Thomas D. Pearson

The notion that we should study the natural world in order to discern the precise character of that world is not a new idea; perhaps it has never been a new idea. But the ancient corollary presumption -- that the natural world is intelligible, that it can be known to the human mind-- has been eroding for some time now. The turn to epistemology in the late medieval/early modern period in philosophy has resulted in a strong critical scrutiny of the mind itself, and of the mind's strategies for perceiving and knowing. In recent years, a number of disciplines engaged in this scrutiny have coalesced into a single, albeit amorphous, field of inquiry, Cognitive Science. A fundamental methodological tenet of Cognitive Science has been to treat the mind (and its operations) as a natural object, one that may be observed, tested and measured. The consequence has been a welter of theories regarding human cognitive abilities and processes, and serious disagreements among scientists and philosophers over the proper description of the mind, and of such presumed mental states as willing, feeling, perceiving and thinking.

One of the most striking assertions to emerge from Cognitive Science is the ``Mind as a Computer'' metaphor. Researchers in Artifical Intelligence (AI), a central component of the Cognitive Science establishment, postulate that the human mind functions as a natural calculating machine, in receiving, sorting and storing data. Many Theists who are interested in assessing scientific claims, and integrating those claims within appropriate theological models, have routinely embraced a computational theory of the mind. But what are the likely implications of this account of the mind for Theism? Does this functionalist version of human cognition mean the loss of human distinctiveness, personal identity, reliable transcendent beliefs -- and any sort of a soul?

I propose to examine this question by taking up the work of two recent authors: a scientist (Roger Penrose), and a philosopher (Mark Johnson). Penrose's work has raised critical objections to the functionalist/AI model of the mind by pointing to the role of the imagination in cognition and understanding. Johnson has explored the dynamics of human imagination by investigating metaphoric language and image schemas. In tandem, their work suggests that the mind cannot be reduced to a natural object explicable by a functionalist account. A better description of the human mind points to its irreducibly creative and playful character, a character that is essential for human understanding to take place. It also indicates a possible explanation of the mind as a natural entity capable for engaging in specific non-computational, transcendent activities, an explanation Theists would find promising.

Copyright © Thomas D. Pearson