COMP 20090: Introduction to Cognitive Science (2016/17)

Additional resources, which provide a good starting point for self-guided exploration of cognitive science, can be found by following the 'resources' link on the Cognitive Science home page.

Topics

  1. The History of Cognitive Science
  2. Language: Innateness and Modularity
  3. Learning and Development
  4. Movement
  5. Vision
  6. Reasoning
  7. Representations
  8. Studying the Human Brain
  9. Social Cognition
  10. On Time and Space
  11. Consciousness

Topic 1: The History of Cognitive Science

Mandatory reading:
You must read this article. Try to get a sense for the number of "big" questions that arise, even if you are not quite clear about how Minsky thinks they are to be resolved. And do bear in mind that Minsky is only one voice, and there is no universal agreement about any of this! He is representing one possible view. There are others.
  • A very confident view of the relation between minds and brains is provided by Marvin Minsky, and MIT Artificial Intelligence legend, in his claim that Minds are simply what brains do.
Additional resources:
  • An account of Skinner’s superstitious pigeons is here.
  • You can watch a short video of B. B. Skinner discusing his pigeons and free will.
  • Here is a fundamental critique of B F Skinner’s work and politics by Chomsky. To be read in conjunction with his famous Critique of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior.
    You may be surprised to see the intertwining of Chomsky’s liberal political humanism and his arguments about psychology and language!
  • A fuller transcript of an interaction with Terry Winograd’s SHRDLU program can be found here.
Study notes:
Study notes for the History of Cognitive Science

Topic 2: Language: Innateness and Modularity

Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
  • This article by Theodore Dalrymple is relevant to many of the topics in this weeks lecture. It reminds us that although all languages may be have certain formal properties in common, the efectiveness of language lies not in its syntax, but in its use.
  • In his book, Seeing Voices, about the deaf, Oliver Sachs has some pertinent thoughts on the possible nature of thought without language. I have scanned in the revant Footnote 47. Just read the footnote.
  • The video linked in this post gives another perspective on alinguistic thought (thought without language), this time as considered by an autistic woman. Its about 8 mins long, and thoroughly deserving of your attention.
Additional resources:
  • There is an excellent article about the difficulties and opportunities afforded by the study of language evolution here.
  • The fascinating story of the FoxP2 gene, which resulted in much wild media speculation, is retold here.
  • Our survey of the main branches of Linguistics was somewhat frenetic. We will pick up on a few themes later in the course, but if you are interested, there are very good introductory linguistics notes here, from Mark Liberman at Penn State. They provide fuller introductions into each of the areas of linguistics. Mark also runs a delightful blog, the Language Log which is well worth dipping into. Here, for example, is a cautionary tale about the Irish and their terms for sex.
Study notes:
Study notes on the topic of language

Topic 3: Learning and Development

Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
Additional resources:
Study notes:
Study notes on the topic of development

Topic 4: Movement

Mandatory reading:
At present, there is no mandatory reading for this week.
Additional resources:
  • "New Approaches to Robotics" is a 1991 article by Rodney Brooks in Science magazine, laying out his basic approach to building robots using little central intelligence and a lot of understanding of the relationship between an organism and its physical environment.
  • There is also a more recent (2001) and somewhat more general article from Nature here: "The Relationship Between Matter and Life".
Study notes:
Study notes on the topic of movement

Topic 5: Vision

Mandatory reading:
Let’s keep it fun this week. Have a look at the following:
  • Visit the Optical Illusion Contest page and try some out.
  • By way of example, you might try out the Occlusion Velocity Illusion and follow the link to more information.
  • See if you can understand how illusions like this can inform us about the predelictions and constraints which determine our normal visual experience in a world in which objects and events have properties which are, by and large, predictable.
  • Try this one too, and make sure to read the accompanying explanation.
Additional resources:
  • Atttentional blindness and change blindness are discussed here.
  • There is a lovely illustration of change blindness at Quirkology, which is a fun site to poke around in. (This video was shown in lectures).
Study notes:
Study notes on the topic of vision

Topic 6: Reasoning

Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
Additional resources:
    The above article is linked from this blog post from Mind Hacks, which provides some insightful discussion of the contents.
Study notes:
Study notes for the topic of reasoning

Topic 7: Representation

Mandatory reading:
You must read these:
  • One recent system to make a stir is IBM's Watson. You can read some detail about what it actually does in this blog post.
  • Philosopher Tim van Gelder chimes in on the significance of Deep Blue in this brief article.
Additional resources:
  • The sample dialogue with Terry Winograd’s SHRDLU program is reproduced here. The story of how SHRDLU got it’s odd name is fun reading. You can even play with the program by downloading it from here.
  • You can read about the Uncanny Vally in this article.
  • You might be interested in the wikipedia entry on prototype theory.
  • Rodney Brooks, who runs a highly influential robotics program at MIT, had some interesting and rather pragmatic notes on the notion of ’representation’ as it appeared to a robot designer. A seminar paper from 1987 (!) is here.
  • Merlin Donald’s account of the importance of external memory in shaping the modern human is part of a grand theory or the origin of the modern mind. You can find an overview of this thesis in this article, split into two parts: Part A and Part B. It is a very long and involved paper though, and certainly optional. Don't expect to read this all in one sitting.
Study notes:
Study notes for the topic of representation

Topic 8: Studying the Human Brain

Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
Additional resources:
  • There is a delightful website devoted to Phineas Gage
  • More on neuromarketing here and here.
  • I strongly recommend any book by Oliver Sachs, a clinical neurologist with a gift for describing neurological problems in a very empathic way, who passed away recently. Among his many books, you might be interested in "The Mind's Eye", and he is probably best known for "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat". "Musicophilia" documents odd conditions associated with altered musical sense. "Awakenings" was made into a slightly dodgy film. Stories contained in any of these are relevant to the whole of this module. His autobiography, published around the time of his death is "On The Road".
  • This article is about the artist William de Kooning. Its importance lies in how an understanding of a whole person can change the way we think about a brain pathology. Or do you agree?
  • In lectures, we looked at the plight of those who have lost memory and are thus unable to tell themselves their own stories. Daniel Dennett, the philosopher, has some interesting thoughts on the relation between narrative and the self in this article.
  • The Ailing Brain is a fantastic documentary series on the brain and its disorders that is freely available online. It has been produced in Spanish but the first part is now on YouTube with English subtitles. (From MindHacks)
  • A blog post from the ever wonderful Mind Hacks blog about Robot/Human convergence.
Study notes:
Study notes for the topic of the brain

Topic 9: Social Cognition

(no study notes available).
Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
Additional resources:
  • There is a whole lecture by creepy old Harry Harlow here. It is called "The Nature of Love".
Study notes:
Study notes for the topic of social cognition

Topic 10: On Time and Space

Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
Additional resources:
Study notes:
Study notes for the topic of time and space

Topic 11: Consciousness

Mandatory reading:
You must read these articles:
Additional resources:
Study notes:
Study notes for the topic of consciousness