Introduction to the Cognitive Revolution

The main reading is from the book by Bernard Baars.  However, I have selected two readings that set the stage.  THEN concentrate on the Baars chapters.

Setting the Stage

The first reading in this section is a 1943 paper by Robert S. Woodworth of Columbia University.  His book on experimental psychology was the core of the Ph.D. program for most graduate students in the U.S. ;  The follow-up, by Woodworth & Schlosberg continued that tradition.   The emphasis was on the methods used in a variety of areas, prototype experiments, and data analysis in each area.   Most psychologists were encouraged to know how to design research studies of many types, and to analyze data with appropriate statistics.   It really was not common for “run-of-the-mill” psychologists to strongly adopt any one of the positions that are the main subject of a history course.  It was more common for psychologists to say that they were “open minded” or eclectic about everything except “good methodology.”  Many would have seen this position as “pragmatic,”  that is, practical, and cite William James’s pragmatism as an ancestor.   I think that would be a wrong version of the history, but it would not be uncommon or stupid.

The second paper, by Kendler, is to set you up for Chomsky and Jenkins — one foray into the “cognitive revolution.”  Another foray is by way of Neisser.

The University of Minnesota in the younger days of Jim Jenkins, and the University of Iowa, were centers of what was known as “dust bowl empiricism, ” where the collection of data was valued above any particular content.   The Kendler paper represents the Iowa view very well, although it was not written while Kendler was at Iowa.  Kendler’s view, that “what” is learned does not matter is partly concerned with a debate between Tolman and his followers and Hull and his followers about whether rats learned a maze by virtue of a “cognitive map” or a chain of responses (left-right-left etc.).   However, his general point echoes the behaviorist faith that the “laws of learning” are the same over tasks and animals.   As I said in class, Chomsky took exactly the opposite view — that “what” was learned was the core issue.  In his case, he argued that learning a language was special, and not like learning anything else.

Bernard Baars wrote his book about the cognitive revolution during a time (and after) when he was on leave at the Minnesota Human Learning Center directed by Jenkins.  It is a very Minnesota oriented book in that historians of the same period, focused more on Carnegie Mellon or Stanford or MIT, would not likely have included Jenkins or Weimer as prominently as Baars did.  Jim Jenkins describes his history of studying language from the behaviorist point of view.  He doesn’t say so, but his mediation approach derives from Hull, through O. Hobart Mowrer.   As opposed to Skinner.  Jenkins’ approach did not derive from Skinner.    Chomsky came to the attention of psychologists (he is a linguist) through a long book review of Skinner’s book on language.  That got the attention of Jenkins and changed his career, along with those who followed his work.