Essays

There are two forms of assessment, each worth 50% of the overall mark.

Both of these exercises require you to select a topic. You should aim for something that is not too general (don't choose "language" or "development", or "nature vs nurture") and not too specific (you need something that can be addressed in a variety of ways). Here are some sample topics that are at about the right level of granularity: episodic memory, earworms, change blindness, phonological acquisition, auditory illusions, executive control, measurement of user experience, psychopathy, body language, short term memory, singing, lateralization, Molyneux's question, psychophysics of taste, mental imagery, speech recognition, animal communication, mind reading (theory of mind), and so on.

For each essay, choose one topic only. Please do not choose the same topic for both essays.

Exercise 1

The first exercise is the preparation of a portfolio of two or three related journal articles or conference papers, which each address a topic of your choice. The articles chosen should exhibit some divergent views on the topic. That is, there should be a substantial theoretical disagreement between them.

The articles should be drawn from the scientific literature (not pure philosophy) and should help you to identify a theoretical disagreement, and not merely a disagreement about details, or about methods. The emphasis in this exercise is on theory, and your goal is to shed light on a theoretical disagreement.

You should provide a short (no more than 3000 words) overview of how the contributions you have selected address the topic at hand, and what the substantial points of disagreement are. You may choose freely from the papers listed on the resources page, but you are expected to look further afield as well. You must have thoroughly read all the papers you select. Due date: Friday, November 24, 2017, 5.00 p.m. Please submit a hard copy (print out) of all papers and your writeup, and a soft copy (email) of your writeup alone.

Here are some guidelines that might help. Feel free to ask for confirmation if you are unsure whether you are approaching this in the desired way.

Exercise 2

The second deliverable is an essay, again of no more than 3000 words. You will select a topic that is amenable to empirical investigation, and discuss what kind of empirical methods are employed to study that topic. Unlike the first essay, the focus in this exercise is on empirical methods. I want to hear about scanners, clipboards, slides, scalpels, questionnaires, fixation crosses, bells, and electric shocks. All science starts with observation, and the business of measurement is simply the formalisation of the business of observing. How do we observe? How do we come to know what we claim to know. These are the issues you will be dealing with in this exercise.

What are the strengths and limitations of the methods you survey? Why are these methods, and not others used? What can these methods tell us in principle? Are they suited to investigating the topic under discussion? Do they contain pitfalls? Above all, do they measure what they claim to measure, and are they used appropriately?

I don't care how many papers you use in preparing for this essay, and I do not want you to submit the papers, just your own work. Due date: Friday, December 15th, 2017, 5.00 p.m. Please submit a hard and a soft copy of your essay.

In both essays, the overall goal is to encourage you to understand that while all scientific research is conducted within one theoretical framework or another, it is necessary to be self-aware about the framework you use. Different frameworks have different unspoken commitments. These may be uncovered when you examine the theoretical discussion that surrounds the work, or they may come to light in considering the nuts-and-bolts of empirical scientific practice.