Phil/Psych 256: ESSAY. Fall, 2015

Essays (23% of the marks for this course) are due Nov. 23..

Essays should not be longer that 10 pages, typed, double spaced, (3,000 words, including references). You should consult 5-10 sources other than the textbook: for pointers, see the references in the textbook. The Encylopedia of Cognitive Science the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science (both in reference at Porter Library) are good places to start. Google Scholar is a good guide to the most cited works. Indicate your sources. Avoid Wikipedia and other sources of variable quality.

The penalty for late essays is 10% per week late: if you hand it in after class Nov. 23, you lose 10%, and after Nov. 30 another 10%, and so on. Extensions will be granted for reasons of documented medical illness or family emergency, but not workload (this essay was assigned Oct. 15). The penalty for plagiarism (passing another person's work off as your own) is a course grade of F and referral to the Associate Dean.

NOTE: The final day to hand in an essay and get any marks for it is Dec. 2, in class.

See: How to avoid plagiarism.

Essays will be evaluated on the basis of:

1. Relevance: pose and try to answer an important question in cognitive science.

2. Research: use resources beyond the textbooks.

3. Writing: write intelligibly.

4. Argument: make a compelling case for the answer you prefer, and consider alternative answers. Essays will be graded on the quality of the argument, not on the particular conclusion you reach.

The format does not matter, but make sure that you indicate all your sources, including Web sites. This is a research essay so you should use 6-10 sources in addition to the textbooks. Include at least one reference to the textbooks.

Your essay MUST have the following explicit headings:

1. The issue. State the question you are trying to answer.

2. Alternatives. State possible answers to your question.

3. Evidence. Describe whatever psychological, computational, and neurological evidence is relevant to the different potential answers.

4. Conclusion. On the basis of the evidence for the different alernatives, argue for what you see as the best answer to the question.




Essays not using these headings will be penalized 25%.

Essay topics

1. Is formal logic an important part of human thinking? Evaluate the arguments of Rips and Johnson-Laird.

2. Is language rule-governed? Evaluate the arguments of both the pro side (Pinker, etc.) and the con side (connectionists).

3. What representations play a more important role in human thinking, rules or concepts?

4. Are concepts innate?

5. Are analogy and metaphor peripheral or central to human cognition?

6. Is there convincing evidence that people think using mental imagery?

7. Is the connectionist approach to cognition compatible with the symbolic approach? Which is better for what?

8. How important are emotions in human cognition? Do emotions make people less rational, or more?

9. What is consciousness? Is it computational?

10. Is the mind a dynamic system?

11. How do minds have intentionality (aboutness)?

12. Are brains computers?

13. Is the mind a quantum computer?

14. Propose your own project. This must be approved in advance: submit two copies of a 1-page description by Oct. 26. The project must be closely connected with the contents of the course.

Strunk's Elements of Style.

William Safire's rules for good writing:

No sentence fragments. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read. A writer must not shift your point of view. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed. Write all adverbial forms correct. In their writing, everyone should make sure that their pronouns agree with its antecedent. Use the semicolon properly, use it between complete but related thoughts; and not between an independent clause and a mere phrase. Don't use no double negatives. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Resist hyperbole. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid commas, that are not necessary. Verbs has to agree with their subjects. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. The passive voice should never be used. Writing carefully, dangling participles should be avoided. Unless you are quoting other people's exclamations, kill a ll exclamation points!!! Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. Use parallel structure when you write and in speaking. You should just avoid confusing readers with misplaced modifiers. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences-such as those of ten or more words-to their antecedents. Eschew dialect, irregardless. Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and don't mix metaphors. Don't verb nouns. Always pick on the correct idiom. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'" Never use prepositions to end a sentence with. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.


Phil/Psych 256

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Oct. 15, 2015