Show Reference: "Theoretical Status of Computational Cognitive Modeling"

Theoretical Status of Computational Cognitive Modeling Cognitive Systems Research, Vol. 10, No. 2. (June 2009), pp. 124-140, doi:10.1016/j.cogsys.2008.07.002 by Ron Sun
    abstract = {This article explores the view that computational models of cognition may constitute valid theories of cognition, often in the full sense of the term ''theory''. In this discussion, this article examines various (existent or possible) positions on this issue and argues in favor of the view above. It also connects this issue with a number of other relevant issues, such as the general relationship between theory and data, the validation of models, and the practical benefits of computational modeling. All the discussions point to the position that computational cognitive models can be true theories of cognition.},
    address = {Amsterdam, The Netherlands, The Netherlands},
    author = {Sun, Ron},
    citeulike-article-id = {4213751},
    citeulike-linkout-0 = {},
    citeulike-linkout-1 = {},
    citeulike-linkout-2 = {},
    doi = {10.1016/j.cogsys.2008.07.002},
    issn = {13890417},
    journal = {Cognitive Systems Research},
    keywords = {consciousness, modelling, models},
    month = jun,
    number = {2},
    pages = {124--140},
    posted-at = {2014-08-21 10:56:13},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Elsevier Science Publishers B. V.},
    title = {Theoretical Status of Computational Cognitive Modeling},
    url = {},
    volume = {10},
    year = {2009}

See the CiteULike entry for more info, PDF links, BibTex etc.

A simulation can be thought of as a thought experiment: Given a correct mathematical model of something, it tries out how that model behaves and translates (via the output representation and interpretation) the behavior back into the realm of the real world.

According to Sun, a computational cognitive model is a theory of cognition which describes mechanisms and processes of cognition computationally and thus is `runnable'.

Computational cognitive models are runnable and produce behavior and can therefore be validated, according to Sun, by comparison to human data.

Computational cognitive models can reproduce human behavior

  • roughly,
  • qualitatively,
  • quantitatively.

According to Sun (and Wikipedia), Realists believe that unobservable entities in scientific theories really do exist—they are just unobservable.

To Constructive Empiricists, however, accepting a theory only means believing in the existence of the observable parts.

Thus, in Quine's terminology, Realists' ontological commitments include the unobservables, whereas Constructive Empiricists' commitments don't.

Sun states:

Any amount of detail of a "mechanism" [...] (provided that it is Turing computable) can be described in an algorithm, while it may not be the case that it can be described through mathematical equations (that is to say, algorithms are more expressive).

However, $\mu$-recursive functions are Turing-complete and they can be expressed in mathematical equations.

Sun argues that mechanisms and representations (and thus computational models) are an important and necessary part of scientific theories and that that is true especially in cognitive science.

Sun argues that computational cognitive models describe mechanisms and representations in cognitive science well.

Sun argues that computational cognitive models provide productive rather than just descriptive accounts of cognitive phenomenology and therefore have more explanatory value.

I would argue that algorithms are more accessible than $\mu$-recursive functions as a way to explain certain things.

Some things are just easier thought of in terms of manipulations than of equations. But this does not say anything about the expressiveness of either tool.

Also, algorithms are already 'runnable' and need to translation into computer programs to be studied by computational methods.

According to Sun, it has been argued that models and simulations are only tools to study theories, not theories themselves.

When translating a cognitive theory on the verbal-conceptual level to a computational model, one has to flesh out the description of the model by making decisions.

Some of those decisions are, as Sun says, 'just to make the simulation run', ie. they are arbitrary but consistent with the theory.

When translating a cognitive theory on the verbal-conceptual level to a computational model, one often discovers logical gaps in the original theory.

When translating a cognitive theory on the verbal-conceptual level to a computational model, one often discovers logical gaps in the original theory.

Sun argues that a computational model for a verbal-conceptual theory in cognitive science is a theory in itself because it is more specific.

Strictly speaking, every parameterization of an algorithm realizing a computational model distinct from every other parameterization, following Sun's argument.

Sun argues that the failure of one computational model which is a more specific version of a verbal-conceptual theory does not invalidate the theory, especially if a different computational model specifying that theory produces phenomenology consistent with empirical data.

According to Sun, one, if not the, aim of science is to come up with descriptions of phenomenology with lower and lower Kolmogorov complexity.

Sun invokes Occam's razor to argue that shorter theories are better theories.

Sun acknowledges the fact that certain decisions must be made, when translating from verbal-conceptual cognitive theories to computational models, which are 'just to make the simulation run'.

He does not seem to dwell on their role in the computational model as a theory; are they ontological commitments?

Computer programs consist of production rules which rule how the state of the computer changes from one moment to another.