Phil/Psych 446

Seminar in Cognitive Science

Week 1: Introduction

Introduction to Course

Stuart Sutherland, 1989: "Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it."

Christof Koch, 2004: "We live at a unique point in the history of science. The technology to discover and characterize how the subjective mind emerges out of the objective brain is within reach. The next years will prove decisive."

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.

Philosophical positions on consciousness

1. Dualism: consciousness is a spiritual state, independent of body.

2. Idealism: everything is consciousness.

3. Identity theory: consciousness is a brain state.

4. Functionalism: consciousness is a functional state, so a computer or a force field could be conscious.

5. Eliminative materialism: consciousness is one of those features of folk psychology that will be eliminated as science develops.

6. Mysterious materialism (McGinn): Consciousness is somehow material, but we will never be able to figure out how.

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.

Revival of the Problem of Consciousness

Aim: construct a scientific theory of consciousness
Purely computational theory: functionalism
More plausible: neural theory: how does brain processing produce consciousness

Components of a theory

Brains consist of neurons organized into groups that are organized into areas.
Neural groups represent by causal correlations with the world and other neural groups.
Consciousness consists of patterns of activity of groups of neurons that represent the world, the body, and other neural groups.

Phil/Psych 446

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Sept. 10, 2007