Programs as Causal Models: Speculations on Mental Programs and Mental Representation



Judea Pearl has argued that counterfactuals and causality are central to intelligence, whether natural or artificial, and has helped create a rich mathematical and computational framework for formally analyzing causality. Here, we draw out connections between these notions and various current issues in cognitive science, including the nature of mental “programs” and mental representation. We argue that programs (consisting of algorithms and data structures) have a causal (counterfactual-supporting) structure; these counterfactuals can reveal the nature of mental representations. Programs can also provide a causal model of the external world. Such models are, we suggest, ubiquitous in perception, cognition, and language processing.