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Cognition. 1990 May;35(2):183-204.

Connectionism and the problem of systematicity: why Smolensky's solution doesn't work.

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  • 1Department of Philosophy, Graduate Center, CUNY, NY 10036.


In two recent papers, Paul Smolensky responds to a challenge Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn posed for connectionist theories of cognition: to explain the existence of systematic relations among cognitive capacities without assuming that mental processes are causally sensitive to the constituent structure of mental representations. Smolensky thinks connectionists can explain systematicity if they avail themselves of "distributed" mental representation. In facts, Smolensky offers two accounts of distributed mental representation, corresponding to his notions of "weak" and "strong" compositional structure. We argue that weak compositional structure is irrelevant to the systematicity problem and of dubious internal coherence. We then argue that strong compositional (tensor product) representations fail to explain systematicity because they fail to exhibit the sort of constituents that can provide domains for structure sensitive mental processes.

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