Abstract

In Cognitive Science, recently Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) has been advocated as an
approach to cognitive modelling that is better suited to the dynamics of cognitive processes than
the symbolic/computational approaches are. Often the differences between DST and the
symbolic/computational approach are emphasized. However, if two approaches are used also their
commonalities can be
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analysed, and a unifying framework can be sought. In this paper the
possibility of such a unifying perspective on dynamics is analysed. The analysis does not only
cover dynamics in the cognitive discipline, but also in other disciplines: Physics, Mathematics
and Computer Science. The unifying perspective warrants the development of integrated
approaches covering both DST aspects and symbolic/computational aspects.
The notion of a state-determined system lies at the heart of DST. This type of system is based
on the assumption that properties of a given state fully determine the properties of future states.
Taking this assumption as a premise, in this paper the explanatory problem of dynamics is
analysed in more detail. The analysis of four cases within different disciplines (Cognitive
Science, Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science) shows how in history this perspective has led
to a number of often used concepts within these disciplines. In Cognitive Science the concepts
desire and intention were introduced, and in classical mechanics the concepts momentum,
energy, and force. Similarly, in Mathematics a number of concepts have been developed to
formalise the state-determined system assumption. Derivatives (of different orders) of a function,
and Taylor approximations are examples of such concepts. Furthermore, also transition systems,
a currently (within Computer Science and related areas) popular format for specification of
dynamic systems can be interpreted from this perspective. One of the main contributions of the
paper is that the case studies provide a unified view on the explanation of dynamics across the
chosen disciplines. All approaches to dynamics analysed in this paper share the state-determined
system assumption and the (explicit or implicit) use of anticipatory state properties.
Within Cognitive Science realism is one of the problems identified for the
symbolic/computational approach, i.e., how do internal states described by symbols relate to the
real world in a natural manner. As DST is proposed as an alternative to the
symbolic/computational approach, a natural question is whether for DST the realism of the states
can be better guaranteed. As a second main contribution the paper provides an evaluation of DST
compared to the symbolic/computational approach, which shows that in this respect, i.e., for the
realism problem, DST does not provide a better solution than the other approaches. This shows
that DST and the symbolic/computational approach not only have the state-determined system
assumption and the use of anticipatory state properties in common, but also the realism problem.
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