Information Processing, Computation, and Cognition

42 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2010 Last revised: 5 Aug 2010

See all articles by Gualtiero Piccinini

Gualtiero Piccinini

University of Missouri at Saint Louis

Andrea Scarantino

Georgia State University - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: July 6, 2010


Computation and information processing are among the most fundamental notions in cognitive science. They are also among the most imprecisely discussed. Many cognitive scientists take it for granted that cognition involves computation, information processing, or both – although others disagree vehemently. Yet different cognitive scientists use ‘computation’ and ‘information processing’ to mean different things, sometimes without realizing that they do. In addition, computation and information processing are surrounded by several myths; first and foremost, that they are the same thing. In this paper, we address this unsatisfactory state of affairs by presenting a general and theory-neutral account of computation and information processing. We also apply our framework by analyzing the relations between computation and information processing on one hand and classicism and connectionism/computational neuroscience on the other. We defend the relevance to cognitive science of both computation, at least in a generic sense, and information processing, in three important senses of the term. Our account advances several foundational debates in cognitive science by untangling some of their conceptual knots in a theory-neutral way. By leveling the playing field, we pave the way for the future resolution of the debates’ empirical aspects.

Keywords: classicism, cognitivism, computation, computational neuroscience, computational theory of mind, computationalism, connectionism, information processing, meaning, neural computation, representation

Suggested Citation

Piccinini, Gualtiero and Scarantino, Andrea, Information Processing, Computation, and Cognition (July 6, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Gualtiero Piccinini (Contact Author)

University of Missouri at Saint Louis ( email )

1 University Blvd.
St Louis, MO 63121
United States

Andrea Scarantino

Georgia State University - Department of Philosophy ( email )

35 Broad Street
Atlanta, GA 30303-3083
United States

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