Magic Words: How Language Augments Human Computation

“Public language is a cognition-enhancing tool — it is a species of external artifact whose current adaptive value is partially constituted by its role in re-shaping the kinds of computational space that our biological brains must negotiate in order to solve certain types of problems, or to carry out certain complex projects. This computational role of language has been somewhat neglected (not un-noticed, but not rigorously pursued either) in recent cognitive science, due perhaps to a (quite proper) fascination with and concentration upon, that other obvious dimension: the role of language as an instrument of interpersonal communication. In this chapter, I try to display the broad shape of the alternative orientation. I discuss the views of some recent (and not-so-recent) authors, who recognize in various ways, the potential role of language and text in transforming, reshaping and simplifying the computational tasks that confront the biological brain. I then pursue this idea through a series of examples involving planning, concept learning, the construction of complex thoughts and the capacity to refelect on our own cognitive profiles.” (Andy Clark)

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