PY 1.04: Explaining the Mind
Tutor: HARNAD Stevan
TA's: LEES Andie, DYE Matt, HOLMES Sharon
Second Semester 1995-6.
THE AIMS AND SCOPE OF THE COURSE
The natural way to try to explain the mind is by looking into it. This
method is called introspection, and we all do it whenever we think about
thinking. The only problem is that no explanation has ever come out of
this. We have no idea at all how we perceive, think, understand,
remember. If we did have any idea, cognitive psychology would be easy;
we could all do it by sitting in our armchairs observing our minds. It's
not quite that easy, though, because the real workings of our minds are
unconscious: We can't observe them. We can only observe their effects,
in what we do and feel. So the real question is: How are we able to do
and feel all the things we can do and feel?
Explaining what we can do seems as if it would be the easier part, but
it turns out to be devilishly difficult; all we have so far is tiny
parts of the puzzle. And the feeling part turns out be more difficult
still, because it gets us entangled in some deep philosophical problems,
especially the "mind/body" problem: Everyone can can see what you do,
but only you can feel what you feel, so how can everyone agree on an
Among the things you can do is to see, hear, use, name, and describe the
many things around you in the world. We will examine explanations of how
your mind manages to do all this: theories of perception, learning,
categorisation, and language. We will discuss how things are represented
in your mind. We will look especially closely at mental images: Do they
explain how we think? Or should we look at how the brain works? Or do
machines that can do some of the things we can do give us a clue? Are we
In the background of all of this will be consciousness: If the hard work
is done unconsciously, what good is consciousness? Do we really have a
choice, or do our brains and biology dictate it all? And if they dictate
the humdrum things, like how we see red and how we remember names and
faces, do they also explain our creative moments, when we think of
something no one else has ever thought of?
The mind has not yet been explained. But the basic questions have now
been raised. And we think we also have the right means to begin
answering them. You will learn the unfolding details of these answers in
later courses in cognitive psychology. In this course we will focus on
the questions, the means, and the directions in which they promise to
The lectures will take place in Physics A on Wednesday at 9.55 am and
Friday at 1.50. There will be course handouts, distributed in paper
and on the electronic network. You are strongly encouraged to get used
to reading these handouts electronically from the beginning, because
there will also be electronic discussion of them, which will only be available
on the electronic network ("Skywriting").
Lecture 1, 2 From Introspectionism to Behaviourism to Cognitivism:
Psychology in Search of a Method
What is special about psychology is that it deals with the mental and
not just the physical. Yet the history of psychology is one of a very
uneasy relation with the mental.
Lecture 3, 4 The Mind/Body Problem Continues to Beset Psychology
It is no wonder that psychologists had trouble with the mental in the
short lifetime of their field. Philosophers have been struggling with it
Lecture 5, 6 Is the Brain the Solution?
One natural place to turn in order to shake loose from the mind/body
problem is the brain. And the brain reveals some remarkable
"disconnections" in mental function. But is it the way to understand the
Lecture 7, 8 The Mind's Eye: Mental Imagery and Its Discontents
The debate about the role of mental imagery virtually created the field
of cognitive psychology. Is "I did it in my head using images" a
Lecture 9, 10 Mental Models I: Are Mental States Computer States?
The most powerful theory of thinking at the moment is that it is some
form of computation. What is computation? And can thinking be that?
Lecture 11, 12 Mental Models II: Or Are Mental States States in a
The strongest rival to the theory that thinking is computation is that
it is the activity in an interconnected neural network. What can be
said for and against that view?
Lecture 13, 14 Learning and Categorisation
How does the "blooming, buzzing confusion" we are born into get sorted
out into the many objects and events we can recognise and name?
Lecture 15, 16 Language and Representation
How are the categories we recognise and name represented in our heads?
And what is language, that it allows us to communicate them to one
Lecture 17, 18 Our Darwinian Past
How unique is thinking and mental function to our own species? Can our
evolutionary past help explain our minds?
Lecture 19, 20 Consciousness Faced Head-On
Can consciousness be investigated directly? Can we measure when a mental
event happens? What causal role does consciousness play?
Lecture 21, 22 Creative Cognition
If we are beginning to understand ordinary cognition -- learning,
categorisation,language -- can we also begin to explain creative
cognition, when one mind produces something new and useful that no other
mind has done before?
Four tutorials will be given in smaller sections, one about every two
weeks. There will be sign-up sheets for choosing times. Tutorials will
also be supplemented by Skywriting (electronic discussion).
Questionnaires given in class will count for 40% of your final mark;
the examination will count for 60%. The best way to prepare yourself
for these two kinds of assessments is to (1) attend and reflect on the
lectures and tutorials, (2) read and think about the readings, (3)
participate actively in class and tutorial discussion, and (4) read and
participate actively in Skywriting (electronic) discussion.
STUDENT EVALUATION OF THE COURSE
At the last lecture you will be asked to fill out an anonymous form
evaluating the lectures, tutorials, readings, etc. These evaluations
are used to help design the course for the following year. But if
something needs fixing, you needn't wait to the end of the course: you
can tell the tutor at any time.
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