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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012



While writing the previous chapter, I got to thinking about concepts in computer science that connect the microscopic, bit-level world of logic gates and machine language to the macroscopic world of procedures and processes we've been concerned with so far. In listing concepts that might be worth mentioning, I noticed that I was moving from computer architecture, the subdiscipline of computer science concerned with the logical design of computer hardware, to operating systems, the area dealing with the software that mediates between the user and the hardware.

In compiling my list, I was also struck by how many “computerese” terms and phrases have slipped into the vernacular. Interrupt handling (responding to an unexpected event while doing something else) and multitasking (the concurrent performance of several tasks) are prime examples. The common use of these terms concerns not computers but human information processing. I don't know what you'd call the jargon used by psychologists and cognitive scientists to describe how humans think. The word “mentalese” is already taken: the philosopher Jerry Fodor postulates that humans represent the external world in a “language of thought” that is sometimes called “mentalese.” Fodor's mentalese is more like machine language for minds. I'm interested in the language we use to describe how we think, how our thought processes work – a metalanguage for talking about thinking.

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