The Computer and the Mind

Book Card  -  Volume 5  -  Book Review Number 1  -  Wed, Mar 1, 1989 10:04 PM

TITLE: The Computer and the Mind
AUTHOR: Philip N. Johnson-Laird

I used this book in a class that I am teaching this quarter on cognitive science. It was especially helpful to those who had little idea of the range of theories comprised by cognitive science.

The book's subtitle is "An introduction to cognitive science". Johnson-Laird is one of the central figures in this area. The field developed from two sources: psychology and philosophy. In psychology most research over the last 40 or so years has been dominated by behaviorism. The "cognitive revolution" is the rejection of that way of looking at people. Psychologists now think it is ok to talk about people thinking, planning, etc. They now want to know more about how they do it. Cognitive science is the area that most of this work is done it.

The other source of the subject is philosophy. It is clear that the brain is the center of thought, emotion, and the like. But, how can a 3.5 lb. of jelly have thoughts, etc.? One answer is that we can understand the brain by thinking of it as a computer, with programs and the like. As the title of J-L's book indicates, that is the central model of cognitive science.

The main sections of the book are devoted to computational theories of vision, learning, memory, thinking, and communication. The last section tries to deal with the problems of free will and consciousness.

If you are interested in learning about an increasingly influential way of thinking about people, you should read J-L's book. It is well written and makes complex theories understandable.

The most interesting section of the book, from my point of view, dealt with thinking. I teach a lot of logic courses and have many pet ideas about why people have trouble with logic. Most logic courses are concerned with teaching formal rules for carrying out proofs. It is not too surprising that people tend not to think that way on their own. J-L outlines some of his work in this area. It is very interesting. I will give you a sample of one of the psychological tests used in a voice card. I wonder how our group will fare. Answers next time.