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Theoretical perspectives in cognitive science


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School Nationell Forskarskola i Kognitionsvetenskap (SweCog)
Owner Åsa Kärrman

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Course plan

No of Lectures

5 days with 1 lecture and 1 seminar each day, 13-17 August 2012

Recommended for

All SweCog graduate students and others interested in the theoretical foundations of Cognitive Science

This course fulfills theSweCog certidicate requirements for a course on theoretical issues in Cognitive Science.

The course was last given

Fall 2009-Spring 2010 as a series of web seminars .


The goal of the course is to present the basic different theoretical positions taken by researchers in cognitive science, how these have developed and how they relate to each other. We study original papes on various versions of mind as computation, e.g. Physical Symbol Systems (Newell and Simon), The Representational Theory of Mind and Language of Thought (Fodor). the Intentional Stance (Dennett), connectionism and artificial neural networks (Churchland, Churchland, and Sejnowski), Distributed Cognition (Hutchins), Extended Mind (Clark and Chalmers) and possibly others.

By reading the original papers we will be able to see how these have developed and how they relate to each other, and that the so-called metaphor of mind as computation is really not one but many positions, and hence hopefully also be in a better position to see how the alternatives do or don't provide alternatives.

One important issue to be discussed in the course is to which extend these different theoretical positions are really different stances regarding the same kind of cognition, or if they actually address different aspects or areas of cognition and hence are better seen as complementing each other for different areas or kinds of cognition.

A final aim is to support the course participants in developing their own position reagarding these issues, and to relate this to the student's own research and thesis topic.


No formal prerequisites, but a knowledge of both computational and empirical cognitive science as provided by an introductory course in a cognitive science or related literature is desirable and probably a requirement to be able to understand the course contents to the fullest.
For those who lack such prior knowledge it is recommended that in preparation read some appropriate introductory textbook, for example,
Bermudez, J.L. (2010) Cognitive Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


The course is divided into three phases.

The first, prior to coming to Mullsjö, is reading the literature and preparing two questions or issues to discuss for each paper/seminar (sending in these questions will be part of the examination requirements). We also welcome suggestions for additional material for the course, both other theoretical stances than the ones listed above, and additional papers that address the topics of the course.

We suggest that you first read Clark's book as an introduction to the issues, since this text gives a framwork for the different theoretical positions, and discuss their pros and cons.

The second comprises of the lectures and seminars during the Summer school, 13-17 August 2012. There will also be scheduled times for re-reading the papers prior to the seminars, but this is not sufficient time for reading the papers for the first time, so all participants are strongly encouraged to familiariarize themselves with the papers and the book prior to coming to Mullsjö.

The third is to write a course paper as part of the examination (see below for more on this).



The literature consists of a book that serves as a unifying text that presents a number of theoretical perspectives of cognitive science, and a number of articles on subjects in which the different perspectives presented in the original. The items presented below is an initial proposal, but additions may be made later.

Please note that the papers here are not always copies from the original publication. When citing or quoting these papers the original version should always be used.

Clark, Andy (2001) Mindware – An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513857-0
Pylyshyn, Zenon W. (1998) Introduction: Cognitive Architecture and the Hope for a Science of Cognition. In Z. Pylyshyn (Ed.) Constraining Cognitive Theories: Issues and Options. Samford, CN: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Newell, Allen (1986) The Symbol Level and the Knowledge Level. In Zenon W. Pylyshyn and William Demopoulos (Eds.) Meaning and Cognitive Structure. Issues in the computational theory of mind. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
With two comments on Newell’s paper
Brian Smith, The Link from Symbols to Knowledge
Daniel Dennet, Is There an Autonomous "Knowledge Level"?
And with a transcribed discussion of the paper and the comments.

Dennet, Daniel (1971) Intentional Systems. Journal of Philosophy, Vol 68.

Churchland, Paul M. (1981) Eliminative Materialism and Propositional Attitudes, The Journal of Philosophy, 78, 67-90.

Fodor, Jerry A. (1987) Why There Still Has to Be a Language of Thought. In Jerry A. Fodor Psychosemantics. Bradford Books/The MIT Press, pp 135-167. Reprinted in William G. Lycan (Ed.) (1990) Mind and Cognition: A Reader. Blackwell.

Hutchins, Edward (1995) Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. (Chapter 9 "Cultural Cognition")

Clark, A & Chalmers, D. (1988) The Extended Mind, Analysis, 58, 7-19.



Nils Dahlbäck


Preparing two questions/discussion topics for each of the papers
Active participation in the seminaers
A course paper which address some topic of the course, and discuss this at some depth. Ideally this should be able to be used as a part of the introductory chapter of the student's thesis or a part of the cover text (Swedish "kappa").


6 hp

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Last updated: 2012-05-03