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The Cognitive Revolution and the Re-emergence of the Mind

During the cognitive revolution (Gardner 1985), the battle of psychology persevered. Behaviorism had turned against introspectionism, and cognitive science now turned against behaviorism. Neuroscientists were convinced that mental phenomena had a biological basis. Psychologists thought it was useful to start at the level of cognition and, with some inspiration from Kant, they analyzed the mind as being composed of organizing cognitive functions. Linguists thought of our language ability as a machine to be explained in terms of formal, rule-based grammars. Much of the work in linguistics was influenced by Chomsky and his ideas concerning innate language abilities. Anthropologists explored relations between culture and cognition, and philosophers viewed the mind from the perspective of functionalism. The strongest influence, however, came from computer science and those who attempted to understand the mind and brain through computer technology. In a 1978 report, cognitive psychologist George Miller (1920-2012) and others suggested that philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, neuroscience, computer science, and psychology were central disciplines of cognitive science (Miller 2003, p. 143).

The lines indicate interdisciplinary fields. For example, the line between computer science and linguistics represents computational linguistics. Curiously, the cognitive psychologist Howard Gardner (1943-) affords us a different picture (Gardner 1985, p. 37) in his 1985 book The Mind’s New Science. Note that in Gardner’s diagram, computer science has been replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Gardner also identifies more interdisciplinary links. Furthermore, he points to a sentence in the Sloan report that makes AI central: “What has brought the field into existence is a common research objective: to discover the representational and computational capacities of the mind and their structural and functional representation in the brain.” According to Gardner, the computer and the representational theory of the mind drove the emergence of cognitive science.

The computer seemingly allowed for cognition to be studied scientifically. Philosophers had sought to understand the mind since ancient times. Later, psychology had joined their quest, but neither philosophy nor psychology had provided us with an adequate science of the mind. Now, it seemed that the mind could be understood computationally. It was assumed that brains and computers engaged in information processing in similar ways. Moreover, information processing was easier to study in computers than in brains. But the information-processing approach came with a tacit redefinition of information.

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