[Paleopsych] Culture and Cognitive Science

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Fri Dec 31 06:27:53 UTC 2004

more at: http://lchc.ucsd.edu/People/Localz/MCole/santabar.html
Michael Cole
Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, U.C. San Diego
(Talk Presented to the Cognitive Science Program, U.C. Santa Barbara,
May 15, 1997)
To begin with, I wish to thank my hosts for inviting me to your ongoing 
series of seminars surveying the field of cognitive science, and to think 
about the implications of that landscape for the organization of your own 
activities here at U.C. Santa Barbara. I have been lucky in recent years to 
be able to carry out collaborative research with colleagues on this campus 
that I believe relevant to the overall theme of this talk. I'll return a 
bit later to talk about this research, and its potential relevance for 
enriching cognitive science. But first, in recognition of the fact that the 
term "culture" is not likely to be the first thing that comes to mind when 
you hear the phrase, "cognitive science" I will take a brief excursion back 
into the origins of cognitive science as a self-identified academic 
discipline. Perhaps to the surprise of some of you, it turns out that 
considerations of culture have been present from very early in the 
discipline's development. I will then review the evolution of some ideas 
about culture and cognitive science as they have evolved at UCSD and in my 
own work.
Culture and Cognitive Science "In the Beginning"
Howard Gardner's "authorized biography" of cognitive science more or less 
up to a decade ago can serve as a useful point for departure (Gardner, 
1985). Gardner begins his account with a series of scientific and technical 
advances that took place across the 1940's, 50's, and 60's which set the 
stage for the new discipline. Among these were:
the work of mathematicians such as Alan Turing and John von Neuman on 
computability and the feasibility of constructing computing machines that 
could work from programs stored in their own memories.
The work of Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts showing that the operation of 
nerve cells and its connection to other nerve cells (neural networks) could 
be modeled in terms of logic.
Norbert Weiner's work on cybernetics in which he explicitly linked 
understanding of the human nervous system, electronic computers, and the 
importance of feedback from the environment.
The work of Shannon and Weaver on the development of information theory and 
George Miller's application of some of these ideas to the study of human 
memory in information processing terms.
Noam Chomsky's formalizations of grammatical competence
A growing belief that stimulus-response versions of behaviorism had failed 
to produce on their promise, presaging the so-called cognitive revolution 
in psychology.
Responding to these and allied events, the Alfred Sloane Foundation 
sponsored a series of conference bringing in the mid-1970's to explore the 
wisdom of providing support for a new, academic enterprise that synthesized 
these varied, and already interacting trends. The Foundation did indeed 
provide startup funding for some large programs in Cognitive Science, in 
effect launching the new discipline.
In the story as told by Gardner, the Foundation commissioned a "state of 
the art report" that summarized the ideas coming out of its series of 
conferences. The report declared the emergence of the field of cognitive 
science, explaining this new field in the following terms:
What has brought the field into existence is a common research objective: 
to discover the representational and computational capacities of the mind 
and their structural and functional representation in the brain. (P. 36).
The report's authors represented the set of disciplines that had merged 
around this common objective as a "cognitive Hexagon." and attempted, 
through the use of dotted and solid lines to indicate the relationship 
among the constitutive disciplines (See Figure 1): Philosophy, Linguistics, 
Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, Psychology, and Anthropology.

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