Saturday, 2 January 2016

PSYC 538/740 Seminar Syllabus

Psychology PSYC 538/740, Winter 2016:
Categorization, Communication and Consciousness

Time: Mondays 8:30-11:30
Place: LEA 15
Instructor: Stevan Harnad
Office: Stewart W7/3m
Skype: sharnad 
E-mail: (please don’t use my mcgill email address because I don’t check it regularly)
Optional 2% Psychology Department Participant Pool

You are welcome to participate in the participant pool or to do the non-participatory alternate assignments for an extra 2% on your final grade. Participating is entirely voluntary and is between you and the Participant Pool Teaching Assistant (Brian Mathias) who will indicate to me at the end of the semester who participated and for how much credit. You are permitted to participate in any study for which you are eligible. The pool TA will visit our class to describe the process. All questions about the participant pool should be sent to the pool TA at:
     Open to students interested in Cognitive Science from the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, Computer Science, or Neuroscience.

Overview: What is cognition? Cognition is whatever is going on inside our heads when we think, whatever enables us to do all the things we know how to do -- to learn and to act adaptively, so we can survive and reproduce. Cognitive science tries to explain the internal mechanism that generates that know-how. 
    The brain is the natural place to look for the explanation of the mechanism, but that’s not enough. Unlike the mechanisms that generate the capacities of other bodily organs such as the heart or the lungs, the brain’s capacities are too vast, complex and opaque to be read off by direct observation or manipulation. 
    The brain can do everything that we can do. Computational modeling and robotics try, alongside behavioral neuroscience, to design and test mechanisms that can also do everything we can do. Explaining how any mechanism can do what our brains can do might also help explain how our brains do it.
    What is computation? Can computation do everything that the brain can do? 
    The challenge of the celebrated "Turing test" is to design a model that can do everything we can do, to the point where we can no longer tell apart the model’s performance from our own. The model not only has to generate our sensorimotor capacities – the ability to do everything with the objects and organisms in the world that we are able do with them -- but it must also be able to produce and understand language, just as we do. 
    What is language, and what was its adaptive value for our species, so that we are the only species on the planet that has it? 
    Is there any truth to the Whorf Hypothesis that language shapes the way the world looks to us?
    How do we learn to categorize all the things we can name with words? How do words get their meaning?
    And what is consciousness? We are not the only conscious organisms, but what is consciousness for? What is its function, its adaptive value? And can consciousness be wider than out heads? Is the Web conscious?

Objectives: This course will outline the main challenges that cognitive science, still very incomplete, faces today, focusing on computation, the capacity to learn sensorimotor categories, to name and describe them verbally, and to transmit them to others through language, concluding with cognition distributed on the Web.

0. Introduction
What is cognition? How and why did introspection fail? How and why did behaviourism fail? What is cognitive science trying to explain, and how?

1. The computational theory of cognition (Turing, Newell, Pylyshyn) 
What is (and is not) computation? What is the power and scope of computation? What does it mean to say (or deny) that “cognition is computation”?
1a.  What is a Turing Machine? + What is Computation? + What is a Physical Symbol System?
1b. Harnad, S. (2009) Cohabitation: Computation at 70, Cognition at 20, in Dedrick, D., Eds. Cognition, Computation, and Pylyshyn. MIT Press

2. The Turing test
What’s wrong and right about Turing’s proposal for explaining cognition?
2a. Turing, A.M. (1950) Computing Machinery and IntelligenceMind 49 433-460  
2b. Harnad, S. (2008) The Annotation Game: On Turing (1950) on Computing,Machinery and Intelligence. In: Epstein, Robert & Peters, Grace (Eds.) Parsing the Turing Test: Philosophical and Methodological Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer. Springer

3. Searle's Chinese room argument (against the computational theory of cognition)
What’s wrong and right about Searle’s Chinese room argument that cognition is not computation?
3a. Searle, John. R. (1980) Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3): 417-457  
3b. Harnad, S. (2001) What's Wrong and Right About Searle's Chinese RoomArgument? In: M. Bishop & J. Preston (eds.) Essays on Searle's Chinese Room Argument. Oxford University Press.

4. What about the brain?
Why is there controversy over whether neuroscience is relevent to explaining cognition?
4a. Cook, R., Bird, G., Catmur, C., Press, C., & Heyes, C. (2014). Mirror neurons: from origin to function. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(02), 177-192.
4b. Fodor, J. (1999) "Why, why, does everyone go on so about the brain?" London Review of Books 21(19) 68-69.

5. The symbol grounding problem
What is the “symbol grounding problem,” and how can it be solved? (The meaning of words must be grounded in sensorimotor categories.)
5. Harnad, S. (2003) The Symbol Grounding Problem. Encylopedia of Cognitive Science. Nature Publishing Group. Macmillan. 
[Google also for other online sources for “The Symbol Grounding Problemin Google Scholar]

6. Categorization and cognition
That categorization is cognition makes sense, but “cognition is categorization”? (On the power and generality of categorization.)
6a. Harnad, S. (2005) To Cognize is to Categorize: Cognition is Categorization, in Lefebvre, C. and Cohen, H., Eds. Handbook of Categorization. Elsevier.
6b. Harnad, S. (2003) Categorical Perception. Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Nature Publishing Group. Macmillan.

7. Evolution and cognition
Why is it that some evolutionary explanations sound plausible and make sense, whereas others seem far-fetched or even absurd?
7a. Confer, Jaime C., Judith A. Easton, Diana S. Fleischman, Cari D. Goetz, David M. G. Lewis, Carin Perilloux, and David M. Buss (2010) Evolutionary Psychology Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and Limitations. American Psychologist 65 (2): 110–126 
7b. MacLean, E.L., Matthews, L.J., Hare, B.A., Nunn, C.L., Anderson, R.C., Aureli, F., Brannon, E.M., Call, J., Drea, C.M., Emery, N.J. and Haun, D.B. (2012) How does cognition evolve?Phylogenetic comparative psychology. Animal cognition, 15(2): 223-238.

8. The evolution of language
What’s wrong and right about Steve Pinker’s views on language evolution? And what was so special about language that the capacity to acquire it became evolutionarily encoded in the brains of our ancestors – and of no other surviving species – about 300,000 years ago? (It gave our species a unique new way to acquire categories, through symbolic instruction rather than just direct sensorimotor induction.)
8a. Pinker, S. & Bloom, P. (1990). Natural language and natural selection. Behavioral and Brain Sciences13(4): 707-784.  
8b. Blondin-Massé, Alexandre; Harnad, Stevan; Picard, Olivier; and St-Louis, Bernard (2013) Symbol Grounding and the Origin of Language: From Show to Tell. In, Lefebvre, Claire; Cohen, Henri; and Comrie, Bernard (eds.) New Perspectives on the Origins of Language. Benjamin

9. Noam Chomsky and the poverty of the stimulus
A close look at one of the most controversial issues at the heart of cognitive science: Chomsky’s view that Universal Grammar has to be inborn because it cannot be learned from the data available to the language-learning child.
9a. Pinker, S. Language Acquisitionin L. R. Gleitman, M. Liberman, and D. N. Osherson (Eds.), An Invitation to Cognitive Science, 2nd Ed. Volume 1: Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 
9b. Pullum, G.K. & Scholz BC (2002) Empirical assessment of stimulus poverty arguments. Linguistic Review 19: 9-50

10. The mind/body problem and the explanatory gap
Once we can pass the Turing test -- because we can generate and explain everything that cognizers are able to do -- will we have explained all there is to explain about the mind? Or will something still be left out?
10a. Dennett, D. (unpublished) The fantasy of first-person science 
10b. Harnad, S. (unpublished) On Dennett on Consciousness: The Mind/Body Problem is the Feeling/Function Problem 
10c. Harnad, S. & Scherzer, P. (2008) Spielberg's AI: Another Cuddly No-Brainer. Artificial Intelligence in Medicine 44(2): 83-89 
10d. Harnad, S. (2012) Alan Turing and the “hard” and “easy” problem of cognition: doing and feeling. [in special issue: Turing Year 2012] Turing100: Essays in Honour of Centenary Turing Year 2012, Summer Issue

11. Distributed cognition and the World Wide Web
Can a mind be wider than a head? Collective cognition in the online era: the Cognitive Commons.
Clark, A. & Chalmers, D. (1998) The Extended Mind. Analysis58(1) 
Dror, I. & Harnad, S. (2009) Offloading Cognition onto CognitiveTechnology. In Dror & Harnad (Eds): Cognition Distributed: How Cognitive Technology Extends Our Minds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

X. For Psyc 740 grad students only:

Chalmers, D.J. (2011) "A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition".  Journal of Cognitive Science 12: 323-57 
Harnad, Stevan (2012) The Causal Topography of Cognition. Journal of Cognitive Science. 13(2): 181-196 [commentary on: Chalmers, David: “A Computational Foundation for the Study of Cognition”] 
Chalmers, D.J. (2012) "The Varieties of Computation: A Reply to Commentators". Journal of Cognitive Science, 13:211-48.

12. Overview

Drawing it all together.


1. Blog skywriting (30 marks) -- quote/commentary on all 24 readings 

2. Class discussion (20 marks) --  (do more skywritings if you are shy to speak in class) 

3. Midterm (10 marks) -- 6 online questions (about 250 words for each answer) 

4. Final (40 marks) -- 8 online integrative questions  (about 500 words each answer)

Optional 2% Psychology Department Participant Pool

You are welcome to participate in the participant pool or to do the non-participatory alternate assignments for an extra 2% on your final grade. Participating is entirely voluntary and is between you and the Participant Pool Teaching Assistant (Brian Mathias) who will indicate to me at the end of the semester who participated and for how much credit. You are permitted to participate in any study for which you are eligible. The pool TA will visit our class to describe the process. All questions about the participant pool should be sent to the pool TA at:

Course website:

Use your gmail account to register to comment, and either use your real name or send me an email to tell me what pseudonym you are using (so I can give you credit).

Every week, everyone does at least one blog comment on each of that (coming) week’s two papers. In your blog comments, quote the passage on which you are commenting (italics, indent). Comments can also be on the comments of others.

Make sure you first edit your comment in another text processor, because if you do it directly in the blogger window you may lose it and have to write it all over again. Also, check how many comments have been made, and if they are close to 50, go to the overflow comments because blogger only allows 50 in each batch. (Each paper has room for a first 50 and then an oveflow 50.) 

Also do your comments early in the week or I may not be able to get to them in time to reply. (I won't be replying to all comments, just the ones where I think I have something interesting to add. You should comment on one another's comments too -- that counts -- but make sure you're basing it on having read the original skyreading too.)

For samples, see summer school:

Opening Overview Video of Categorization, Communication and Consciousness

Opening Overview Video of:

(Opening Overview Comment Overflow) (50+)

(Opening Overview Comment Overflow) (50+)

The blogger software only accepts 50 comments, so when skywriting reaches 50, please switch to the overflow comments link, otherwise your comment will not appear. (Always check if your comment appears after you have posted it.)

1a. What is Computation?

Optional Reading:
Pylyshyn, Z (1989) Computation in cognitive science. In MI Posner (Ed.) Foundations of Cognitive Science. MIT Press 
Overfiew: Nobody doubts that computers have had a profound influence on the study of human cognition. The very existence of a discipline called Cognitive Science is a tribute to this influence. One of the principal characteristics that distinguishes Cognitive Science from more traditional studies of cognition within Psychology, is the extent to which it has been influenced by both the ideas and the techniques of computing. It may come as a surprise to the outsider, then, to discover that there is no unanimity within the discipline on either (a) the nature (and in some cases the desireabilty) of the influence and (b) what computing is --- or at least on its -- essential character, as this pertains to Cognitive Science. In this essay I will attempt to comment on both these questions. 

Alternative sources for points on which you find Pylyshyn heavy going. (Remember that you do not need to master the technical details for this seminar, you just have to master the ideas, which are clear and simple.)

Milkowski, M. (2013). Computational Theory of Mind. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1980). Computation and cognition: Issues in the foundations of cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(01), 111-132.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1984). Computation and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

(1a. Comment Overflow) (50+)

(1a. Comment Overflow) (50+)

1b. Harnad, S. (2009) Cohabitation: Computation at 70, Cognition at 20

Harnad, S. (2009) Cohabitation: Computation at 70, Cognition at 20, in Dedrick, D., Eds. Cognition, Computation, and Pylyshyn. MIT Press 

Zenon Pylyshyn cast cognition's lot with computation, stretching the Church/Turing Thesis to its limit: We had no idea how the mind did anything, whereas we knew computation could do just about everything. Doing it with images would be like doing it with mirrors, and little men in mirrors. So why not do it all with symbols and rules instead? Everything worthy of the name "cognition," anyway; not what was too thick for cognition to penetrate. It might even solve the mind/body problem if the soul, like software, were independent of its physical incarnation. It looked like we had the architecture of cognition virtually licked. Even neural nets could be either simulated or subsumed. But then came Searle, with his sino-spoiler thought experiment, showing that cognition cannot be all computation (though not, as Searle thought, that it cannot be computation at all). So if cognition has to be hybrid sensorimotor/symbolic, it turns out we've all just been haggling over the price, instead of delivering the goods, as Turing had originally proposed 5 decades earlier.

(1b. Comment Overflow) (50+)

(1b. Comment Overflow) (50+)