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Computational Theory of Mind

Relying on the work of Newell, Simon, Minsky, Putnam, and Fodor, Pinker (1997) envisioned the "computational theory of mind." This is what the brain does to allow us to see, feel, think, choose, and act.

Pinker explains the mind by "reverse-engineering" it, that is, by tracing the process of natural selection to see what nature intended the mind to be able to do as it evolved.

The mind, according to Pinker, allowed our ancestors to understand and outsmart other plants and animals through a system of "organs of computation". In his view, intelligence is the ability to attain goals in the face of obstacles, through decisions based on rational rules. We have desires, and we pursue them using beliefs, which, if we are lucky, are approximately true.

In short, Pinker's computational theory of mind is based on the idea that information processing is the fundamental activity of the mind and is the function that makes human beings intelligent.

To see the emerging influence of this theory of computation in relationship to intelligence, look to the field of artificial intelligence or "natural computation" (as Pinker prefers to call it), which is the study of computers to understand how the mind works.

Computer programming for information processing is the best example of this theory applied to schools at the highest level of curriculum work. Yet, to appreciate Pinker's computational theory of mind, an understanding of the biological theory of evolution is needed to provide a basic understanding of his work.