Review of The Cognitive Sciences
|Sobel, Carolyn P. (2001) The Cognitive Sciences: An Interdisciplinary
Approach. Mayfield Publishing Company (a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill),
hardcover ISBN 0-7674-0213-8, xx+327pp.
Bilge Say, Middle East Technical University, Turkey
Sobel's ''The Cognitive Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Approach'' is an
accessible, non-technical introduction to cognitive science suitable as
an undergraduate textbook or as a guided tour for the interested
reader. The book is divided into five parts, each part covering a major
contributing discipline: Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience,
Linguistics, Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy appearing in that
order. Each part has two chapters, the first one mostly presenting a
historical perspective and the second one reviewing more recent
approaches. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of ''Questions
to Think About'' and at the end of the book, there is a glossary and an
In Chapter 1, ''Early Approaches to the Study of Human Cognition'', the
author summarizes early attempts at cognitive neuroscience such as
Gall's phrenology, with an emphasis on early works in localization of
functions in the brain, moving then onto founders of psychology such as
Ebbinghaus and James. The last part of the chapter is devoted to
intelligence: starting with a critical evaluation of intelligence tests
and ending with hypotheses on multiple levels and elements of
intelligence as stated by researchers such as Sternberg and Gardner.
Chapter 2, ''The Approach of Cognitive Science'', starts with basic
representations and processes proposed to underlie cognition: concepts,
categorization, propositions, propositional networks and the process of
activation, and mental imagery. Some experimental evidence is given for
the existence of each. Problem types and novice versus expert
approaches to problem solving are briefly reviewed before moving onto
memory models: Atkinson and Shiffrin's modal memory model, Baddeley's
working memory, Tulving's semantic and episodic memory as parts of
declarative memory compared with procedural memory and the constructive
nature of human memory.
Sobel, in Chapter 3, ''Exploring the Brain'', moves on from where she
left off in Chapter 1 to elaborate on the history of brain-related
neuroscientific research. The chapter starts with a brief overview of
neuroanatomy of the brain and continues by introducing researchers of
the 19th and 20th centuries. Emphasis is on brain mapping: whether
brain functions are local or diffused or in between, backed up by data
from research work such as done by Sperry on patients having undergone
In the first part of Chapter 4, modern techniques for brain mapping are
summarized under the structural (such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging-
MRI) and functional (such as Event Related Potentials-ERPs)
distinction, giving the advantages and disadvantages of each technique
as well as an overall critique of such techniques for studying
cognitive behaviour. Later in the chapter, recent research on language,
memory, concepts and categories, and some neurological disorders
employing these techniques are reviewed, introducing new cognitive
concepts as needed.
Chapter 5 starts with an account of why language is unique to human
beings in several senses. Basic linguistic terminology is presented.
Starting with Panini (7th century B.C.) and jumping onto the 19th and
20th centuries, it is here that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and the
langue-parole distinction are stated; behaviourism is introduced; and
contrasted with the Chomskyan approach. The reader is given a feel for
generative grammar by means of context-free rules and is led onto the
concept of universal grammar.
Chapter 6 situates linguistics within other contributing disciplines of
cognitive science: relationship between language and thought; first and
second language acquisition and bilingualism; language acquisition
under deprived conditions; the significance of the language acquisition
research for the existence of a critical period; and language loss in
normal individuals and brain-damaged patients (aphasia). Boundaries
with philosophy (consciousness and language, innate knowledge) and
artificial intelligence (natural language processing applications) are
briefly touched upon.
After introducing the variety of ways an artificial entity can address
intelligence, the author summarizes the history of computing in Chapter
7. Starting with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine, she
continues with Turing machines and the Turing Test and their relevance
to artificial intelligence, and ends the chapter with the Von Neumann
Chapter 8 introduces various sub-branches of Artificial Intelligence by
sampling some of the research done in those areas: expert systems,
natural language processing systems, neural networks, robotics and
related areas such as vision and artificial life. Emphasis is mostly on
early programs, moving onto current projects such as the robotics
project Cog, and their implications for cognitive science towards the
end of the chapter.
Chapter 9 and 10 review philosophical contributions or perspectives as
background to the work done in the other four disciplines. Issues that
are discussed are rationalist versus empiricist views in epistemology;
the question of free will and constraining factors; the mind-body
problem-dualism versus materialism and reductionism, and the
reevaluation of the mind-body problem from a neuroscientific
perspective. These are followed by an overview of the areas of study
for philosophy of language and issues that arise when philosophy
interfaces with artificial intelligence: embedded-situated-emergent
nature of intelligence, creativity and consciousness.
There is an electronically available Instructor's Manual, which
includes a model syllabus and sample exam questions; suggestions for
research paper topics and additional questions for thought; a list of
Internet and video resources; and a core bibliography for cognitive
science organized under the five contributing disciplines.
Introductory cognitive science textbooks run the risk of not being able
to reflect the interaction and the unification resulting out of the
interdisciplinary nature of the field when they are divided into parts
for each discipline covered, instead of concepts being presented from
the point of view of a certain paradigm, for example, ''Computational-
Representational Understanding of Mind'' as done by Thagard (1996). I
think Sobel largely overcomes this problem by reserving sections for
the other disciplines in some chapters, or otherwise referring to the
nature of interactions frequently. Moreover, she has the advantage of
being an enthusiastic but impartial guide, not biasing the reader
towards one discipline or a certain approach, and keeping the interest
going, with just the right amount of personal anecdotes and news items
interspersed between the pages. However, a more remarkable feature of
this book is its crystal-clear understandability: easily understood
sentences, well- connected prose, very professionally written.
The guidebook approach where there are stops at historical and modern
sites, with relevant concepts being explained when the opportunity
arises may not be to everyone's liking though. For one thing, some may
prefer a more structurally organized, precise and in-depth introduction
to concepts and paradigms. For me, the emphasis on a historical
perspective was sometimes too much. For example in the chapters for
artificial intelligence some space could be reserved for reconciliation
of neural networks and symbolic approaches, and the emerging discipline
of computational cognitive neuroscience which uses biologically based
neural network models (McLeod et al., 1998; O'Reilly and Munakata,
2000) instead of reserving so much space for a general history of
computing and early approaches to artificial intelligence. Similarly,
Chapter 5 on linguistics could have some space for other current
approaches such as Cognitive Grammar (Langacker, 1987).
Although I would not think that this book will be equally suitable for
every undergraduate cognitive science course, it is a valuable addition
to the options available.
Langacker, R. (1987). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vols. 1 and 2.
Stanford University Press.
McLeod,P., K. Plunkett and E. T. Rolls (1998). Introduction to
Connectionist Modelling of Cognitive Processes. Oxford University
O'Reilly, R., and Y. Munakata (2000). Computational Explorations in
Cognitive Neuroscience: Understanding the Mind by Simulating the Brain.
Thagard, P. (1996). Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science. MIT Press.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Bilge Say is a faculty member at the Cognitive Science Program of
Middle East Technical University, Turkey. Her research interests lie
mainly in computational modeling for cognitive science and