Phil/Psych 447, 2010

Seminar in Cognitive Science: Mind and Society

Week 1: Introduction

Introduction to Course

Questions about mind and society:

  1. How is the nature of human minds relevant to understanding the structure and development of social groups?
  2. How can the cognitive sciences (psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer modeling) be related to the social sciences (economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, history)?
  3. Can an improved understanding of mind and society contribute toward valuable social change?
  4. What is the role of philosophy in understanding mind and society?

Approach: How can cognitive science and philosophy help us to answer these questions?

Thagard: Why cognitive science needs philosophy and vice versa.

Introduction to Philosophy

Areas of Philosophy





Positions in the philosophy of mind

What is a mental state?

1. Dualism: mental state = non-material state of spiritual mind. E.g. Descartes, Eccles, religious views.

2. Idealism: everything is mental. Pan-psychism: everything is conscious, at least to a degree.

3. Identity theory: mental state = brain state. E.g. JJC Smart 1950s

4. Functionalism: mental state = functional state of an information processing system. There is an underlying physical state (functionalism is a kind of materialism) but the physical state places no constraints on mental states.

5. Eliminative materialism: do not try to equate mental states with anything, since our theory of mental states is just part of folk psychology which is largely false. Instead, replace talk of mental states with theories drawn from human neuroscience. Reject functionalism because it is crucial that thinking is based in human brains. Paul and Pat Churchland.

6. Mysterian materialism: mental states are physical states, but are far too weird and complicated to be explained scientifically.

Introduction to Cognitive Science


History of philosophy: Plato, Aristotle, empiricists, rationalists.
Origins of experimental psychology in 1870s: Wundt, James, behaviorists

Origin of modern cognitive science: mid-1950s

Artificial intelligence
Cognitive psychology
Chomsky’s linguistics
Computer analogy: thinking is representation + processing, a kind of computation.

This is a hypothesis, and might be false.

Challenges to cognitive science:

Later Developments:

Current status?

Aim: use theoretical neuroscience to explain (provide mechanisms for) all aspects of cognition, including rules, concepts, imagery, parallel constraint satisfaction, analogy, and emotion.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think are the main social problems today?
  2. Do current versions of social science help to address these problems?
  3. What are the relations between cognitive sciences (e.g. psychology) and social sciences (e.g. economics)?
  4. Can there be a productive cognitive social science?
  5. What cognitive processes are particularly relevant to social processes?
  6. Can mind and society be studied scientifically?
  7. How is science different from philosophy?
  8. How are the cognitives sciences (e.g. psychology and neuroscience) related to each other?
  9. What is the role of computational modeling in cognitive and social science?
  10. What is the relation between the descriptive (how things are) and the normative (how things should be)?

Phil/Psych 447

Paul Thagard

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

This page updated Sept. 13, 2010