COGS Q101 — Introduction to Cognitive Science
— Fall 2015
Meeting times and locations: Jordan Hall A100 Tu-Th 5:45-6:35; F
discussion sections as enrolled
More info at Canvas.iu.edu.
- Colin Allen, Professor,
Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science and Program in Cognitive Science
- Office hours, Mondays noon-1 PM and Tuesdays 4-5 PM in Goodbody 113
- Asst. Instructor
- Kim Simmons, PhD Student, Program in Cognitive Science
- Office hours, 11 AM - 12 PM Wednesdays and 4-5 PM Thursdays in Lindley Hall 330I
Cognitive Science is the study of how minds work. Cognitive
scientists come together from many different research areas to engage
in an interdisciplinary attack on the nature of intelligence, memory,
attention, imagery, language, reasoning and perception. One way to
see why studying mind is a difficult problem is to consider that in
virtually every other discipline we use our minds to study something
else. In cognitive science the mind is studying itself; we have to
use our own thought processes to study those processes. Because this
is such a difficult endeavor, we come at the problem from multiple
directions, which is why cognitive science spans psychology,
neuroscience, computer science, logic, philosophy, mathematics,
sociology, anthropology, behavioral economics, robotics, linguistics,
and animal learning (to mention just a few of the areas involved).
This course will provide you with an overview of the tools and
theories that bring these different areas together and provides a
common framework for sharing data across disciplines. You will be
introduced to some important and some intriguing results obtained so
far, and begin to understand how cognitive scientists discover the
laws, models, and mechanisms that allow them to explain how complex
minds produce complex behavior.
By the end of the course, you should have gained
important new insights into what you are and how you work!
This course satisfies a University General Education requirement in
Natural & Mathematical Sciences. The expected learning outcomes
of the course include:
- an understanding of the broad range of methods for scientific
inquiry used by cognitive scientists, and the role of cognitive
science in developing the technologies behind artificial
intelligence and robotics, and of the foundational concepts those
technologies provide back to cognitive science;
- an understanding of how cognitive scientists use mathematical and
computational models to integrate findings from psychology,
linguistics, and neuroscience, how the models relate cognitive
information processing to the hardware and "wetware" of artificial
machines and biological brains, and how the fact that brains are
embodied in organisms that are embedded in social and physical
environments is important for understanding the evolution and
development of complex cognition;
- the ability to interpret experimental data, and to think critically
about the ways in which scientific results and their philosophical
and practical implications are presented in both academic journals
and in news media for the general public.
Along the way, in addition to learning some of the theories,
methods, and results in cognitive science (and some quirks of human
cognition!), you will also get a sampling of some of the specific
research going on in our very own
world-class Cognitive Science
Program at IU, and you will be introduced to the intellectual
and historical context which makes the IU-Cog-Sci view of the world
Because every introductory cognitive science textbook tends to be
biased towards its author's home discipline, I prefer to use a set of
readings drawn from many different sources. These will be made
available to you through the
course Canvas site.
Many of the readings come from the primary research literature in
cognitive science. This is a good thing, since they will help to
capture the vitality and excitement of scientific discovery. (Some of
this work hasn't yet filtered into textbooks.) These readings may also
be challenging, and they will often use terms and refer to
ideas with which you are unfamiliar. Don’t be discouraged by this!
Though the readings have been chosen to be accessible, we don’t expect
you to fully understand everything in them. That is why the readings
come with instructors whose job it is to help you understand the
difficult bits. You can help us help you by diligently doing the
readings (see also the grading basis) and coming to class ready
to ask questions.
Overall, we think you’ll get more out of reading the primary
literature in this way than by reading the watered-down and less
exciting secondary literature, although some home-grown secondary
material is included to help provide background.
This is not grade school, so attendance will not be officially
enforced. However, some materials collected from classroom activities
will be used to track your attendance, and because there is no text
book and no official lecture notes, you will need to come to class to
learn the material. You cannot expect to do well without coming to
class. In all cases of absence, excused or unexcused, it is your
responsibility to get missed notes and information from a classmate.
Examinations will not be limited only to material from the readings,
but will also cover concepts discussed in the classroom at both
the main lectures and discussion sections.
A note about presentation slides: I will sometimes use
presentation slides for class, sometimes not — some material
lends it better to more structured presentation, some lends itself
to a more free-flowing Q&A driven classroom style. When I do use
slides, they will be made available
through Canvas after class, but they will not
reflect the full content of the lecture that day. So you may use
them for later study, but they are not a substitute for
- You may request to make up for missed exams or other assignments
only for University-recognized officially excused absences:
- • For predictable absences due to competitive events,
required activities in other classes, etc., documentation must be
provided at least two weeks prior to the absence.
- • For genuine emergencies, illnesses, or deaths in the family,
written documentation must be provided when you return to
- • Accommodation for religious observances will be handled
according to the official
policy. (Note that the form
must be submitted by the student by the end of the second week
of the semester.)
A load of 12 credit hours is officially defined as full time, but
you are expected to maintain a 15 hr schedule each semester for a
4-year degree plan. A full time work week is 40 hrs, which averages to
just under 3 hrs per week per credit. (If you take an overload, then
it is your responsibility to do the overtime!)
For a 3-credit course, 150 minutes are spent in the classroom, which
means typically two to three times that much should be spent outside studying and
carrying out course assignments. Individual study effectiveness
varies, and you may need (or hopefully want!) to do more than the
minimum to do well in the course. And, of course, the amount of
reward you get out of your education is a function of how much effort
you put in.
For this course you should estimate about 40% of your outside of classroom
time will be devoted to the assigned readings, 20% to independent
reading and research, and 40% to carrying out assignments or studying
for tests (this last category will have the highest variation from
week to week).
IU offers excellent help with academic skill development through
courses for credit and free workshops provided by the Student Academic
Center. Whether you are struggling with specific deadlines, or
simply wanting to improve your general skills, the Center has
something to offer.
For those of you new to IU (and even for some that aren't) this guide to making the
transition to College from SMU will help you understand my
expectations. Regardless of where you are in your College experience,
you should be interested in this NY
Times article on the cognitive science of learning.
- (20%) Responses to Reading
To get the most out of this course, it is essential that you carefully
and critically study the readings associated with each lecture.
The main readings are accompanied by overview documents that are
intended to help you with some of the concepts and terminology you
will encounter in the main reading.
These overviews are not substitutes for the main reading -- they
do not attempt to summarize the main readings, and in fact they are
designed to be quite generic so that they would help you to read any
article in the same sub-area of cognitive science.
To encourage you to carefully and critically study the readings, and
to give the instructor feedback as to what you thought of the
supplementary material, you will be asked to provide comments on the
readings for each class.
You will be required to submit these comments
via Canvas no later than noon on the day of the class
in which that reading will be discussed.
These should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete after you have
read the material.
The questions due for each class will be assigned at the end of the
We will use these comments to gauge your reactions to (and
understanding of) the ideas we’ll discuss, and will occasionally use
part of the classroom time to respond to some of the issues you raise
in these comments, as well as working them into the weekly discussion
Note that a significant portion of your grade (20%) will be based on
simply completing these assignments, and that late submissions will
not be counted for any reason except documented medical emergencies.
These will be graded on a pass/fail (1/0) basis and for full credit
you need to have 20 passes from the 23 opportunities during the
semester (i.e. you can omit 3).
- (45%) Two Exams
45% of your course grade will be determined by two examinations. The
first exam will be on Tuesday, October 13 and will cover material
from August 25 through October 7.
The second exam will be held according to
schedule,on Tuesday, December 15, from 7:15 p.m. to 9:15
p.m. and will cover material from the entire course, but with
more questions about the second half.
The exam on which you do the best will count for 25% of your
grade; the other will count for 20%.
Each exam will consist of some multiple choice questions and a writing
Make-up exams will be given only in exceptional circumstances with a
full university excused absence; the make up exam will also be
different in content and possibly format from the original exam. No
early exams will be given, so make your travel plans accordingly.
To do well on these exams, you’ll need to attend the lectures and
discussion sections. Readings and lectures will rarely overlap by more
than ~ 25%, but you will be examined on either.
- (15%) Questions on PeerWise This semester we will be
using PeerWise as a place for you to create, share and evaluate
assessment questions with your classmates. Start by visiting PeerWise
here: peerwise.cs.auckland.ac.nz. You will need to
create an account (if you haven't used it before) and then log in and
then select "Join course" from the Home menu. To access our course,
"COGS Q101 Fall2015", you will need to enter two pieces of
More details on how you will be using this tool will be given in
- Course ID = 11630
- Identifier = Please enter your IU username (the part before "@" in
your IU email address) for this course. (Note that your Identifier for
the course is not necessarily the same as the PeerWise username you
created, unless, of course, you made it so.)
- (20%) Short Paper You will be write one
short (3-5 page) paper for this course, on an assigned topic which
is discussed further below in this syllabus.
On or before Friday Nov 13 you must submit a
After the proposal is approved, the paper is due by Sunday,
December 6th just before the last week of class.
- (+5%) Class participationSome of the activities during
main lecture and discussion sections will entail you turning in a
piece of paper or index card. These will be aggregated during the
semester and assessed at the end of the semester according to your
engagement with the classroom activities.
Note: Readings and topics are only definite 3 weeks before the date.
All readings will be
via Canvas (login required).
- General description of the assignment: We define the
"internal (methodological) validity" of a scientific study in terms of how well it was
designed to test the researcher's hypothesis; i.e., did it use
appropriate methods and correct logical and statistical analysis? We
define the "external (ecological) validity" of a scientific study
as its relationship to the world outside the lab; i.e., both (a) do
the study findings seem important "in the real world"?, and (b) did
the stimuli or tasks used in the study adequately represent conditions
outside the laboratory; e.g., if studying student learning, was the
task used in the experiment similar enough to what students encounter
in classrooms to make the findings generalizable to real
classrooms. In this short (3-5 page) paper, you’ll discuss the
internal/methodological and external/ecological validity of a part of
cognitive science, and compare an actual scientific report with its
presentation in the news media.
- Materials [Describe and provide copies or links for Paper proposal due Nov 13]: Choose any
recent (past 10 years) example of peer-reviewed cognitive science
research which also received press coverage in a major newspaper or
magazine -- e.g.:
The New York Times,
[You may pick an example covered in class, or find something else.
See a list
cognitive scientists in the news for locally-relevant stories.
You may also want to follow @sciammind or similar.]
- Full Paper Structure:
Write a short (3-5 page, double-spaced)
paper in which you:
(a) summarize, in your own words, the main point, methods, and
results of the research as reported in the original scientific article
(b) describe how this research was presented in one or more of the
journalistic treatments (did they report it accurately? did they use
language and concepts not in the original?) (journalistic accuracy);
(c) say whether the journalistic presentation and the scientific
presentation covered external/ecological validity of the research, and if so,
(d) give your own assessment of the external/ecological validity of this research (critical evaluation);
(e) discuss what you would say to someone who disagrees with your
assessment of the external/ecological validity of the study —
i.e., play ‘devil’s advocate’ to generate arguments for alternative
views to your own, and then try to counter them (self-critical
Statement for Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal
anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights
protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this
legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed
a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of
their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an
accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.
Portions of this syllabus are adapted with permission from Prof. Brian
Scholl's Introduction to Cognitive Science syllabus
at Yale University.