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Cognitive Science 3: The Turn to the Brain


Cognitive systems as functional systems

There was some hesitation to analyze the mind in terms of it’s physical make-up because people argued that the mind may be multiply realizable, and so a focus on the physical make-up would be like saying that “Microsoft Word has to run on a 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor just because that is the processor of my Apple Macintosh” (61).

This view, though not unreasonable, has changed and now there is much focus on the study of the brain as an integral route to understanding the mind.

The anatomy of the brain and the primary visual pathway

Ungerleider and Mishkin (1982) provided one of the first examples of a “bottom-up” explanation of a cognitive process by looking at the pathways that visual data follows. By looking first at the hardware of the brain, they discovered experimentally that there are two visual systems with different functions.

Extending computational modeling to the brain

The physical limitations of the information pathways may provide information on the limits of thought.¬†Artificial neural networks provide a potential model for how the brain could process information and “learn” from information input into the system.

Mapping the stages of lexical processing

Petersen et al. (1988) provide another example of how a bottom up approach to cognitive science can provide insight into how the mind works. Functional neuroimaging technology was used to map areas of the brain while participants performed different linguistic tasks. The different activation patterns for each task suggested that the brain engages in parallel processing of language as opposed to sequential processing, which was the current accepted position.

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