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This week I decided to adapt last weeks post to a more extended version:

A brief history:

Aristotle was perhaps amongst the first who drew attention to the way that the mind processes information. He was interested in the reasons why an argument could be accepted as valid by those who were both for and against it. His theory of syllogistic reasoning is a form of deductive reasoning that suggests the validity of the argument could be explained by its symbolic form rather than its content.[10]

Many years later Freud conceptualized the mind as an iceberg which was composed of three levels: The conscious mind (the top of iceberg which is out of water), The preconscious mind (the bit that submerges into the water but yet remains visible) and The unconscious mind (the bit that is hidden under the water).He believed that the unconscious (containing Id and Superego) is the biggest part of the mind which is responsible for many unexplained hidden emotions that the individual is not aware of, their existence and their consecutive behaviours which can therefore be seen as implicit or automatic.[3][5]

During the early 20th century Santiago Ramón y Cajal was studying the behaviour of micro structures of the neurons in the brain. Some of his observations led to what is today the foundation of modern neuroscience.[3]

At around the same time some scientists, including B.F Skinner, believed that in order to understand how the mind works they should focus on observing human behaviour rather than the hidden processes that happen in the mind. This led to the birth of behaviourism.[6]

In the mid 20th century Alan Turing saw the human brain as an “unorganized machine” that learned through experience. [1] He imagined a virtual device (the Turing machine) that could translate any humanly computable mathematical problem into a sequence of simple operations [2][4]

A few years later in 1959 Chomsky published a paper in which he proved that behavioural approaches were not valid in relation to the structure of English sentences.[1]

Later on various questions about the human mind and the way it processes information led to the birth of cognitive science.  An example of this is the thought processes that happen in the mind of a jazz musician when he/she is improvising (in some cases without any formal music theory knowledge).How do they know how to put the specific notes and phrases in the right order whilst making infinite set of improvisations in the chords that remain loyal to a finite set of formal structures?[10]

What is Cognitive Science?

In Cognitive Science the mind/brain, (including its characteristics and behaviour), is considered an object of scientific study (as opposed to behaviourism).

Although this field has been dramatically improved in recent years yet it remains an immature field as there are still many debates that remain unsolved. One of which is about its domain of research and its commitments. For example, should it also study the non-human intelligence such as animals or computers? Or should it also be investigating other phenomena of the human mind such as emotions? [7]

As a result the research framework and the questions about it have to be conceptualized in common sense terms. There seems to be substantial agreement amongst cognitive scientists that the research framework should include exploring human intelligence and cognition and its capacities (this includes a machine with information processing capacities). How do these capacities differ amongst different adults, genders, cultures, neurologically impaired patients, and other subsets of the human population. [7] This can be performed by redeveloping the mind as a machine that performs computational and representational activities. [8]

In 1950 to 1980 cognitive scientists used to see the mind/brain as a general-purpose conventional machine. [7] This was changed during 1980’s as notions were raised that the mind/brain is a connectionist device and the fact that the cognitive mind is not only a computational device, but it’s also a representational one. [7][8][11][12][13][14]

As we realized from the history of cognitive science, this field has a multidisciplinary nature as it can be described in three levels: [7]


1. Psychology (assumed as common sense)

2. Information processing (assumed as the non neural cognitive sciences like semantic and syntactic level (pylyshin 1984) or knowledge level and symbolic level (Newell 1986))

3. The neural level (assumed as neurosciences)

Scientists from different scientific perspectives such as computer science, artificial intelligence, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics and philosophy are using cognitive science in their fields to try answering many questions about the human mind.

Cognitive psychologists have achieved many breakthroughs in the areas of education and learning by studying the process of reading or learning. Applied cognitive science has been used by scientists to diagnose and treat learning difficulties, speech impairments, and aiding therapies for stroke victims. As exciting as applied cognitive science can be, it also raises many moral and political challenges for cognitive scientists in this field as the technology in some cases can be misused. [10] “For example results in computer vision might be used to design either a visual prosthesis for the blind or the control system of a cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead.”[10] Therefore cognitive science is also interrelated with the studying of history, social science and humanities.[10]

As there has always been an analogy between the human mind and the computer mind, cognitive science and computer science are interrelated and on many occasions have played the role of a catalyst in the process of improvements and developments of one another but yet in some cases this can be misleading. [10]


Is cognitive science a normal science?

There have been disagreements amongst scientists in the past about whether cognitive science comes with a single coherent research paradigm or if what we have is just a variety of cognitive sciences. As cognitive science is still in the process of development, scientists are not able to come up with descriptions as final products. Kessle, with an empiricist view of science, claims that we must turn to the views of Kuhn.[7] Others suggested that cognitive science is antithetical to Kuhn’s views [9] and therefore Kuhn’s notion of paradigm (which some claimed is inconsistent and too open) cannot be applied to cognitive science. Also the fact that the framework of shared commitments cannot easily be rejected within cognitive science makes scientific revolutions quite unlikely to happen. [7] Some took a step further to claim that even other units for analyzing science like the logical positivist notion of theory and Larry Laudan’s notion of a research tradition could also not be applied to cognitive science.[7]

References :

1. Dr. C. George Boeree, Psychology:  The Cognitive Movement,http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/ai.html[Accessed 21 Oct 2013]

2. Anon,http://www.alanturing.net/[Accessed 30 Oct 2013]

3. Anon,The birth of cognitive science,Society for the philosophy of Information http://www.socphilinfo.org/node/166[Accessed 31 Oct 2013]

4. Houdé. O, Kayser D., Koenig O., Proust J., Rastier F. (2003) Dictionary of Cognitive Science: Neuroscience, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, and Philosophy. Publisher: Routledge [Accessed 24 Oct 2013]

5.Cherry K., The Conscious and Unconscious Mind: The Structure of the Mind According to Freud, http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/consciousuncon.htm[Accessed 31 Oct 2013]

6. David w. Green & others.( 1996) Cognitive Science: An Introduction ,Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

7. Eckardt B.C.( 1955), What is cognitive science? ,First MIT Press.

8. Stillings N.A, Weisler S.E., Chase C.H.,  Feinstein M.H., Garfield J.L., Rissland E.L.( 1995),Cognitive Science :An Introduction, Second Edition.

9. Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy, Thomas Kuhn, First published Fri Aug 13, 2004; substantive revision Thu Aug 11, 2011[Accessed 22 Oct 2013]

10. Stillings N.A., Weisler S.E.,Chase C.H.,Feinstein M.H., Garfield J.L. and Rissland E.L. (1987),Cognitive Science: An Introduction – Second Edition.(1-17)

11.Fodor J.(1975), The Language of Thought, Harvard University Press.

12. Newell, A. (1994).Unified Theories of Cognition, Harvard University Press; Reprint edition.

13. Haugeland J. (1981) , Mind Design. Cambridge, Mass.MIT Press

14. Pylyshyn Z.,(1984)Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science ,MIT Press.

Written by Faranak on November 3rd, 2013

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