Phil/Psych 256: Essay Questions

Phil/Psych 256: Introduction to Cognitive Science

Prof. Eliasmith

Please answer one of the following questions in a 5-7 page essay. Please use a 12pt font with 1˝  inch margins (1200-1600 words, no more). This is worth 30% of the final grade and is due on the last day of class. You should use at least two external sources and include a bibliography (external sources are intended to be peer reviewed articles in journals or books, not from textbooks, handbooks, encyclopedia, or other reference sources). You may assume that your audience has this course as background knowledge. Therefore, your essay should not be mostly taken from the notes, and should also not be an extended answer to similar questions on the midterms. These are to be essays (i.e. structured like one; really).

If you want to write on an alternate topic, email it to me with a brief description and I will let you know if it is appropriate.

Plagiarism will result in a final grade of 32% on the course.


  1. Compare and contrast a connectionist and classical AI (i.e. symbolicist) model (not discussed in class) of a given phenomenon (e.g., analogy, vision, language parsing, memory, planning, etc.). Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each model. How does your analysis relate to the overall connectionist/symbolicist debate? (please email me with your chosen models for approval)
  2. Examine in detail an application of mental logic to a cognitive phenomenon. Compare and contrast this with a competing 'non-logical' explanation of the same phenomenon.
  3. Discuss the contemporary role of neuroscience in psychology. Describe the limitations and benefits to integrating the two in the context of a specific set of phenomena (e.g., language, reasoning, task learning, for other phenomena please email me for approval).
  4. Pick a standard methodology in neuroscience. Describe its application, strengths and weaknesses in detail. Focus, in particular, in some ways that it is currently used that may be inappropriate.
  5. Look at some recent developments in the theory of vision. Discuss the degree to which the theory of Pure Vision still informs current thinking, and discuss the degree to which the theory of Animate Vision informs those developments.
  6. Characterize, contrast and compare three different theories/methods of unsupervised learning. Describe the strengths and weaknesses of each, and how they might help us understand biological learning.
  7. Choose a paper or book on concepts and examine it in the context of other theories of concepts we discussed in class. Compare, contrast, and evaluate the theory you have chosen.
  8. Discuss arguments for and against using ‘representations’ to explain behavior. Which kind of explanation do you think is mostly likely to succeed and why?
  9. There have been many recent advancements in understanding emotion in the brain. Discuss some of them and show how they relate to standard problems in Cognitive Science.
  10. Examine evidence for and against imagery in a modality other than vision. How is the visual imagery debate like and unlike the debate in your chosen modality?
  11. Compare and contrast (at least) two views of the role of semantics in providing cognitive explanations. Evaluate the different options and argue for what you take to be the most appropriate role for intentional explanations.
  12. Choose a specific robotic platform and compare it to the kinds of approaches discussed in class. How do you think such a platform can most usefully inform our cognitive theories. What changes to the platform would make it more useful? (please email me with your chosen platform for approval).
  13. Discuss the relationship between levels of explanation in cognitive science. Clearly identify the levels you have chosen to discuss. Choose a specific example not discussed in class in which to demonstrate your analysis of this relationship.