SCXT 350

Introduction to Cognitive Science

Bob Matthews

Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

Fall, 2000



Weekly reading and lecture schedule


Read And Respond Exercises:

Exam reviews

Term Paper/Project


Percentages may be adjusted in the first several weeks of the term - check back here for details.


This is a single-instructor offering of a course that has been team-taught for many years now (the other members of the team have been Bill Beardsley (Philosophy), Cathy Hale (Psychology) and Tom Fikes (now at Santa Barbara)). While this section reflects the experiences of an enjoyable and intellectually challenging collaboration, this section of the course this semester does reflect the instructor's personal interests. While we will be looking at matters in computer science, philosophy, and psychology, the emphasis will be on examining the notion of a computational model for intelligence (i.e., primarily computer science and philosophy). This is by way of an apology to those who might want to see more psychology in the course, but I wanted to be honest with everyone.

Read-and-respond exercises: For several of the assigned readings (all of the readings in the course pack), I will ask for a (word-processed) summary in your own words of the main points and arguments in the reading. These will be graded as follows:

These "read and respond" assignments will be due at the start of class on which the reading is scheduled to be discussed. I will expect at least a solid paragraph for each one, but most will require more. No more than a (single-spaced 12 pt) page should be written for any of the readings.

Although email is great for informal discussions and questions about the course, assignments, exams, reading, etc., not all word processing programs produce output readable by all computers. Therefore, no email submissions of homework will be accepted except by prior arrangement.

The final exam in this class will be a take-home final available on the last day of class and due at 10:00 AM Friday, Dec. 15.

Finally, please note that the last day to withdraw with an automatic "W" is Monday, September 25. Should you find yourself in difficulty at any point in the semester, please make arrangements to meet with me as quickly as possible.

Catalog Description:

This course will introduce students to the current state of cognitive science by examining recent advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and the philosophy of mind and language. Issues to be addressed include the nature of mental representation, natural language processing, vision and perception, cognitive development, and problem solving.


Completion of the Natural World core requirement and the Mathematical Reasoning core requirement.

Learning objectives:

We have been asking about the nature of intelligence and the nature of consciousness since we started asking questions about ourselves and the world around us. With the advent of the computer, we have started asking a much more narrow question:  Is intelligence, is consciousness computational in nature?

This is the basic question (and the basic assumption) of cognitive science. This course will not answer that question. We don't have a convincing answer for it yet, and one may never be found. What we will do during the course of this semester will be to examine this question, to learn more about it, so that whatever answer we find ourselves inclining to, we will be better informed.

There are some specific objectives for this semester (in addition to the more general one outlined above):

  1. The student will gain an introductory understanding of what it means to say that intelligence is computational (a full understanding of that statement is, I believe, the basis for a full and satisfying career). To this end, the student will
    1. Acquire a good understanding of what an algorithm is and learn how to implement algorithms in the programming language LISP
    2. Develop an introductory understanding of formal models for computation, the limits of computation, the Chomsky hierarchy, and the Turing-Church hypothesis
  2. The student will study some of the modern attempts to demonstrate a computational model for intelligence through an introduction to the discipline of artificial intelligence, including introductions to knowledge representation, search, and artificial neural networks.
  3. Finally, the student will explore some of the positions taken in the ongoing discussion of this issue. We will begin with Descartes, and look (and discuss) Turing, Gelernter, Newell and Simon, Penrose, Searle, and others, finishing with a partial response to Descartes given to us by Chomsky and others.
  1. The student should know that the instructor has no definite answers to the questions posed in this course, though he does have some positions he is happy to share. The instructor recognizes that there are good and thoughtful people (including several smarter than he is) who take contrary positions. Much of the effort of the course, then, will to be to develop an understanding of these issues sufficient to inform the student's future deliberation on them.

    This is, I believe, one of the great questions of our time, and one which is unlikely to be answered soon. But it is great fun to explore and to discuss, so let us begin.


Note: Please note that, except for scheduled University events and exam dates, the schedule of topics, readings, and assignments is tentative. Please refer to the current weekly schedule posted above. It may be necessary to change an exam date: if that happens, I will give you at least a week's notice and make alternate arrangements for students unable to take the exam on the rescheduled date. Please inform me of any conflict between the dates entered here and those in the catalog and course schedule. In the event of any conflicts, the catalog and course schedule have the final say. Please note: The final exam in this class will be a take-home final available on the last day of class and due at 10:00 AM Friday, Dec. 15.


The course is in roughly six parts:

Since we have a textbook mostly driving the discussion, we will not necessarily discuss things in the order above. The tentative schedule of readings and examinations is as follows. Please note that several of the readings overlap.

SCXT 350 Lecture Schedule


Fall 2000


Exam Schedule:

I will try very hard to adhere to the following exam schedule. If it becomes necessary to change the date of an exam (except, of course, the final exam over which I have no control), I will give the class advance notice, and work to make arrangements for students who can not take the exam on the changed date.

The date and time of the final exam is fixed by the Registrar. Should the date and time I have for this exam conflict with the announced schedule, the Registrar's schedule will apply.

Weekly Schedules:

Fall 2000 Schedule

Important Note: University dates are taken from the Master Calendar and from the schedule of final exams. If there is a disagreement between the dates below and those dates, the master calendar and Fall 2000 schedule documents are the correct dates. Please let me know if you spot any schedule disagreements.

The following is a start-of-semester draft only, and is subject to change as the semester moves on. I will, however, try very hard to stick to the published exam dates. If it becomes necessary to change an exam date, I will give you at least a week's notice.

 Some important dates:

August 28


Classes Begin

September 4


Labor Day (No classes)

September 11


Last Day to Drop Without Record, 4:30 pm

September 25


Last Day to Withdraw With An Automatic "W"

October 13



October 16


Fall Break (No Classes)

November 23-26


Thanksgiving Holiday

December 6


Last Day of Classes

December 7-10


Reading Period (No Classes)

December 11-15


Final Examinations


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