CS104 Cognitive Science Fiction


Professor: Lee Spector, lspector@hampshire.edu, x5352, office: ASH 201, office hours: posted, with signup sheets, on the door of ASH 201

Assistant: Matthew Lerner, msl96@hamp.hampshire.edu

Class Time/Place: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-11:50 AM, ASH Auditorium

Evening Screenings: Tuesdays as scheduled, 7:00-9:00 PM, ASH Auditorium

Prerequisite: none

Class Web Page: http://hampshire.edu/lspector/courses/cs104.html

Course Description (from catalog)

Can androids fall in love? Could a planet have a mind of its own? How might we communicate with alien life forms? Will it ever be possible for two people to "swap minds"? How about a person and a robot? And what would it feel like to engage in a Vulcan "mind meld"?

A large body of science fiction explores questions like these -- questions that push the limits of the science of the mind. Current cognitive science research can shed light on many of these questions, with results that are often as strange and as wonderful as the inventions of science fiction authors.

In this course we will read and view science fiction while simultaneously reading current scientific literature on the mind, the brain, and intelligent machines. The science fiction will provide a framework for our discussions, but the real goal of the course is to provide a tour of issues in cognitive science that will prepare students for more advanced cognitive science courses. No previous experience in cognitive science is required. The course will meet twice a week for one hour and twenty minutes each time, with possible additional meetings for film screenings.


All readings will be available for 3-hour loan from the reserve desk of the library, but all students are strongly encouraged to have their own copies.


The following is only an approximate schedule and it is subject to change. Adjustments will be announced in class. Assigned readings should be read prior to the indicated classes. Note that some topics have large amounts of material to read, while others have less; read ahead whenever you have the chance so that you won't fall behind when we come to a topic with more reading.

Date Topic Read Before Class In Class Evening
Thu 9/10 Introduction - Twilight Zone: The Lonely  
Tue 9/15 Pain Why You Can't Make a Computer that Feels Pain (Dennett); Good Pain, Bad Pain (Science) Discussion  
Thu 9/17 Emotions Star Trek on the Brain (SToTB) ch 1&2; Probing the Biology of Emotion (Science); Emotions, Memory and the Brain (Sci. Amer.) Discussion  
Tue 9/22 Mind Drugs and Hallucinations The Futurological Congress (Lem); Psychoactive Drugs in Evolutionary Perspective (Science); Prelude: How are Hallucinations Possible? (Dennett) Discussion Altered States
Thu 9/24 Dreams The Meaning of Dreams (Sci. Amer.) The Prisoner: A, B and C  
Tue 9/29 Sex, Genes, and Mind SToTB ch 3, Males Mutate More, Bird Study Shows (Science); Successful Flies Make Love, Not War (Science), Solving the Brain's Energy Crisis (Science); From Science Fiction to Ethics Quandary (Science); from How the Mind Works (Pinker) Discussion Gattaca
Thu 10/1

Motor Control from Vehicles (Braitenberg); 'RoboCup' Soccer Match is a Challenge for Silicon Rookies (Science) Star Trek: Spock's Brain  
Tue 10/6 Reasoning Reason (Asimov); The Approach Through Symbols (Newell, Young and Polk) Discussion 2001: A Space Odyssey
Thu 10/8 Machine Intelligence Computing Machinery and Intelligence (Turing) Star Trek NG: The Measure of a Man  
Tue 10/13 (October Break) - -  
Thu 10/15 Machine Intelligence Minds, Brains, and Programs (Searle) Discussion  
Tue 10/20 Animal Minds Testing Hypotheses in Behavioural Ecology (Krebs and Davies) BBC Special: Animal Minds Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Thu 10/22 Aggression and Fear SToTB ch 4; The Neurobiology of Fear (Sci. Amer.) Discussion  
Tue 10/27 Mind and Body Mind versus Body (Quine); Mind and Brain (Sci. Amer.) Outer Limits: The Human Factor Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955)
Thu 10/29 Language The First Sally (A) or Trurl's Electronic Bard (Lem); An Instinct to Acquire an Art (Pinker) Discussion  
Tue 11/3

Language How Language Works (Pinker); Wordy Tots Ignore Some Speech Sounds (Science News); New Insights into How Babies Learn Language (Science) Discussion Blade Runner
Thu 11/5 Perception SToTB ch 5 Gateway to the Mind  
Tue 11/10 Perception Visual System Provides Clues to How the Brain Perceives (Science); Sharpening the Senses with Neural Noise (Science) Discussion Them!
Thu 11/12 Collective Intelligence Introduction to Eruntics by Reginald Gulliver (Lem); Genetic Programming Produced Competitive Soccer Softbot Teams for RoboCup97 (Luke); After 50 Years, Self-Replicating Silicon (Science) Star Trek NG: I, Borg  
Tue 11/17 (Advising/Exam Day) - -  
Thu 11/19 Memory and False Memory We Can Remember it for You Wholesale (Dick); Creating False Memories (Sci. Amer.) Discussion  
Tue 11/24 Memory and False Memory SToTB ch 6, How Does the Brain Organize Memories? (Science) Discussion Total Recall
Thu 11/26 (Thanksgiving) - -  
Tue 12/1 Mental Illness SToTB ch 7 Outer Limits: The Brain of Colonel Barham  
Thu 12/3 Mental Illness Linking Mind and Brain in the Study of Mental Illnesses: A Project for a Scientific Psychopathology (Science); The Neurobiology of Depression (Sci. Amer.) Discussion  
Tue 12/8

Wrap-up   Discussion  


Each student will be evaluated on the basis of:

  1. Mandatory participation in class discussions. See below for details.
  2. Three 8-10-page papers, due October 1, November 3, and December 8. See below for details.

See below for details on how to get an evaluation, how to get 2-course option credit, and how to complete a Cognitive Science Division I project via this course.


There will be no lectures in this class. All class time, aside from screening time, will be devoted to discussion. You must come prepared to discuss the readings/screenings to every discussion session.

How to prepare for a discussion session:

  1. Do all of the reading and see the screenings.
  2. Take notes while reading/viewing, including
    1. Issues to raise in discussion
    2. Questions to ask in discussion

I will expect each student to have several items to discuss, on paper (though you don't have to turn it in), for each discussion session.


Every paper should be approximately 8-10 pages and should do the following, in order:

  1. State the scientific issue in question.
  2. Summarize the science in the readings related to the issue.
  3. Optional: relate the science to the science fiction read/viewed in class.
  4. Do one of the following:
    1. Provide an analysis or critique of the prior science.
    2. Propose new directions for scientific research.
    3. Outline an original work of science fiction based on the current science.
  5. Conclude.

How to get an evaluation for this course

  1. Do all of the reading, always before the day for which the reading is assigned.
  2. Attend every class (only the evening screenings are optional) and participate actively in most discussions.
  3. Turn in the three 8-10 page papers on time.

These are not soft limits; if you fail to do any of 1, 2, or 3 you will not get an evaluation. At the start of each class I will read the names of everyone who is doing what they need to do in order to get an evaluation. If you don't hear your name (or aren't there to hear it) then you need to talk to me or to assume that you won't be getting an evaluation.

How to get 2-course option credit for this course

  1. Do everything necessary to get an evaluation, above.
  2. Be sure that your work (writing and class participation) demonstrates an engagement with and understanding of the scientific issues covered in class.

How to complete a Cognitive Science Division I project via this course

  1. Do everything necessary to get 2-course option credit, above.

  2. Supplement one of your class papers with a small piece of project work in any of the cognitive sciences. For example, you might conduct a small psychological experiment, write a small computer program to illustrate a cognitive science idea, analyze a small body of linguistic data, etc. There are many many options. You may talk to me about these at any time during the semester (at my office hours or by email).

Last updated August 27, 1998, by Lee Spector, lspector@hampshire.edu