Phil/Psych 447

Seminar in Cognitive Science

Week 1: Introduction

Introduction to Course

Camus: The only serious philosophical problem is suicide.

Philosophical problems:

  1. What is reality?
  2. How do we know reality?
  3. Why is life worth living?
  4. What makes actions right or wrong?

Approach: How can cognitive science help us to

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.

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.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the meaning of life really the most important philosophical question?
  2. Are philosophical questions answerable?
  3. Can science be relevant to philosophy?
  4. Does science (e.g. psychology, neuroscience, AI, linguistics, anthropology) need philosophy?
  5. What is wisdom?
  6. What are the most plausible approaches to philosophy?
  7. How do theory and experiment interact in cognitive science?
  8. Can cognitive science be relevant to the meaning of life?

Phil/Psych 447

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Sept. 8, 2008