Biography Biography Allen Newell Collection

"...I am by imprinting a physical scientist. That's what my undergraduate days as a physics major at Stanford did to me. That, plus a father who was a Professor of Radiology at Stanford Medical School and who idolized the physical sciences. With the hubris common to physicists, I have always felt that I have known what good science is -- it is theory cast in terms of mechanisms that describe how parts of the universe behave. With sometimes immense historical delay, these mechanisms always move towards being grounded in the larger mechanistic view of the universe. Theories always propose a view of how the universe is. They can never be effectively argued to be true, but only be brought before the bar of empirical evidence. All the modern concern for contextualism, hermeneutics and the social determination of meaning has its point, but is a mere footnote to the massive evidence for this view of science. The overwhelming success within this framework of modern biology over the last half century has provided another major confirmation, if one is needed. Someday we will get another striking confirmation from cognitive science. Though it can be argued that we are well on our way, we still have an immense distance to go. Arguments are no match for the evidence that cognitive science does not control its subject the way physics, chemistry and now biology do.

It follows for me that a theory of mind is embodied in our theory of matter. Matter matters to mind. To put it yet another way, the great scientific question about mind is how it can occur in our physical universe as understood by the all enveloping scientific view. This is not reductionism -- I'll take in any way it comes. Indeed, the modern computational view of mind, with its solutions to representation and intention, is distinctly not a simple reduction.

But it also true of me that mind matters. What is the nature of mind is the great scientific question....

I have pursued these matters since the fifties, in concert and colleagueship with many scientific friends along the way. From my own personal viewpoint this has been an immensely cumulative trip, in which the pieces of the scientific puzzle gradually, though hardly completely, have revealed themselves. Many in psychology, never having experienced cumulative predictive science, see it somewhat otherwise, with new paradigms and new questions moving to centerstage simply shifting the focus without cumulation. It has never seemed that way to me, though I have on occasion criticized cognitive psychology for the manner in which it fails to progress theoretically.

About ten years ago, in concert with John Laird and Paul Rosenbloom, matters seemed to come together."

Copyright permission received from School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Gabrielle V. Michalek, Head of Archives/Digital Library Initiatives
November 1, 2000 -- http://diva.library.cmu.edu/Newell/mindmatters.html

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