The Cognitive Science of Intuitive Theories

Class information

Meeting times: Jan. 23-26, 2-4 pm. Jan. 27, 1-3 pm.
Location: 46-3015
Instructors: Josh Tenenbaum, Tania Lombrozo, Rebecca Saxe, Laura Schulz, Kathryn Schulz
Email Contact: jbt@mit.edu

Class description

Much of people's basic knowledge of the world is organized around intuitive theories: abstract systems of categories and causal principles that are in important respects analogous to scientific theories. This class will feature lectures and discussion on state-of-the-art research investigating the structure, function, and acquisition of intuitive theories. The research draws on a diverse set of techniques, including behavioral studies with adults and children, neuroimaging, and computational modeling. Intuitive theories will be studied across multiple domains of cognition, including knowledge of physical systems, biological systems, psychology (or understanding other minds), and social structure.

Class policies

To receive credit in this class, you must attend each session and participate in discussions. You must also complete a take-home quiz, to be distributed via email by Jan. 29 and returned by Feb. 2. The answers you give to the quiz must be your own work (your own writing and your own thinking), but you may consult any text or hypertext sources, including the class lecture notes posted below. You may use material from the lecture notes without attribution but should cite any other sources. You are encouraged to discuss the class material with other people inside or outside the class, but once the quiz is sent to you by email, we ask that you do not talk about the material until after you have turned in the quiz.

Final quiz

Download the quiz here.

Lecture notes

Jan. 23: Computational models of theory-based inductive inference, Josh Tenenbaum

Jan. 24: Explanation in intuitive theories, Tania Lombrozo

Jan. 25: Understanding other minds, Rebecca Saxe

Jan. 26: Theories, evidence, and action, Laura Schulz

Jan. 27: When theories fail, Kathryn Schulz