Phil/Psych 447 Phil 673

Seminar in Cognitive Science

Week 1: Introduction

Link to Susan Blackmore

Introduction to Consciousness

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."

What is consciousness?

Exemplars: perceptions, emotions, thoughts.

Prototypical features: awareness, attention, experience.

Explanations: consciousness causes action; consciousness is caused by attention?

Positions on consciousness

1. Dualism: consciousness is a spiritual state, independent of body (Descartes, Chalmers).

2. Idealism: everything is consciousness (Rescher).

3. Identity theory: consciousness is a brain state (Smart, later Churchlands, Thagard).

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 (early Churchlands).

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

7. Consciousness is an illusion (Blackmore, Dennett?).

8. Consciousness is a mathematical quantity (Tononi, Koch).

Introduction to Philosophy

Thagard: Why cognitive science needs philosophy and vice versa.

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

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of mind and intelligence, including philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, and artificial intelligence.


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 wish you knew about consciousness?
  2. What are exemplars (standard examples) of consciousness?
  3. What are prototypical features of consciousness?
  4. What does consciousness cause?
  5. What causes consciousness?
  6. What are the major theories of consciousness?

Phil/Psych 447

Paul Thagard

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

This page updated Sept. 9, 2013