Fritjof Capra
The Web of Life

A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter

pg 65
Computer Model of Cognition

When the cyberneticists explored patterns of communication and control, the challenge to understand "the logic of mind" and express it in mathematical language was in the very centre on their discussions.  Detailed studies of the human nervous system lead to the model of the brain as a logical circuit with neurons as its basic elements.  This was crucial for the invention of digital computers.

The computer model of mental activity became the prevalent view of cognitive science and dominated all brain research for the next thirty year's.  The basic idea was that human intelligence resembles that of a computer to such an extent that cognition - the process of knowing - can be defined as information processing, that is as manipulation of symbols based on a set of rules.

Cognitive Science

Developments in cognitive science have made it clear that human intelligence is utterly different from machine, or artificial intelligence.  The human nervous system does not process any information (in the sense of discrete elements existing ready-made in the outside world, to be picked up by the cognitive system), but interacts for the environment by continually modulating its structure. 

Moreover, neuroscientists have discovered strong evidence that human intelligence, human memory, and human decisions are never completely rational but are always coloured by emotions, as we all know from experience.  Our thinking is all this accompanied by bodily sensations and processes.  Even if we often tend to suppress these, we always think also with our body; and since computers do not have such a body, truly human problems will always be foreign to their intelligence.

pg 70
In the computer model of cognition, knowledge is seen as context- and value-free, based in abstract data.  But all meaningful knowledge is contextual knowledge, and much of it is tacit and experiential.  Similarly, language is seen as a conduit through which objective information is communicated.  In reality language is metaphorical, conveying tacit understanding shared within a culture.

After dominating brain research in cognitive science for thirty years and creating a paradigm for technology that is still widespread today, the information processing dogma was finally questioned seriously. 

Critical arguments had been presented already during the pioneering phase of cybernetics.  For example, it was argued that in the natural brains there are no rules; there is no central logical processor, and information is not stored locally. 

Brains seem to operate on the basis of massive connectivity, storing information distributively and manifesting self-organising capacity that is nowhere to be found in computers.  However, these alternative ideas were eclipsed in favour of the dominant computational view, until they re-emerge 30 years later during the 1970s when system thinkers became fascinated by a new phenomenon with an evocative name - self-organisation.