SCXT 350

Introduction to Cognitive Science

Bob Matthews

Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

Spring, 2004

Change history


Weekly reading and lecture schedule


Some Links:

Links to previous editions of this course:

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)), with additional lectures by Mark Reinitz. While this edition 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, 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 two (single-spaced 12 pt) pages should be written for any of the readings - generally no more than one..

In addition to readings requiring a response and classroom discussion, there will be other readings in the textbook and anthology.  My plan is to preface those reading assignments by a bit of discussion about them.

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.

No late homework can be accepted past the last day of classes (Wednesday, May 5). 

Finally, please note that the last day to withdraw with an automatic "W" is Monday, February 16. 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 ones 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 look at what the data from Psychology tells us. In Philosophy and Linguistics, 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 opinions he is happy to share (which students should not feel in any way obliged to agree with). 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.



The course is in roughly six parts:

Since we have two textbooks driving the discussion, we will not necessarily discuss things in the order above. The tentative schedule of readings and examinations can be found here. Please note that several of the readings overlap.

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