At its most general level of description, the enterprise we call cognitive science is a massive effort to construct a scientific understanding of mental life, the product of the brain – arguably the most complex object in the known universe.
Although some of the leading ideas reach back to the rise of modern science, the time of Galileo, Descartes and Newton (some ideas even go further back to the Ancient Greeks), the efforts to construct a genuine scientific theory of mental life began in earnest only 50 years ago under the impetus of people like Noam Chomsky, Morris Halle, George Miller, and Eric Lenneberg.
Not surprisingly, after only a few decades of intensive research, our ignorance overall remains quite profound, but there are a few areas where significant progress has already been made. One such area concerns our capacity to develop a language, and this is the area I will focus on here, touching on other cognitive domains whenever the opportunity arises.
The results achieved in the domain of language have been made possible by the adoption of what can be called the biological view of language, in which the problem of making sense of our human capacity to acquire and use a language is conceived of as being on a par with how scientists would study echo-location in bats, the waggle dance in bees, and the navigational skills of birds.
The main goal in this book is to awaken your curiosity by pointing out a few facts that you never thought about, by asking questions that will cultivate your sense of wonder, and by suggesting a few answers that will whet your intellectual appetite.
This book should definitely not be seen as providing a sum of all we know about the mind; it is best characterized as offering a point of entry into fascinating territory, a set of perspectives from which to approach certain topics.
As educators, we want students to avoid falling into the trap of a passive dependence on “experts,” and we want them to develop a critical mind. To do this, it is imperative that they come to understand how scientific knowledge is acquired, and how to derive it themselves.
Part I Ever Since Chomsky
- Mind Matters: Chomsky’s Dangerous Idea
- The Mechanization of the Mind Picture
- How the Mind Grows: From Meno to Noam
Part II Unweaving the Sentence
- Mental Chemistry
- The Variety of Linguistic Experience: The Towers of Babel and Pisa
- All Roads Lead to Universal Grammar
Part III The Mental Foundations of Behavior
- Making Sense of Meaning: An Instruction Manual
- Wonderful Mental Life: Unthinkable without Language
- Grammar Caught in the Act
Part IV Missing Links
- The (Mis)Measure of Mind
- Homo Combinans
- Computational Organology
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