LINGUIST List 14.384

Fri Feb 7 2003

Review: Cognitive Science: Wilson and Keil, eds. (2001)

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  1. ashish mehta, The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

Message 1: The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

Date: Thu, 06 Feb 2003 23:27:20 +0000
From: ashish mehta <ashishupendramehtahotmail.com>
Subject: The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

Wilson, Robert A. and Frank C. Keil, ed. (2001) The MIT Encyclopedia
of the Cognitive Sciences. MIT Press, paperback ISBN 0-262-73144-4
(pb), cxxxii+964pp, a Bradford book.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/10/10-902.html
[The electronic edition of this book is available through subscription at 
the following website: http://cognet.mit.edu/MITECS]


Ashish Mehta, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK

The mammoth volume under review, The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive
Sciences (MITECS) is the only one-stop reference work for students and
scholars of various disciplines that come under the term 'cognitive
sciences.' It consists of 471 entries (or 'articles') authored by
various authorities, preceded by six introductory essays by volume's
contributing editors. The articles as well as essays include
cross-references and recommendations for further reading. Most of the
articles are 1000 to 1500 words long. The disciplines represented in
this volume include psychology, neurosciences, linguistics,
philosophy, anthropology and the social sciences more generally,
evolutionary biology, education, computer science, artificial
intelligence, and ethology. No wonder it took four years into making!
The editors rightly point out in the preface that there was a lack of
a single work which adequately represented the full range of concepts,
methods and results derived and deployed in the cognitive sciences in
the last twenty-five years, and the present volume aims to bridge the
gap. The volume further aims to highlight 'links across various
cognitive sciences, so that readers from one discipline might gain a
greater insight into relevant work in other fields.' Six introductory
essays are written by the volumes' advisory editors include the
following: Philosophy by Robert A. Wilson, Psychology by Keith J.
Holyoak, Neurosciences by Thomas D. Albright and Helen J. Neville,
Linguistics and Language by Gennaro Chierchia, and Culture, Cognition,
and Evolution by Dan Sperber and Lawrence Hirschfeld.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

It would be beyond the scope of this review to comment on all six
essays, not to mention the articles. I take one essay, that on
Linguistics and Language, as representative of the volume. The essay
by Chierchia is one of the most exciting short introductions to
contemporary linguistics. It can be read as a primer on generative
grammar, or as a state-of-the-art survey of linguistics at the end of
the eventful century- with the cognitive perspective to boot. The
author manages to cover the entire spectrum of central themes of
linguistics, which is a remarkable achievement given the constraints
of space.

The essay begins by sketching the outlines of the answer to the
question: 'why is the study of language central to cognition?' The
innateness hypothesis, proposed by Chomsky, is the key to the possible
answer and the case is illustrated with examples ranging from lexicon,
phonology, syntax and semantics. The reader is introduced to the
debate on language acquisition. Chierchia does mention the alternative
explanation, namely the connectionist approaches, but he points out
that the empirical evidence favours Chomsky's views. The second
section of the essay, 'language structure,' introduces the core
concepts of morphology, phonology, syntax and semantics. Discussion on
syntax prefers to illustrate one concept, that of constituent
structures, rather than merely mentioning a battery of concepts. The
author demonstrates how syntacticians contribute directly to the
cognitive sciences while discussing psychological reality of
constituent structures. The section ends with a reference to some
alternative frameworks of syntactic analysis. The author claims that
'key empirical generalizations and discoveries can be translated from
one framework to the next.' Interfaces between syntax on one hand and
other major components of grammar have been an exciting topic of
research, leading to valuable insights for cognitive science. The
author presents a detailed discussion of one of them, syntax-semantics
interface, with two case-studies: scope of wh-operators and scope of
quantifiers. Though the problem may seem demanding, the presentation
makes it easy even for outsiders to appreciate the argument. Similar
discussions on interfaces with morphology, phonology and pragmatics
would have been welcome. The sub-section on semantics follows the
format of detailed presentation of one representative problem rather
than an exhaustive listing of them all. The rest can be taken care of
by 'see-also' references to the entries in the encyclopedia. So, just
one concept, that of 'entailment,' is presented in detail. The
discussion, which does not presuppose any knowledge on the part of the
reader, succeeds in introducing the concept of Dynamic Semantics too.
The third section, 'language use,' introduces central themes in
pragmatics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and language
processing. That should complete the picture: almost all major
branches of linguistics are covered here. More importantly, the
discussion never ignores the cognitive aspect of the topic under
consideration. For example, discussion of creolization leads to
Bickerton's 'bioprogram' hypothesis, which has obvious relevance for
the cognitive sciences. On the whole, the essay succeeds in ot only
introducing central themes of (generative) linguistics to (other)
cognitive scientists, it also introduces linguists to the cognitive
aspects of the problem they deal with.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

MITECS is an exciting introduction-cum-survey to the
cross-disciplinary business of the cognitive sciences. The editors
rightly claim that 'MITECS represents far more that an alphabetic list
of topics in the cognitive sciences; it captures a good deal of the
structure of the whole enterprise at this point in time. As one looks
through the encyclopedia as a whole, one takes a journey through a
rich and multidimensional landscape of interconnected ideas.' This
rich landscape puts the article on 'Folk Biology' after 'Focus' and
'Binding Theory' before 'Blindsight.' 'Sentence Processing' is
followed by 'Sexual Attraction, Evolutionary Psychology of.' That
should give the reader some idea of the eclectic mix attempted here.
The rich diversity of the topics covered here is supplemented by links
across various disciplines so that readers from one discipline might
gain a greater insight into relevant work in other fields.' MITECS
lives up to the editors' claims and readers' expectations. 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Ashish Mehta is a doctorate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University
(JNU) of India, working within the minimalist framework on
syntax-semantics interface issues of nominal expressions
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