History and Philosophy Of Science | Models & Explanation in the Cognitive Sciences
X755 | 8761 | Colin Allen/Jonathan Weinberg

Models & Explanation in the Cognitive Sciences

Modeling has become an absolutely essential tool for research in the
cognitive sciences, which include cognitive psychology, linguistics,
cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and robotics. But
the literature seems to contain a great many different kinds of
models, and a great many different uses for models. This course will
survey philosophical issues that arise in the consideration of this
great diversity of approaches to models and modeling.

Topics include:
--the methodological value of models: What advantages and/or
disadvantages does modeling have over other analytic or explanatory
--the ontological commitment of models: When (if ever) is it
appropriate to treat something that we appeal to in making a model
as reflecting some real aspect of the world? What is the
relationship of models to natural or scientific laws?
--debates over different fundamental approaches to modeling in
cognitive science, including mathematical, statistical,
computational, and process models, as well as connectionist,
dynamical, multi-agent, evolutionary, and robotic (both virtual and
incarnate) models.

We will also spend some time in the course looking at particular
models of interest such as generativist syntax, "mental model"
models of human reasoning, "theory" vs. "simulation" models of
mental state attribution, neurocomputational models of vision,
dynamical models of infant perseverative reaching, prototype and
exemplar models of concepts, and structural models of concept
learning and categorization.

Students do not need to have any particular scientific background in
order to take the course, but should have some degree of comfort in
reading scientific papers. Students will have an opportunity to
propose specific models for discussion. Requirements will include
frequent brief "reaction" papers, plus the student's choice between
a series of three medium-length papers or one large paper.

The course is cross-listed with COGS Q700 and PHIL P570.