Boston University, Department of Psychology

PS 525 Cognitive Science  Spring 2000

Time: Tues-Thurs 9:30-11:00    Place: PSY 155

this file:

Instructor: Catherine Harris   Office: Psychology Department 123 

Phone: 353-2956  Office Hours: M 3-4, TH 1-2

Course Description. Cognitive scientists share a commitment to developing theories of human cognition which can integrate findings from diverse fields (psychology, philosophy, linguistics, computer science, neuroscience). Interdisciplinary research methodology, including connectionist modeling, will be reviewed and applied to questions on human thinking, problem solving, development, dysfunction and social behavior.

Prerequisites. One of the following courses: Cognitive Psychology (PS 336), Neuropsychology (PS 338), Physiological Psychology (231), Minds and Machines (PH 265), Mind, Brain and Self (PH 266), Philosophy of Cognitive Science (PH 468). Background in statistics at least to the level of MA 115 or PS 211. Recommended: A previous course in Computer Science (CS 103 or higher).

Main Sources of Readings

Pinker, S. (1997).  How the mind works.  Norton.  Overview of contents.

Elman, J.L., Bates E. A., Johnson, M.H., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D., and Plunkett, K. (1996) Rethinking Innateness. MIT Press.

Plunkett, K. and Elman, J.L. (1997). Exercises in Rethinking innateness. A handbook for connectionist simulations. MIT Press (comes with disks Macintosh and Windows) To download tlearn software.  Website describing different types of free neural net software.

Students without access to a Macintosh or PC running Windows can use the Macintosh in Prof. Harris' lab in rm 127 of the Psychology Dept.

Course Requirements


Interdisciplinary approaches to the big questions in the study of mind and behavior:  

Availability of books and articles.

The three main books are at the BU Bookstore

Elman et al, Rethinking Innateness: also at Mugar Library Reserve

Articles will be available in the Psychology Dept Reading room (room 108, also called the MA reading room).  Articles can be borrowed to be read or xeroxed, but please be considerate to other class members and return articles as soon as convenient.

Articles mentioned as "background" or "follow-up" are pointers to additional relevant material. These are typically topics on which I will lecture. Obtaining and reading these papers is not required, and the articles are listed here simply for your information. I have personal copies of many of the articles suggested for background/follow-up and can lend these out on request.

Weekly Topics and Reading

Jan 11, 13   Course Introduction;  History of Artificial Intelligence 

Jan 18, 20 Internal representations; Generalization, Modularity

Jan 25, 27 Recurrent networks: Finding structure in time. Emergent properties.


Feb 1, 3 The importance of starting small; Critical periods

Also relevant:

Feb 8, 10 Dynamical systems; Double dissociations don't imply modularity, Brain Development.

also relevant:

Feb 15, 17 Rethinking Innateness

Feb 24 (holiday Feb 22) Connectionism and language disorders

also relevant :

Feb 29, Mar 2.   Consciousness I: Visual system, change blindness, repetition blindness

Web pages with demonstrations:  


also relevant:

Mar 4-12 Spring break

Mar 14, 16  Topics to be announced

For the following topics, some readings are as assigned immediately after the date/topic header.  Readings for the other date will be determined by the student who wants to lead discussion for class meetings of this week. Suggestions for these are listed under "additional reading suggestions." Discussion leaders can also recommend their own readings.

Mar 21, 23 Categorization, Folk theories, stereotypes, racism

Additional reading suggestions, depending on which topics interest students in the categorization, folk theories grab bag of topics:  

Folkbiology by Douglas L. Medin, Scott Atran (Editors) (1999)

"Theory of mind" reading suggestions

Social psychology suggestions: (these may also be appropriate for April 4, 6 dates)

Mar 28, 30 Consciousness II: Emotions

Reading suggestions:

Apr 4, 6 Evolutionary Psychology

Reading suggestions:

Apr 11, 13 Cognitive science and society

On one of these two dates I will present material from the following book and CD-ROM, but no reading required.  The remaining day remains open for another topic relevant to cognitive science and society (perhaps inspired from one of the topics about society and social relations in Pinker Chapter 7).

Apr 18, 20 Neural networks and brain disorders

Reading suggestions:

Apr 25, 27 Evolutionary Psychiatry

Reading suggestions:

May 2 Cognitive science and art, literature.

Reading suggestions:

May 8 -- Papers due

Pinker, How the mind works

The chapter titles in Pinker's How the Mind Works are sometimes opaque. Here is a review of the contents to assist in integrating this material into the course and to help students in choosing what material they want to cover in the class section when they are the discussion leader.

Chapter 1: "Standard equipment"

A grab bag of topics introducing the book and Pinker's combining of two research traditions on p. 23: "Cognitive science helps us o understand how a mind is possible and what kind of mind we have. Evolutionary biology helps us to understand why we have the kind of mind we have...Thinking is computation, I claim, but that does not mean that the computer is a good metaphor for the mind. The mind is a set of modules... the organization of our mental modules comes from our genetic program, but that does not mean that there is a gene for every trait ... the ultimate goal of natural selection is to propagate genes, but that does not mean that the ultimate goal of people is to propagate genes."

Chapter 2: "Thinking machines"

Chapter 3: "Revenge of the nerds"

Chapter 4. "The mind's eye" (the visual system)

Examples of constraint satisfaction in the visual system

Frames of reference, object recognition 256

Face recognition 272   Mental rotation, mental imagery 275

Chapter 5. "Good ideas" (categorization)

Introduces the debate on whether our brain is "overkill" for the environment in which it evolved. 299-306

Chapter 6 "Hotheads" -- The role of emotion in "how the mind works"

Pinker's thesis, p. 370: "...emotions are adaptations, well-engineered software modules that work in harmony with the intellect and are indispensable to the functioning of the whole mind...We often call an act "emotional" when it is harmful o the social group, damaging to the actor's happiness in the long run, uncontrollable and impervious to persuasion, or a product of self-delusion... these outcomes are not malfunctions but precisely what we would expect from well-engineered emotions."

Why we have emotions: An animal can not pursue all of its goals at once.

Chapter 7 "Family values"

The evolutionary psychology of social relations. Topics:

arranged marriage, altruism toward kin, parent-child conflict, sibling rivalry, evolution of sex, human mating systems, male/female differences in sexual behavior, role of appearance in mate-selection, status, friendship, war.

Chapter 8 "The meaning of life"

How do we explain humans' interest in art, music, story-telling, religion, humor?