The Computational Mind

Undergraduate 3rd/4th year

drps      Course Guide

Course description

This course introduces students to the idea that the mind is a computational device. Computational models dominate modern psychology. Computational models appear to offer the tantalising prospect of explaining how the mind works. These models raise numerous foundational philosophical questions. They also appear to have the potential to contribute to, and perhaps even answer, long-standing philosophical questions about the mind.

This course does not assume prior knowledge of computational modelling techniques or cognitive science.

Organisation

The class meets every week for 11 weeks for a 2-hour session.

The sessions are a mixture of lecture and discussion. In advance of class, students are expected to have read the essential readings and posted on the course’s online discussion forum. In class, we discuss the readings and explore responses to them.

Course content

Computation appears to be our best hope for explaining how the mind works. Over the past forty years, computational models have scored numerous successes in explaining various mental phenomena. The course introduces the computational approach to the mind and explores some foundational questions and challenges that it faces.

Topics covered by the course include:

  • What is a computation?
  • What do computational explanations in psychology aim to achieve?
  • If the mind is a type of computer, what kind of computer is it?
  • How should we understand talk of symbols and representational content in these computations?
  • How does computational modelling relate to neuroscience?
  • Is computation an objective property of brain processes, or a projection of our interests?
  • Can consciousness (qualia) be explained in terms of computation?
  • Do the computations that underlie cognition lie inside the head or do some spill out into the environment?

Assessment

  • 20%   Weekly online discussion posts on the essential readings (~400 words)
  • 80%   An end-of-semester essay (3,000 words)

Background reading

  • A. Clark. Mindware: An Introduction to Cognitive Science. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2nd edition, 2014.
  • T. Crane. The Mechanical Mind. Routledge, London, 3rd edition, 2016.
  • J. Haugeland. Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1985.