version 2009-09-06

brain and neuron COGS Q540 Philosophical Foundations of Cognitive Science

Fall 2009 Schedule and Syllabus
Meeting time: MW 2:30-3:45; Location: PY 113


(Prof.) Colin Allen <> Goodbody Hall 113, 855-8916, web
Office hours: Wednesdays after CogLunch until class (location tba), and by appointment

Course Description

The cognitive sciences began with great enthusiasm for the prospects of a successful multi-disciplinary attack on the mind. This enthusiasm was fueled by the faith that computational ideas could put flesh on abstract notions of mental representation, providing the means to make good physical sense of questions about the nature of mental information processing. The challenges of understanding how minds work have turned out to be much greater than many of the early enthusiasts predicted — in fact they have turned out to be so great that many (especially here at IU) have argued that we need new paradigms to replace the standard computationalist-representationalist assumptions of traditional cognitive science. This course aims to provide an understanding of the philosophical issues underlying this discussion and to apply this understanding to a specific cutting edge topic. For Fall 2009 that issue will be the relationship of neural mechanisms to cognitive explanations.


  1. Readings provided electronically; see schedule below
  2. Required book: William Bechtel Mental Mechanisms: Philosophical Perspectives on Cognitive Neuroscience
  3. Optional/recommended book: Andy Clark Mindware 2nd Edition, OUP.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course you should have broad knowledge of the history, philosophy and major concepts and trends in cognitive science, along with an appreciation for the philosophical issues that motivated the emergence of cognitive science and underlie the controversies within it. By the end of the course you should have the ability to read works written for professional academic cognitive scientists and philosophers of cognitive science, and to summarize them accurately both orally and in writing using your own words. You should also be able to relate foundational issues in cognitive science to your own research interests.

Grading Basis

Grades will be based holistically on overall performance in the following five categories:

  1. Ten weekly reaction pieces due each Monday, beginning Sept 7 [1 page each]
  2. Paper/research proposal due Nov 02 [2 pages]
  3. Draft of paper due Nov 23 [approx 10 pages]
  4. Final paper due Dec 14 [approx 15 pages]
  5. Oral presentations and classroom participation**

* Weekly reaction pieces. Identify which items you have read from the reading list for the previous two preceding class periods, and write a one page reaction to at least one of them. This should not be a summary or restatement of the reading. Rather, write an argumentative response to something you read. What did you like or dislike most about the idea(s)? How good was the argument that was presented? (See calendar below for due dates.)

** All students will be scheduled to give a classroom presentation. Also, if you do not speak up regularly during class discussions, you may also be gauged by an oral exam to be scheduled at the instructor's discretion during finals week.

Schedule of Readings and Presentations

Articles for the first part of the semester are available to you via the links below for your personal use under fair use doctrine. Book chapters from Bechtel are B#. This schedule may be altered in response to events in class. [Items in brackets are suggested/optional readings.]

DateTopicReadings, Assignments, TestsNotes and Events
Week 1
Aug 31Organization and Overview
Sep 02Cognitive Prehistory• Descartes Meditations I & II (alt. version: pdf)
• Hume Enquiry section 2 and section 3
• Tolman (1948) html pdf
Week 2
Sep 07Beyond Behaviorism• Chomsky (1959/1967) html pdf
• Shepard & Metzler (1971) jstor pdf
• Goldstone & Kersten (2003) pdf
Reaction1 due
Sep 09Turing Machines & Computational Theory of Mind• TM Wikipedia or SEP
• SEP "Computational Theory of Mind" html
• [Clark 1]
Week 3
Sep 14AI as Empirical Enquiry• Newell & Simon (1975) pdf
• Schank & Abelson (1977) pdf
• [Clark 2]
Reaction2 due
Sep 16Turing Test & Chinese Room• Turing (1950) html pdf
• Searle (1980) html
Week 4
Sep 21Functionalism• Fodor (1974) pdf
• Marr (1981) pdf
• Block (1996) pdf
• [Clark 3]
Reaction3 due
Sep 23Instrumentalism & Rational Believers• Dennett (1981) pdf
• Tversky & Kahneman (1974) jstor pdf
• Todd & Gigerenzer (2007) pdf
Week 5
Sep 28Eliminativism and Connectionism• Pollack (1989) pdf
• Ramsey et al. (1991) jstor pdf
• Churchland 2005 preprint pdf
• [SEP "Connectionism" html]
• [Clark 4]
Play with Backprop simulator
Reaction4 due
Sep 30Theory of mind: Infants and Animals• Wimmer & Perner (1983) pdf
• Santos et al. (2007) pdf preprint
• Allen (in press) pdf preprint
• [SEP entry "Simulation theory" html]
Week 6
Oct 05Embodiment• Brooks (1991) pdf
• Clark (1998) pdf
• Barsalou, Smith & Breazeal (2006) pdf
• [Clark 5]
Reaction5 due
Oct 07no class
Week 7
Oct 12Dynamical Systems• Van Gelder (1995) pdf
• Beer (2000) pdf
• Harvey et al. (2005) pdf
• [Clark 6 & 7]
Reaction6 due
Oct 14Naturalism and MechanismB1[RC]
Week 8
Oct 19Naturalism and MechanismB1[CA]
Reaction7 due
Oct 21Mental Phenomena to OperationsB2[DB]
Week 9
Oct 26no classEarly paper proposals encouraged!
Oct 28no class
Week 10
Nov 02Mental Phenomena to OperationsB2[CA]
Paper proposal due
Nov 04Working Parts to OperationsB3[BR]
Week 11
Nov 09Working Parts to OperationsB3[CA]
Reaction8 due
Nov 11Reduction and Independence of Higher-Level SciencesB4[TL]
Week 12
Nov 16Reduction and Independence of Higher-Level SciencesB4[AP]
Reaction9 due
Nov 18Representations and Mental MechanismsB5[T(WS)C]
Week 13
Nov 23Representations and Mental MechanismsB5[LP]
Paper draft due
Nov 25no class(Thanksgiving)
Week 14
Nov 30From Responsive to Active MechanismsB6[AS]
Reaction 10 due
Dec 02From Responsive to Active MechanismsB6[CA]
Week 15
Dec 07Confronting Mechanism's CriticsB7[RI]
Dec 09Confronting Mechanism's CriticsB7[CA]
Finals Week
Dec 14Final paper due

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.

Statement about Academic Misconduct
University rules concerning academic misconduct will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part II for details. Valid HTML 4.01!