Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Open Peer Commentary
Barsalou: Perpetual symbol systems

On the virtues of going all the way

Shimon Edelman a1 and Elise M. Breen a2
a1 School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences, University of Sussex at Brighton, Falmer BN1 9QH, England
a2 Laboratory for Cognitive Brain Mapping, Brain Research Institute, Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), Wako, Saitama 351-01, Japan


Representational systems need to use symbols as internal stand-ins for distal quantities and events. Barsalou's ideas go a long way towards making the symbol system theory of representation more appealing, by delegating one critical part of the representational burden – dealing with the constituents of compound structures – to image-like entities. The target article, however, leaves the other critical component of any symbol system theory – the compositional ability to bind the constituents together – underspecified. We point out that the binding problem can be alleviated if a perceptual symbol system is made to rely on image-like entities not only for grounding the constituent symbols, but also for composing these into structures.