Computing Machinery and Understanding


should be sent to Michael Ramscar, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305. E-mail:


How are natural symbol systems best understood? Traditional “symbolic” approaches seek to understand cognition by analogy to highly structured, prescriptive computer programs. Here, we describe some problems the traditional computational metaphor inevitably leads to, and a very different approach to computation (Ramscar, Yarlett, Dye, Denny, & Thorpe, 2010; Turing, 1950) that allows these problems to be avoided. The way we conceive of natural symbol systems depends to a large degree on the computational metaphors we use to understand them, and machine learning suggests an understanding of symbolic thought that is very different to traditional views (Hummel, 2010). The empirical question then is: Which metaphor is best?