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Intractability and the use of heuristics in psychological explanations

Abstract

Many cognitive scientists, having discovered that some computational-level characterization f of a cognitive capacity \({\phi}\) is intractable, invoke heuristics as algorithmic-level explanations of how cognizers compute f. We argue that such explanations are actually dysfunctional, and rebut five possible objections. We then propose computational-level theory revision as a principled and workable alternative.

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Open Access This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0), which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

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van Rooij, I., Wright, C.D. & Wareham, T. Intractability and the use of heuristics in psychological explanations. Synthese 187, 471–487 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-010-9847-7

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Keywords

  • Psychological explanation
  • Computational-level theory
  • Computational complexity
  • Intractability
  • Heuristics
  • NP-hard
  • Algorithm
  • Approximation