rumelhart and J. L. McLelland, Parallel Distributed Processing (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    I am indebted to my colleague Terence Horgan for pointing this out to me (with the usual qualifier about eventual mistakes in presenting it accurately not being attributable to him, but to my having my weightings wrong when he presented me with what should normally represent the proper input needed to allow one to produce a correct version of it). One can get an idea (provided one has the proper initial settings) about how this bears on explanation in the human and social sciences from Terence Horgan and John Tienson, “Soft Laws,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 14 (1990): 256–279.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    See §§ 10, 12, and 16–21.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    In another paper, I have tried to exhibit the dilemma in which Husserl finds himself when he establishes a direct connection between the will and one’s actions. In this case, it seems that Husserl is committed to the possibility of mental states which may not necessarily be accessible to the agent through reflection, in spite of his contention in other passages that the mental is always at least potentially directly given to consciousness itself (“Husserl on Willing and Acting,” Man and World 24 (1992): 301–309. That paper suggested (even though it did not assert) that Husserl should have abandoned the second claim. In this paper, when I am suggesting is rather that Husserl can maintain the second claim as long as he is willing to countenance a class of objects (like dispositions) that are not mental in the paradigmatic sense of those states that are envisaged in the second thesis, but only in virtue of their role in producing those states—“protomental states” one might call them.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    In “Leaping to Conclusions: Connectionism, Consciousness, and the Computational Mind” (Tienson and Horgan 1991, 444–459), Dan Lloyd uses this dichotomy to assign dispositions and the unconscious generally as non-mental (“non-cognitive” is his term) almost automatically to the realm of the physical underpinnings of a cognitive system, thereby providing a causal link between the physical and the mental (the cognitive and the non-cognitive) that he sees as a confirmation of identity theory. To me, Lloyd seems to proceed too hastily in his conclusion that this must be biological since it is not paradigmatically cognitive. It seems to me that one could take a different route, positing a constellation in a physical apparatus that is not properly describable in physical terms but only in terms of what it leads to in the cognitive realm, thus a proto-cognitive realm that, when described in terms of its function, is closer to the cognitive than the merely physical.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    In a number of places, e.g., in §8 of Experience and Judgment, Husserl explicitly identifies anticipation as one of the key features of consciousness as intentional.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tom Nenon
    • 1
  1. 1.Memphis State UniversityMemphis

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