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The word Cognitive no longer has any meaning | Roger Schank

The word cognitive no longer has any meaning

OK. I guess I have to accept it. The word ‘cognitive” has no meaning. I am at least partially responsible for the word’s popularity. I started the Cognitive Science Society and the Cognitive Science Journal. I wrote a book called the Cognitive Computer, and I started two companies one called Cognitive Systems and one called Cognitive Arts. All of this (except that last company), was in 1980’s.

Today I read the following in the New York Times:

One intriguing issue is the gender difference in noncognitive skills. Men are often said to be more competitive and self-confident than women, and according to this logic, they might be more inclined to pursue highly competitive jobs.

But Ms. Blau warned that it is impossible to separate nature from nurture. And there is evidence that noncognitive skills, like collaboration and openness to compromise, are benefiting women in today's labor market. Occupations that require such skills have expanded much more than others since 1980, according to research by David J. Deming at Harvard University. And women seem to have taken more advantage of these job opportunities than men.

So, being able to compromise is not a cognitive skill. And here I was naively believing that compromise required thinking. A computer that could compromise would definitely get my attention.

Perhaps this is why we suddenly have IBM's and Google's "cognitive computer" which do a lot of things, but thinking isn’t one of them, Doing a lot of computation is not thinking. And doing whatever it is that men do that gets them more pay is no more or less thinking than anything that women do.

Cognitive has somehow become a word that means "magic" or stuff only fast computers can do thanks to IBM and the New York Times.

While I am on the subject, I am having a problem with the word neuroscience as well.

Yesterday I was sent a presentation written by Britt Andreatta from on "the neuroscience of learning design." It discusses how "the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system work together to retain new knowledge and skills." It contains brilliant stuff like a slide that says:

Learn -> remember -> do

Then it shows pictures of the brain and says the hippocampus moves learning into long term memory. It contains a slide about metacognition which has on it the words:

What this has to do with neuroscience I have no idea. It actually has nothing to with cognitive science or learning either. It is simply a re-hash of what everyone has known about learning for some time. But saying neuroscience makes it valuable in some way, apparently. The stuff on these slides was a part of cognitive science when last I looked, but as cognitive now has no meaning, I suppose it is everyone’s job to make neuroscience have no meaning as well.

Last I heard, Neuroscience was trying to figure out how the brain did stuff and Cognitive Science was trying to figure out how the mind did stuff. As the mind is clerkly embodied in the brain, each field can learn from the other. Drawing picture of the brain on slides about learning is not neuroscience.

However making all these words meaningless is really not helpful.

Last I heard, women were capable of cognition, in fact equally capable to men. And they are both way above the capacity of cognition that any computer might currently have. Winning a game of Go does not require cognition nor does it require neuroscience. It requires a lot of computing.

Humpty Dumpty is now in charge it seems:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
©2024 Roger Schank