LINGUIST List 13.1240

Fri May 3 2002

Review: Cognitive Science: Sobel (2001)

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  • Bilge Say, Sobel (2001) The Cognitive Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Approach

    Message 1: Sobel (2001) The Cognitive Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Approach

    Date: Fri, 3 May 2002 17:12:48 +0300
    From: Bilge Say <>
    Subject: Sobel (2001) The Cognitive Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Approach

    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

    [This book has not yet been announced on LINGUIST. --Eds.]

    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 index.

    SYNOPSIS 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 split-brain surgery.

    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 computer architecture.

    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.

    CRITICAL EVALUATION 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.

    REFERENCES 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 Press.

    O'Reilly, R., and Y. Munakata (2000). Computational Explorations in Cognitive Neuroscience: Understanding the Mind by Simulating the Brain. MIT Press.

    Thagard, P. (1996). Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science. MIT Press.

    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 computational linguistics.