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The Untenable Status Quo: The Concept of Representation in the Neural and Psychological Sciences

Favela, Luis H. and Machery, Edouard (2022) The Untenable Status Quo: The Concept of Representation in the Neural and Psychological Sciences. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The concept of representation is commonly treated as indispensable to research on brains, behavior, and cognition. We argue that not only is the concept of representation applied with considerable imprecision in such research, but it appears to be used in unclear and confused ways. We present results of a preregistered experiment aimed at making explicit what researchers mean by “representation.” Participants consisted of an international group of psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers (N = 736). Applying elicitation methodology, participants responded via an online survey platform to four experimental scenarios aimed at invoking applications of various representational concepts. While we find very little disciplinary variation in the application of “representation” and related concepts (e.g., “about,” “carry information,” “processing,” etc.), we show that researchers exhibit confusion about what counts as a representation and are uncertain about what sorts of brain activity involve representations or not. We argue on this basis that the concept of representation—especially in the neural and psychological sciences—should be reformed or eliminated from use. Consequently, the theoretical status quo concerning the concept of representation endorsed by many neuroscientists and psychologists is untenable.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Favela, Luis H.luis.favela@ucf.edu0000-0002-6434-959X
Machery, Edouardmachery@pitt.edu0000-0002-9944-6138
Keywords: representation, conceptual reform, information, scientific concepts
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Concepts and Representations
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
Specific Sciences > Psychology
Depositing User: Dr. Luis H. Favela
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2022 06:30
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2022 06:30
Item ID: 20903
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Concepts and Representations
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
Specific Sciences > Psychology
Date: 14 July 2022
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20903

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