The Logical and Extrinsic Sources of Modularity
Thomas Bever University of Rochester
For a number of years, researchers on language behavior have believed that it involves the interaction of different kinds of partially autonomous systems of general and specific knowledge. That is, language is a modality, a natural kind of mental organization. The differentiation of such modalities as language, vision, taste, is pre-theoretically satisfying, but requires scientific explanation. How is it that they coalesce and emerge? How does the child know that aspects of his or her early experience are interrelated together and which motor patterns are related to them?
There are corresponding questions about the organization of information within a modality. For example, successful language behavior involves the appropriate interaction of systems of phonology, syntax, semantics, discourse, pragmatics, and world knowledge. Fodor ( 1983) sketched one proposal on the laws governing mental traffic between such systems. He crystallized a modern form of the old doctrine of "specific energy" of sensory systems, now coined, "modularity." Fodor's specific proposal is articulated and discussed elsewhere in this book. Certain intuitively appealing and widely believed aspects of this proposal are important for this discussion: Modules are architecturally segregated, that is, their internal processes cannot be mutually influenced; modules are neurologically distinct and reflect devoted innate neurological predispositions; modules utilize processes and forms of memory unique to each, that is, principles of "general cognition" either do not exist or exist