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Joined: 21 Jul 2008
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Location: Cadiz (Spain)
PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2009 11:13 am
Post subject: Cognitivism
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Cognitivism is a scientific frame that has a precise date of birth. It started when the, then, very young Noam Chomsky, stood up in an MIT symposium, and delivered a talk, with the title,"Three models of language". He proved, among other things, that Shannon & Weaver's mathematical information theory which was very much in favour at that time, was ill suited to analyse or explain human languages. The exact date, according to one of the participants and colleague of Chomky, the Psychologist George A. Miller, was September the 11th, 1957 (disasters seem to have a strong penchant for this monthly date, as you all know!). Chomsky proposed his new model, which he called Generativism and proved that it was one of the most plausible models to be able to achieve a seriously scientific research in human language.

Human jealousy is one of the most evident traits of our so-called soul, and this individual chomskyan success in destroying no less than the existing paradigm (in the Kuhnian sense) in linguistics, managed to stir in other language researchers the longing to achieve another such feat. So, they did not only question his theory, but tried to destroy the new paradigm, almost from the beginning. As they did it rashly (and furiously, if you please), the first attacks were absolutely off the mark, and gave chomskyans the clear evidence that those self-titled paradigm creators had not understood Chomsky's ideas accurately, let alone what his paradigm implied for scientific studies in things mental.

For, apart from Linguistics, cognitivism began to be used in Psychology, Philosophy, Anthropology, Artificial Intelligence, and other Humanities topics that had never been able to reach the scientific paradigmatic status before. Nowadays, however, there is an important flourishment of these cognitive approaches in the scientific World.

So much so that there are now two conflicting cognitive branches of studies:

(1) The classic (or symbolic) one, that comes directly from Chomsky's ideas, which concentrates on mental macro-processes such as language, reasoning, etc., and

(2) The connectionist (or sub-symbolic) one that prefers to analyse micro-processes that have never been studied before and which are able sometimes to describe and explain aspects of macro-processes by making them work in parallel, as it were.

This last branch is nowadays called simply COGNTIVISM, while the classical one tends to adopt the name MENTALISM, although both are interested in human cognition. To my mind, both branches are seriously trying to be scientific and are thus, at least, basically understandable if one makes the effort of following their tenets -which are not that esay to follow. However, from my point of view, COGNITIVISM acts like a Presidential candidate in campaign. It promises more than it really achieves. MENTALISM, on the other hand, admitting that it may start with hypotheses (imagined constructions), insists in creating strong causal links between its chains of reasoning, making it (until this very moment) a lot more efficient in understanding the complex processings of our human mind. Time only will show whether the Presidential Candidate has some success and changes the direction of cognitive studies.

What is important is this, though: cognitivism (classic or connectionist) is the new scientific paradigm to analyse human language and other such mental human achievements, and, what is more, it is here to stay.
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