COGS 1: Introduction to Cognitive Science
Spring 2007
Swarthmore College

Professor: Lisa Meeden
Course: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:20-12:35, SCI 181
Email: meeden AT
Office: SCI 243
Phone: 328-8565
Office hours: Wednesday 2-4pm, or by appointment

Course Description, Course Materials, Grading, Homework Policy , Schedule

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to cognitive science, the study of mind, from an interdisciplinary perspective that includes cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and artificial intelligence.

The central metaphor of cognitive science views the brain as a complex biological computing machine, the physical properties of which give rise to the mind's capacity for perceiving the world, controlling actions, generating and understanding language, doing logical reasoning, and even consciousness. But what exactly does it mean to view thought as a complex computation? How far does this metaphor take us in practice, and what insights does it offer?

In this course, we will investigate the nature of computation and its relationship to human, and possibly machine, intelligence. We will do this in a hands-on way by experimenting with models of cognitive processes such as language, perception, memory, and learning, and we will explore the idea of embodied cognition by experimenting with simulated robots.

Typically we will meet in the classroom on Tuesdays (SCI 181) for lecture and in the Computer Science lab on Thursdays (SCI 240) to do hands-on experiments with computational models.

Course Materials


10% Participation
25% Midterm Exam: In class on Tuesday, March 6
25% Final Exam: Scheduled by the Registrar during Finals week
40% Homework

Homework Policy

Each student will receive an account on the Computer Science Department's computer system. You will use a program called cogs1handin to turn in your homework. This program allows you to resubmit your homework multiple times up until the deadline.

No late homework will be accepted unless you contact me at least 1 day in advance of the due date to explain why extra time is necessary.


I expect you to do the weekly reading prior to the first class meeting of the week.

1 Jan 23   Characterizing intelligence and Overview of Cognitive Science
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 1-2
Jan 25  
2 Jan 30   Fundamental problems with classical Cognitive Science
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 3
1: Turing Machines
Feb 01 Last day to drop/add (Feb 02)
3 Feb 06   Embodied Cognitive Science
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 4
Decoding the language of the bee
2: Creating a simple robot brain
Feb 08  
4 Feb 13   Neural networks
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 5
3: Understanding neural networks
Feb 15  
5 Feb 20   Braitenberg vehicles
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 6
4: Braitenberg Vehicles
Feb 22  
6 Feb 27   Artificial evolution
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 8
5: Evolving Robot Brains
Mar 01  
7 Mar 06 Midterm Exam
Mar 08   Design principles for autonomous agents
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 10
  Mar 13 Spring Break
Mar 15
8 Mar 20   Categorization
Understanding Intelligence, Ch. 12
6: Unsupervised Categorization
Mar 22  
9 Mar 27   Intro. to Developmental Robotics
The playground experiment: Task-independent development of a curious robot
7: Self-motivated robot learning
Mar 29 Last day to declare CR/NC (Mar 30)
10 Apr 03 Guest lecture by Prof. David Harrison When languages die
What children learn about language
Apr 05  
11 Apr 10   Models of language
Finding structure in time
The importance of starting small
8: Experimenting with Elman's language model
Apr 12  
12 Apr 17   Animal communication
Language instruction in the laboratory
Apr 19  
13 Apr 24   Neuroscience: Brain and Cognition
Note: Because of copyright restrictions this must be read online
Leading class discussion
Apr 26 Guest lecture by Prof. Kathy Siwicki
14 May 01   Philosophy: Foundations of Cognitive Science
Note: Because of copyright restrictions this must be read online
The Magic of Consciousness by Daniel Dennett
May 03  
  May 15 Final Exam 9am-12pm