http://mypage.iu.edu/~colallen/Courses/Q101/index.shtml — version 2012-08-30
COGS Q101 — Introduction to Cognitive Science — Fall "Themester" 2012
Meeting times and locations: Lindley Hall 102 5:45-6:35; W and F discussion sections as enrolled
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 the more important 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.
The Fall 2012 edition relates in several ways to the 2012 "Themester": Good behavior, bad behavior: molecules to morality. We will look at empirical research by psychologists, neuroscientists, and even experimental philosophers, who are attempting to discover the processes and mechanisms underlying the moral decisions and behavior of people. We will also look at work in comparative psychology and cognitive ethology that attempts to trace the evolutionary origins of moral behavior, and we will explore the growing field of "machine morality" which concerns the attempts to program some degree of moral behavior into computers and robots. We will discuss the philosophical implications of this research; for instance, can people be held responsible if their behavior can be explained by cognitive processes or neural mechanisms? We will also touch on the broader senses of "good & bad" that relate to rationality and adaptiveness of thought and behavior. Evolutionary psychology provides one non-moral sense of good and bad that relates behavior to biological fitness. Developmental psychology provides another non-moral sense of good and bad that relates to how humans and animals adapt during their lifetimes to the specific physical and social environments in which they find themselves. And we will consider the evidence for and against the idea that humans are the only rational animals, or even whether they are rational at all.
By the end of the course, you should have gained important new insights into what you are and how you work!
This course has two main goals:
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 library and OnCourse links. 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, though, 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 carefully chosen to be accessible, we don’t expect you to fully understand every aspect of the readings. 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 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 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. Individuals' 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 you College experience, you should be interested in this NY Times article on the cognitive science of learning.
Note: Readings and topics are only definite 3 weeks before the date.
Paper topicWhen one asks about the "ecological validity" of a scientific study, one is essentially asking "What does this tell us about the world outside the lab?" In this short (3-5 page) paper, you’ll discuss the ecological validity of a part of cognitive science, and compare an actual scientific report with its presentation in the news media. Choose any recent (past 5 years) example of peer-reviewed cognitive science research which received press coverage in a major outlet (e.g. The New York Times, Science News, New Scientist, or Discover Magazine). (You may pick an example covered in class, or find something else. See a list of IU cognitive scientists in the news.) Write a short (3-5 page, double-spaced) paper in which you: (a) summarize, in your own words, the main point 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?); (c) discuss whether the journalistic presentation and the scientific presentation covered ecological validity of the research; (d) give your own assessment of the ecological validity of this research; (e) discuss what you would say to someone who disagrees with your assessment -- play ‘devil’s advocate’ to generate arguments for alternative views to your own, and then try to counter them.
Statement for Students with Disabilities
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Portions of this syllabus are adapted with permission from Prof. Brian Scholl's Introduction to Cognitive Science syllabus at Yale University.