Saturday, April 26, 2008

cognitivism or cognitive science (part one)

I realized that my understanding of cognitivism or cognitive science was shallow so I have been taking a closer look

I understood cognitivism to mean a computational model of mind, that the mind is something like a computer with inputs, outputs and structures (called various names such symbols, schemas, frames) which process that information

I also understood it to be associated with a theory of innateness or a genetically timetabled developmental process of unfolding of those brain structures. eg. Chomsky has argued that our ability to process spoken language has entered our gene pool (also Pinker)

I also understood that cognitivism had been challenged by connectionists, neuroscientists, behavioural AI researchers (Rodney Brooks), some philosophers (the Churchlands) and some educational theorists (George Siemens, Stephen Downes) who reject the basic premise, ie. they argue that the mind is NOT like a computer

I have previously supported some of these arguments, particularly those of Rodney Brooks, that the mind is not like a computer. Also I'm a fan of Andy Clark and the distributed model of mind (enactivism) that he outlines in Being There and his other works.

One trigger for delving into it more deeply was realizing that I wasn’t clear at all about the differences between cognitivism and constructivism. Constructivism also theorises that structures of some sort are built in the brain so why were cognitivism and constructivism invariably presented as different approaches, ie. the Big Three classification of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism.

Currently we have some influential authors who criticise a constructivist approach to education but support a cognitivist approach. eg. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark paper which argues against minimal guidance during instruction, has been influential (their paper, my rebuttal). So, clearly some see the distinction as very important even if I am becoming confused about it.

Another trigger was that I belatedly realised that some authors that made a lot of sense to me were in the cognitivist or cognitive scientist camp. Not that they wear this label as a badge. They don't,which is one of the things I like about their work, they focus on ideas far more than to which "camp" they belong. The authors I'm referring to here are Daniel Dennett, Marvin Minsky and James Gee.

This blog is just an introduction outlining some of the issues about why I decided to look more carefully at what cognitivism was and where it was at.

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