COGSCI 600, Seminar in Cognitive Science

Spring 2005, Wednesdays, 9:30-11:30, in PAS 3026

(I did not create this image.)

Blog link
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: 8:00 - 9:00, Wednesdays; 8:00 - 9:30, Thursdays
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 29 July; topic approval required)
list of student/topic matchups available here
50 %
Course participation
50 %
Discussion (20%)
Presentation (20 - 27 July; 20%)
Weekly position papers on readings (posted in a blog; 10%)

Date Speaker
(click name for email)
4 May Randy Harris, English Course structure, expectations, requirements
11 May Randy Harris, English Cognitive rhetoric
18 May Pat Wainwright, Health Sciences/Psychology Is an understanding of brain development necessary to the understanding of cognition?
25 May Dan Brown, Computer Science How is information stored in genetic sequences?
1 June Chrysanne DiMarco, Computer Science Building Pragmatics into Natural Language Processing Systems
8 June Andrew McMurry, English Autopoiesis and Cognition
15 June Cameron Shelley, Philosophy Issues in Analogic Reasoning
22 June in
PAS 4032
Paul Thagard, Philosophy Toward a Neurocomputational Theory of Emotional Consciousness
29 June Keith Hippel, Systems Design Engineering Conflict Resolution
6 July James Danckert, Psychology Unilateral Visual Neglect - Lost in Space and Time.
13 July Chris Eliasmith, Philosophy Neural Modelling for Cognitive Science
20 July Student presentations
27 July

Essay, 50%

You should start thinking about your essay right away. 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 (Systems Design, Psychology, English, Philosophy, Computer Science, Architecture, Sociology, ...); 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.

I encourage you to integrate this essay with work you might already be doing, especially with a thesis project, 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 rhetor. Quantity of participation is a positive factor 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).


The presentation should be 10-20 minutes long, and you can adopt any format you like, though I discourage reading, and the topic is equally wide open, so long as it concerns cognitive science in a significant way. I advise choosing a topic that overlaps substantially with your essay, to reduce your overall labour.

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 Monday before the class, beginning 9 May, and I'll get them on the server that night. 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 18 or 25 July, but if you want to use the blogspace to post things related to your presentations, you are welcome to do so.

Previous seminars
Paul Thagard's Glossary
Some Cognitive Science Web sites