Commentary: Cheers and Lamentations
Robert S. Siegler Carnegie Mellon University
Searching for ideas and inspiration for this discussion, I read the concluding chapters from a number of previous Carnegie-Mellon Cognition Symposia. It struck me that most discussants assumed one of two roles: Jeremiah or cheerleader. Like most dichotomies, this one is too simple; all of the Jeremiahs offered some words of praise, and all of the cheerleaders voiced some criticisms. Still, the labels convey the dominant tone of the articles.
The titles alone are revealing. First consider those of the Jeremiahs: "You Can't Play 20 Questions with Nature and Win" ( Newell, 1973); "Copycat Science, or 'Does the Mind Really Work by Table Look Up'" ( Norman, 1980); "A Garden of Opportunities and a Thicket of Dangers" ( Steinberg, 1980).
Perhaps the prototypic Jeremiad was Newell's 20-questions article. The following passage communicates the main theme:
Still, I am distressed. I can illustrate it by the way I was going to start my comments, though I could not in fact bring myself to do so. I was going to draw a line on the blackboard and, picking one of the speakers of the day at random, note on the line the time at which he got his PhD and the current time (in mid-career). Then, taking his total production of papers like those in the present symposium, I was going to compute a rate of productivity of such excellent work. Moving, finally, to the date of my chosen target's retirement, I was going to compute the total future addition of such papers to the (putative) end of this man's scientific career. Then I was going to pose, in my role as discussant, a question: Suppose you had all those additional papers, just like those of today (except being on new aspects of the problem), Where will psychology then be? ( Newell, 1973, pp. 283-284)