Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Philosophy/Neuroscience, and Psychology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The claim that two thoughts are associated is familiar: I am instantly reminded of my grandmother when I smell a rose garden. When asked what word comes to mind first when given the word ‘bread,’ I easily answer ‘butter.’ Certain thoughts, ideas, and images just come together. The basic experimental phenomena, such as conditioning, are also well known. I propose a new view of what it means to say that two thoughts are associated. The current standard view treats the claim that two thoughts are associated as explaining why they come together. It effectively posits a link between mental states as a causal mechanism that brings the second thought to mind after the first. This implies that associative processes are simple: they rigidly follow the designated sequence. The resulting class of associative processing is usually contrasted with classes that are thought to be more complex, like cognitive processing and algorithmic processing. This view of association structures research programs across the cognitive sciences and the philosophy of mind. I argue instead that association is a filler term that stands in for causal relations between representations, however realized. Psychological processes exhibit associations regardless of the mechanisms driving them, and regardless of the complexity of the process; association is not restricted to any particular class of processing. The regularity view of association fundamentally changes the roles that simplicity and association play in understanding the mind. In so doing, it resolves problems that have arisen because of the standard view.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Ron Mallon

Committee Members

Carl Craver, John Doris, David Balota, David Danks,


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