Computational Theory of Mind Explained


Have you ever heard that the “human mind is the greatest computer on our planet”? This phrase is a reflection of the computational theory of mind. This theory proposes that the human mind, human brain, or both is a system of information processing. Any thoughts that are created is simply a form of natural computing.

Does the brain act as a computing machine? There are several ways for this theory to be implemented that answer this question. If the brain is a computer, for example, then the mind is the result of the operating system that the brain happens to be running. It relies on inputs and outputs to represent the world to each individual and then stores the information that is processed in its memory centers.

Isn’t the Computational Theory of Mind Just a Metaphor?

We think of a computer today as a digital computing machine. You turn the computer on, surf the internet, write something on a word processor, or play video games with it. This is not what the computational theory of mind is attempting to say the human brain or mind is trying to do. It is instead an ability to follow step-by-step instructions, produced by input, in order to form output.

This is the definition of computation. To collect the sum of several things, then add them together so that one final result can be achieved. For the human brain, the ability to reason is the ability to add things together or subtract items from a certain concept.

Computational Theory and Thought Correlation

The basis of the computational theory of mind is the idea that a thought is simply another form of computation. Computations must follow a system of laws for the relationships of what they represent. This means there is a correlation that is formed from the observation a person makes and what the next corresponding thought happens to be.

Here’s an example of what a mental state and the defined meaning of that mental state can be through the use of representation.

You step outside and there is a certain chill in the area. Your skin feels instantly cold from the wind. You look up into the sky and see dark clouds all over the place. “Looks like it is going to snow today,” you think.

The human brain, correlating the observations with past experiences, comes to the conclusion that snow is going to happen. From the input comes the output.

We can also program our own thought correlations so that certain items, events, or observations have a specific meaning as well. Here’s an example of that mental state can be through the use of representation.

You get into your vehicle and begin driving down the street. Pretty soon you come to a traffic light that is green. Since you know that “green means go,” you proceed through the stop light, confident that you’ve done the right thing.

There is nothing about the color green which means “go” from a natural standpoint. You don’t decide to go to the grocery store simply because the lawn has turned a nice shade of green from a recent rain. It is a convention that was invented and this forms a representation that the brain recognizes as a representation. It was programmed to recognize a specific input in a specific circumstance, which then creates a specific outcome.

The opposite can also be programmed into the human mind when it comes to invented conventions. What if someone is taught that a red traffic light means “go”? In their mind, the input is the same as the person who was taught that green means “go.” If both people come to the same traffic light at the same time, each will believe that they have made the correct computation. When an accident occurs, each would blame the other because their output, formed by their programmed input, was correct.

Mental States and the Computational Theory of Mind

The human brain has a number of different mental states that can affect how it goes through the computational process. Someone afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia, for example, might look at the same situation as someone without the mental illness and come to a very different output. One person might see a tree and the other might see a hiding place where someone might be lurking in order to hurt them.

So, just like a computer needs a regular checkup to function properly, the human brain needs to have its health supported as well. This way the output can be consistent.