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Concepts as Plug & Play Devices

Citation: Shea, Nicholas (2022) Concepts as Plug & Play Devices. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. . ISSN 1471-2970 (Submitted)


Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Research on concepts has focused on categorization. Categorization starts with a stimulus. Equally important are episodes that start with a thought. We engage in thinking to draw out new consequences from stored information, or to work out how to act. Each of the concepts out of which a thought is constructed provides access to a large body of stored information. Access is not always just a matter of retrieving a stored belief (semantic memory). Often it depends on running a simulation. Simulation allows conceptual thought to draw on information in special‐purpose systems, information stored in special‐purpose computational dispositions and special‐purpose representational structures. While the utility of simulation, prospection or imagination is widely appreciated, the role of concepts in the process is not well understood. This paper turns to cognitive and computational neuroscience for a model of how simulations enable thinkers to reach novel conclusions. Carried over to conceptual thought, the model suggests that concepts are ‘plug & play’ devices. The distinctive power of thought‐driven simulations derives from the ability of concepts to plug into two kinds of structure at once: the combinatorial structure of a thought at one end, and special‐purpose structural representations at the other.

Creators: Shea, Nicholas (0000-0002-2032-5705) and
Subjects: Philosophy
Keywords: concepts, simulation, compositionality, semantic cognition, grounding, learning‐by‐thinking
Divisions: Institute of Philosophy
Collections: London Philosophy Papers
  • 27 April 2022 (accepted)
  • 26 November 2022 (published)


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