Modularity, Schemas and Neurons: A Critique of Fodor

  • Michael A. Arbib
Part of the Australasian Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 7)


It is a standard notion that a complex system may be analyzed by being decomposed into a set of interacting subsystems. Such a decomposition succeeds insofar as we can understand the relation between the inputs and outputs of each individual subsystem, and insofar as the interactions between the subsystems can be explained via suitable connections between various of their inputs and outputs, without further analysis of variables internal to the subsystems. Suci a decomposition is structural to the extent that the subsystems can be mapped onto physical substructures of a physical structure embodying the overall system. In this section, I show that neuroscientists have long sought structural decompositions of the brain, and in some cases referred to the physical substructures as modules. Recently, Fodor has popularized the use of the term ‘module’ to denote a unit in a functional decomposition of a cognitive system, but a subsystem that meets constraints beyond those specified above. I shall argue that Fodor’s analysis of cognitive systems is flawed and that the restrictions he introduces are not useful. Consequently, I shall use the term ‘module’ as a synonym for the term ‘subsystem’ defined above.


Depth Perception Input Process Optic Tectum Functional Decomposition Brain Theory 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Arbib
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of Computer Science and NeurobiologyUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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