COGSCI 600, Seminar in Cognitive Science

Winter 2012, Mondays, 1:00 - 2:50, in HH 2107

(I did not create this image.)

Course epitome
Cognitive science is the deeply interdisciplinary study of mind, intelligence, and perception. Growing out of a rich amalgam of cybernetics, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology in the 1950s, it has defined artificial intelligence and knowledge engineering, and now embraces or influences almost every academic pursuit in the modern academy, including fields as diverse as anthropology, literary theory, health studies, rhetoric, graphic design, communication studies and a wide range of engineering disciplines.This seminar is organized around an eclectic group of lectures from leading scholars in different disciplines at UW, often taking up controversial topics and featuring the latest research. Students are expected to be familiar with the weekly readings and to come prepared to discuss them with each other and the scholar du semaine. There will also be brief weekly written assignments (based on the readings), an essay, and a presentation to the class.
Course coordinator
Randy Harris
HH 247
Home: 905.876.3972
Office hours
Harris: 9:30 - 11:00, Mondays; English discussion group, 11:00-12:00, Mondays
Other lecturers: Contact them individually, by e-mail, to arrange for meetings.
Required readings
There will be weekly readings, available electronically from this page.

Essay (c 5000 words; due 10 April; topic approval required)
50 %
Presentation (10 April Symposium; 20%) 20 %
Course participation
30 %
Discussion (20%)
Weekly position papers on readings (posted in a blog; 10%)

Date Speaker
(click name for email)
9 January Randy Harris, English Course structure, expectations, requirements
16 January Paul Thagard, Philosophy, Psychology, & Computer Science What is cognitive science?
23 January Mat Schulze, German Cognition and chaos in language learning
30 January James Danckert, Psychology Unilateral visual neglect: Lost in space and time
6 February Chris Eliasmith, Philosophy & Systems Design Cognition with neurons
13 February Matthijs van der Meer, Biology Neural mechanisms in planning for the rat
27 February Nancy Barrickman, Anthropology The origin of human cognition: A primate's perspective
5 March Jesse Hoey, Computer Science Building cognitive assistants
12 March David Spafford, Biology The neuroscientist's toolkit for analyzing brain function
19 March Randy Harris, English Cognitive rhetoric
26 March Britt Anderson, Psychology Attention, probability, and perceptual decision making
2 April Sarah Tolmie, English, with Adam Euerby & Mark Hancock Dancing the data: Contact improvisation and data visualization
10 April Student Symposium, HH 2107; 1:00-4:00 (+); essays due

Essay, 50%

You should start thinking about your essay early on. There is a good deal of leeway for what you write on and for how you write on it. There are two criteria, beyond the word count: that it satisfy the requirements for an essay (report, article) in the discipline it concerns (Psychology, English, Philosophy, Computer Science, Biology, Anthropology, German, Linguistics, Architecture, Management Sciences, Systems Design Engineering, ...); and that it involves cognitive science in a significant way. It will be graded jointly by me (Harris), and another lecturer in the course who is suited to the topic and approach. In the case that someone writes an essay outside the expertise of the lecturers (in Architecture, for instance, or Sociology), I will try to recruit someone from the relevant discipline (your suggestions would be welcome).

I encourage you to integrate this essay with work you might already be doing, especially with a major research project, a thesis, or a dissertation, but it should not be a mere echo of that work. It should seriously address the themes we take up in the class.

Participation, 20%

Please keep in mind that this is a seminar: you are expected to take an active role in the development of the course. Come to class prepared, participate in discussions, contribute to our collective understanding of cognitive science.

I will use a merit/demerit policy to evaluate your participation. Merit will be awarded primarily on the quality of participation: asking relevant questions; making relevant observations; complementing or advancing someone else's contribution; and generally being a constructive CogSci 600 citizen. Quantity of participation is a positive factor only to the extent that more quality contributions are preferable to fewer quality contributions, but talking for the sake of talking is not a good idea. Demerit will be assessed reluctantly, and only on the basis of repeated instances. The grounds for the demerit system are: absenteeism (you can't participate if you're not there); whispering or chatting while other people are talking; and/or making lengthy, unfocused comments that draw away from the general thread of discussion (verbal wanking).

Presentation, 20%

The presentation should be 10-20 minutes long, and you can adopt any format you like, though I discourage reading, and the topic should overlap substantially with your essay. It might be effectively a précis of your argument, for instance, or a significant subcomponent of your argument, or the report of results relevant to your essay. If you are using technology (data display, audio, overhead projector, whiteboard, etc.), it is your responsibility to work out the logistics ahead of time (test the file, bring a marker, ...).

Blogs, 10%

The blog submissions should be 300-to-500-word position papers on the week's readings, responding particularly either to the way they advance your understanding of cognitive science, or to the way cognitive notions illuminate the specific topics under discussion. I want to see (1) that you have read the assigned material, but especially (2) that you have thought about it, and (3) I want to start the discussion before we get into the classroom. They should be submitted by 6:00 PM on the Friday before the class, beginning 6 January. Everyone is expected to read all the blogs before coming to class.

The blogs will not be evaluated. The 10% mark is simply for doing them all, on time; you get 5% if you miss one deadline, 0% if you miss more than one (I'm not kidding: 0%). 

No blogs are required for 26 March or 2 April, but if you want to use the blogspace to post things related to your presentations, you are welcome to do so.

Paul Thagard's Glossary
Some Cognitive Science Web sites