Review of Foundations of Cognitive Science

By McKevitt, Paul | AI Magazine, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Review of Foundations of Cognitive Science


McKevitt, Paul, AI Magazine


Foundations of Cognitive Science, editor Michael I. Posner, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989, 888 pp., ISBN 0-262-16112-5.

Here we have a large book with a set of chapters written by different people on the foundations of cognitive science that is meant to answer the question, "What is cognitive science?" The book does answer the question, in so far as it can in such a young field, by providing a range of chapters tackling cognitive science from different points of view. Eric Wanner, Jerome Feldman, Michael Gazaniga, S. Kosslyn, and Geoffrey Hinton all give the book strong positive vindication on its cover flaps.

Michael Posner's book was initiated when a board of editors met in St. Louis, Missouri, to outline the chapters needed to carry out the project, which was funded by a generous grant from the Sloan Foundation. Posner does not include a chapter himself, although he provides a short preface. He might have included a signature on the preface because it is the norm; otherwise, it leaves the reader wondering whether he wrote it. The book has an introductory chapter on foundations by Herbert Simon and Craig Kaplan and is then split into three parts: (1) foundations (7 chapters), (2) domains (11 chapters), and (3) assessment (2 chapters). It also includes an author and subject index. The foundations of cognitive science cover computing, symbolic architectures, connectionism, grammatical theory, logic and semantics, experimental methods, and mind-brain-body issues. These foundations are then applied in the next part to the central cognitive domains of language acquisition, reading, discourse, mental models, categories and induction, problem solving, vision, visual attention memory, action, and motor control. Finally, there are assessments focusing on cultural and philosophical issues. I think that this organization was a good idea because it helps to reduce repetition of the concepts provided in the earlier part on foundations. However, a number of issues are repeated across chapters, and it is not clear that the authors of each chapter had a chance to read the other chapters while they wrote theirs. The different parts of the book could have been better (more explicitly) named; for example, domains on its own means little to me!

The book has an advantage in that it provides a collection of chapters on the foundations of cognitive science written by different people; hence, we see differing points of view from experts in given areas, which could not be achieved by a single author. What the book gains in variety, it maybe loses in coherence across chapters, but this loss is inevitable. I personally like the editing approach better and to single author a foundations book would be an exhausting task to say the least. However, a criticism of the book is that nearly all the chapters are by authors with a U.S. affiliation, with a few from England, and I find it difficult to believe that leading cognitive scientists in other countries could not have written something. Thus, we get an American-Anglo view of cognitive science rather than an international one, such as that given in O'Nuallain (1995). Of course, I realize that there is not always space for everyone to include a chapter. In fact, it is worrying that we might get biased viewpoints on foundations or other issues when we have books with mainly U.S., or mainly European, papers. What I like to see is more international volumes with a balanced set of multicultural views from the United States, Europe, and Asia. This goes back to Roy D'Andrade's chapter, which considers the importance of cultural cognition, where crosscultural experiments on color and emotion show that people from different cultures see things from different points of view. He argues that the reasoning that people do depends on cultural models.

To my mind, some of the chapters indulge in lots of talk without any clear detail or data. I found that Daniel Schacter's chapter on memory was too full of references to other work and had little of his own discussion; it is more useful as a bibliographic listing. …

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