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“Minds and machines” for humanities majors: A liberal arts course in computers and cognition

Abstract

A new one-semester course is described in which undergraduate students in non-technical majors are shown how traditional philosophical problems of knowledge, cognition, language, and human nature can be fruitfully investigated with computer-related concepts and techniques. A series of simple experiments is used to demonstrate to undergraduates that mental phenomena are real, that they can be studied experimentally, and that they can be modeled insightfully in computational — i.e., information-processing — terms. Each experiment illustrates a basic fact or principle of cognitive science: the formal character of algorithms; creativity and the variants of the Turing test; limitations on human memories; the use of cognitive strategies; heuristic techniques of artificial intelligence; formal grammars and their associated parsers; social, societal, and anthropological dimensions of mind; and degrees of logicality in human reasoning. Students are also taught the essentials of PROLOG, a programming language that is based explicitly on formal logic, incorporating such notions as fact, database, and query, thereby lending itself readily to the description of complex relational networks of a sort not commonly expected to be amenable to computer analysis.

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Steven Cushing (Ph.D., UCLA) is associate professor of computer science at Boston University and author of the book, Quantifier Meanings: A Study in the Dimensions of Semantic Competence, and of numerous articles. He has been a NASA Summer Faculty Fellow at both Ames and Langley Research Centers and served on a delegation sponsored by the USSR Academy of Sciences to help evaluate Soviet uses of computers in education.

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Cushing, S. “Minds and machines” for humanities majors: A liberal arts course in computers and cognition. Comput Hum 25, 275–280 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00120963

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00120963

Key Words

  • cognition
  • philosophy
  • knowledge
  • language
  • human nature
  • teaching
  • computers and humanists