From symbols to icons: the return of resemblance in the cognitive neuroscience revolution

02 May 2018

We argue that one important aspect of the "cognitive neuroscience revolution" identified by Boone and Piccinini (2015) is a dramatic shift away from thinking of cognitive representations as arbitrary symbols towards thinking of them as icons that replicate structural characteristics of their targets. We argue that this shift has been driven both "from below" and "from above" - that is, from a greater appreciation of what mechanistic explanation of information-processing systems involves ("from below"), and from a greater appreciation of the problems solved by bio-cognitive systems, chiefly regulation and prediction ("from above"). We illustrate these arguments by reference to examples from cognitive neuroscience, principally representational similarity analysis and the emergence of (predictive) dynamical models as a central postulate in neurocognitive research.