The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

By Bub, Daniel | Canadian Psychology, November 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

Bub, Daniel, Canadian Psychology

ROBERT A. WILSON and FRANK C. KEIL (Eds.) The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001, 1,096 pages (ISBN 0-262-73144-4, US$65, Softcover)

Reviewed by DANIEL BUB

Cognitive science is the banner under which the combined forces of philosophy, psychology, the analysis of computational intelligence, linguistics, and anthropology have rallied in an attempt to make headway against the ultimate scientific question: How do the capabilities of the human mind emerge from physical matter? Recently, another formidable ally, the field of neuroscience, or more specifically, cognitive neuroscience in its new setting, has added brain-based methodologies to the alliance. It is an exciting mixture of disciplines, its activities driven by the common goal, at least in principle, of advancing our understanding of human cognition. The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS) is an attempt to put together a summary of the "...full range of concepts, methods, and results derived and deployed in cognitive science over the last twenty-- five years" (p. xiii), a description given by the editors in the preface of this ambitious undertaking.

An encyclopedia can be evaluated according to two criteria: How are the entries organized? and What has been left out, given the (necessarily) abbreviated exposition of concepts, methods and results? MITECS has 471 articles relevant to cognitive science presented in alphabetic order, beginning with one entitled "Aboutness" and ending with one on "X-bar Theory." Each article is no longer than the length of this review and includes at the end a list of additional entries that the reader can peruse to further explicate the topic. To organize this impressive collection, the volume begins with an overview (average length about 20 pages) of each of the six domains that make up the content of MITECS, written by one or two consulting experts. As summary statements, part of their rationale is to provide a key to the linkages between different articles. This goal is difficult to accomplish if one is seeking an introduction that makes transparent the threads connecting the diversity of ideas summarized in MITECS, and in many instances the reader is simply told in effect that if he or she wishes to know more about topic X, he or she should also consult topics A, B, C, etc. This limitation one must accept as inevitable given the logistics of the enterprise, and the overviews are valuable tools that anyone who has taught a course in the foundations of cognitive science will relish.

More problematic in reading these overviews of the subcomponents of the field is the impression that the different domains, while showing signs of some integration at the margins, often make little contact with each other at the core. For example, the review section on "Neuroscience" includes a discussion of the neural mechanisms involved in translating a decision into action but makes no reference at all to the problem of the homunculus (what part of the brain decides, in the end, to act?), a major topic analyzed in the corresponding section on "Philosophy." The section on "Computational Intelligence" has little use for the evidence from neuroscience that human cognition is made up of functionally independent modules. For detailed theoretical modeling of cognitive architectures, we learn in this section that the evidence from neuroscience is too subjective and informal, and the nature of the connections between modular components remains obscure. Thus, "...the basic organizational principles of intelligence are still up for grabs" (p. lxxvi).

The summary of "Psychology" is perhaps less perfidious in connecting up with the other members of the cognitive alliance, but only because its style is more a synopsis of history and empirical methods than an analysis of core methodological issues in the field.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?