Re: Missing the point?

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Mon Feb 24 1997 - 20:41:57 GMT

> From: Minnett-Westwood, Della <>
> I think that I may be missing the point somewhat, but what do cognitive
> scientists hope to achieve by explaining and simulating cognitive
> processes using computational methods?

They're trying to explain how the mind works. If you're not interested
in how the mind works then could it be that Honours Psychology wasn't
the right choice? If it was the right choice, but you don't like
computational explanations, stick around, there will be others.

> I have read the first two Chapters of Green et al, and have been
> overwhelmed by the complexity and diversity of the text and theories
> contained within it. However, I have failed to identify any practical
> applications of Cognitive Science.

I think if you look in an introductory text on any subject -- physics,
chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, political science, history,
English -- you will not be able to identify any practical applications.

Before you can understand practical applications (if there are any --
I'll get back to that) you first have to understand the basic principles
of the subject you are studying. A subject that got to practical
applications in an introductory course would be a very superficial one,
don't you think? (Even medics don't get to curing anyone before
completing two years of the basic science underlying medicine.)

About practical implications: Surprisingly, most of the big practical
contributions to knowledge have not come from working directly on a
particular practical problem -- that sort of "dedicated" research
usually inches ahead if it progresses at all. The big leaps have almost
always come from letting the human mind pursue its intellectual

Learned Inquiry fares best when it is unfettered; when it is chained to
practical problems (as it was in Russia before the fall of Communism,
and as it is becoming in the Capitalist countries who think research
should be done on a business model) it doesn't do much at all.

> Surely the aim of any discipline concerning itself with the human being
> must be not only to enhance our knowledge and understanding of
> ourselves, but to enrich some physical or psychological aspect of
> ourselves in a positive way.

I'm not sure what you mean by "enrich". Is knowledge and understanding
not enriching? (Or do you mean money, literally?)

> For instance, I understand from the text that certain machines can
> display the same errors in language when damaged as dyslexics display.
> This means that we now have a model of dyslexia and can deduce which
> faulty circuits produce it. So what happens next? Unfortunately, I am
> told that rewiring the brain is slightly more complicated than rewiring
> a simulated model of a minute part of it in isolation.

If there is ever a cure for dyslexia, it is very unlikely that it will
come from research that is designed to cure it! To cure anything, we
must first understand how it works.

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