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What is modularity?
Modularity is a way of dividing up the functions of the
mind with respect to specific domains of content.
Some likely candidates for modules of the mind:
• visual perception
• spatial orientation
• scientific/logical reasoning
1. Domain specificity
2. Mandatory operation
3. Limited central accessibility
4. Fast processing
5. Information encapsulation
6. 'Shallow' outputs
7. Fixed neural architecture
8. Characteristic and specific breakdown patterns
9. Characteristic ontogenetic pace and sequencing
#5 information encapsulation
(essential for Fodor)
If a cognitive process takes place in a module of the
mind, the processing will have access only to the
information within that module.
• For instance, there is theorized to be a central
memory of information somewhere in the mind. But
the visual module does not have access to that while
it is doing the work of visual processing.
#3 limited central accessibility
(essential for Fodor)
• We have no conscious access to the processes that
are occurring within a module.
• A person cannot introspect about the processes that
#2 Mandatory operation
("out of control")
• A cognitive process that is modularized will occur
without conscious control over this process.
• In fact, modularized cognitive processes cannot be
prevented from occurring.
ex: Imagine you are in a room full of people speaking
#4 Fast processing
• Evidence for fast processing
• Speech shadowing
• A person listens to speech in ideal conditions (in a quiet lab, with auditory input through headphones.
• The task is to repeat everything in the input (speech) as accurately and quickly as possible.
• On average, people have ~250 ms lag time between input and output.
• Visual matching
• A person is provided a brief description of a potential picture - "a boat" or "two men drinking beer."
• Immediately after the description, the person is shown a picture for a duration of milliseconds.
• The task is for the person to judge whether the picture is an accurate depiction of the
immediately preceding description.
• At exposure of at least 200 ms, accuracy is almost perfect (>167 ms, accuracy = 96%)
• For Fodor, "fast" is < 500 ms.
#6 'shallow' outputs
• Whatever is going on in domain-specific cognition
(modules) is likely not very 'deep'. The output from
a module will be relatively simple.
• Modules generate information, not thoughts or
• The output of a module, then is nonconceptual.
• This characteristic of modules is directly related to
• "Vision" and "language" and "audition" suddenly
seem much too broad to be modularized.
#7 fixed neural architecture
• In short, we want to be able to localize the neural activity
associated with modular function.
• auditory perception (both location and tone of the source) is strongly associated with activity in specific regions of thetemporal lobe.
• occipital lobe (a.k.a., "visual cortex")
• face recognition is associated with specific regions of the
temporal lobe; one region is very close to the occipital lobe.
• "language centers" of the brain (Broca's area and Wernicke's area) are localized in specific regions of the temporal lobe, usually left-lateralized.
#8 characteristic and specific
• If the mind's architecture is modular, we predict that we will find individuals with impairment of the function of a single module and no other impairment.
• Some examples:
• complete color blindness
• loss of face recognition
• specific aphasias
• We see these impairments both as a result of injury and as a result of genetic disorders.
• For example, individuals with Williams Syndrome have poor visuo-spatial cognition, but face-recognition appears to be unaffected (Bellugi, Wang, & Jernigan, 1994).
#1 domain specificity
• A module can only process information that it is
specialized to process.
• The visual module can take in printed text and produce
an output that is a representation of that printed text,
but it cannot process the input as language. That
happens after the visual processing is completed and the
output is recognized as something the language module
can take as input.
• So, under this new characteristic, we can understand that
"vision" is too broad to be a module.
• Instead, each of the following is probably a separate module:
• color perception
• visual shape analysis
• sentence parsing
• face and voice recognition
• Domain specificity is closely related to saying that innateness is a characteristic of modules...
#9 characteristic ontogenetic
pace and sequencing
• Simply, a module is innate.
• The sequence of steps in development of the modular
function are regular across members of the species.
• Further, the development of the module has a regular
timing during growth.
• Lack of the function is defined as atypical/
• The mind is not just modules.
• Fodor relegates a considerable amount of cognition to central cognitive
• In the case of perception (vision, audition, olfaction, etc), we can think of the perception itself happening within a module, but everything beyond this as being part of general (non-modularized) cognition.
modularity broadly construed
• Phrenology (19th century, Franz Gall) - all
functions of the mind are modularized.
• Fodor (1983) - a few specialized functions
of the mind are modularized, all other
cognitive processing is non-modularized.
• Or, maybe something in between these two.
• Fodor's modularity is better than
• But it seems like modules are not as isolated
from each other as Fodor characterizes them
(e.g., vision, audition, language)
How to escape Fodor's argument
• Three possibilities:
1) Deny that central processes are (strongly) global;
2) Deny that globality and encapsulation are
(strongly) negative correlated;
3) Deny that encapsulation and modularity are
(strongly) positively correlated.
Enter: "massive modularity"
C-modules vs. P-modules
• This is a contrast that Fodor draw between his modules and what Chomsky proposes in early works for Universal
• Competence refers to knowledge. Performance refers to use of information.
• A C(homskyan)-module is one that represents knowledge, not computation.
• A P(erformance)-module is one that computes.
• This is closely related to the competence/performance distinction. We can also speak of competence errors and performance errors.
Where do modules come from?
Evolutionary psychologists propose that modules are
the result of evolutionary processes.
Cosmides & Tooby's (1994) argument
1) The human mind is a product of
2) In order to survive and reproduce, our
human ancestors had to solve a range
of adaptive problems (finding food,
shelter, mates, etc.).
3) Since adaptive problems are solved more quickly,
efficiently, and reliably by modular (domain-specific,
mandatory, etc.) systems than by non-modular ones,
natural selection would have favored the evolution of
a massively modular architecture.
4) So the human mind is probably massively modular.
Cheater detection module
• It's good for your survival to be able to
figure out, "if I scratch your back, will
you really scratch mine?"
• Essentially, a species will benefit from collective effort,
so long as no one cheats the system.
(Massive Modularity Hypothesis)
• If modules arise because they are evolutionarily
beneficial, we can imagine that the mind's functions
could be much more specific, and prolific.
• There are still some general cognitive processes that
• They do not play as big of a role as Fodor proposes.
• Bottom line, the assertion is that a massively modular
mind works better than a peripherally modular mind.
Once we introduce the idea of modules coming bout
due to evolutionary processes, we revisit the question of
what kind of modules would evolution produce?
• C- modules? (information)
• P-modules? (computing units)
A Darwinian module is what is proposed. It can be
either one, or both kinds.
• Competence errors
• Can't get the right knowledge
• Performance errors
• Can't perform the computation correctly
• Formulation errors
• The module being used isn't the right one.
• Think of this like saying a toaster did something wrong
because it didn't type a letter correctly.
3) In game playing, or the chess game model, each person has his own interests in mind.
Identify the true and false statements about perceptual sets.
Margot doesn't feel like explaining all of the events from her day to her mom because she would need to explain too many of the details in order to set the stage for her stories. In this instance, Margot...
A "superordinate " category refers to a higher level category. T/F?
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