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Paperback | $29.00 Short | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780262512398 | 240 pp. | 6 x 9 in | April 2009

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Essential Info

On the Origins of Cognitive Science

The Mechanization of the Mind


The conceptual history of cognitive science remains for the most part unwritten. In this groundbreaking book, Jean-Pierre Dupuy—one of the principal architects of cognitive science in France—provides an important chapter: the legacy of cybernetics. Contrary to popular belief, Dupuy argues, cybernetics represented not the anthropomorphization of the machine but the mechanization of the human. The founding fathers of cybernetics—some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, including John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch, and Walter Pitts—intended to construct a materialist and mechanistic science of mental behavior that would make it possible at last to resolve the ancient philosophical problem of mind and matter. The importance of cybernetics to cognitive science, Dupuy argues, lies not in its daring conception of the human mind in terms of the functioning of a machine but in the way the strengths and weaknesses of the cybernetics approach can illuminate controversies that rage today—between cognitivists and connectionists, eliminative materialists and Wittgensteinians, functionalists and anti-reductionists.

Dupuy brings to life the intellectual excitement that attended the birth of cognitive science sixty years ago. He separates the promise of cybernetic ideas from the disappointment that followed as cybernetics was rejected and consigned to intellectual oblivion. The mechanization of the mind has reemerged today as an all-encompassing paradigm in the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science. The tensions, contradictions, paradoxes, and confusions Dupuy discerns in cybernetics offer a cautionary tale for future developments in cognitive science.

About the Author

Philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy holds professorships at École Polytechnique, Paris, and Stanford University. At École Polytechnique he founded and directed the Applied Epistemological Research Center (CREA).


"By putting a magnifying glass on a crucial period in the intellectual history of the last century, Dupuy has opened up a field for further discussion and hopefully better understanding of where cognitive science stands and where it is going."
Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Journal of Cognitive Systems Research

"A healthy prescription for those engaged in advancing theories of cognition. It contrasts starkly with the superficiality of some self-styled gurus of cybernetics, who mire the word in cyberspace, cyborgs, and the cyberculture."
Igor Aleksander, New Scientist

"In densely argued and elegant prose, Jean-Pierre Dupuy shows that the roots of contemporary cognitive science lay in the cybernetic paradigm developed after World War II. Excavating this history, especially its philosophical implications, uncovers missed opportunities that can, Dupuy suggests, rescue cognitive science from the limitations of its computational worldview. Thought-provoking and illuminating, On the Origins of Cognitive Science is essential reading for anyone interested in cybernetics and its many progeny, cognitive science, and contemporary philosophy of mind."
N. Katherine Hayles, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of English, UCLA