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Newell's Unified Theories of Cognition: BBS Call for Book Reviewers

Stevan Harnad harnad at PRINCETON.EDU
Sun Oct 13 18:51:05 EST 1991

Below is the abstract of a book that will be accorded multiple book
review in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS), an international,
interdisciplinary journal that provides Open Peer Commentary on
important and controversial current research in the biobehavioral and
cognitive sciences. Commentators must be current BBS Associates or
nominated by a current BBS Associate. To be considered as a commentator
on this book, to suggest other appropriate commentators, or for
information about how to become a BBS Associate, please send email to:

harnad at clarity.princeton.edu  or harnad at pucc.bitnet        or write to:
BBS, 20 Nassau Street, #240, Princeton NJ 08542  [tel: 609-921-7771]

To help us put together a balanced list of commentators, please give some
indication of the aspects of the topic on which you would bring your
areas of expertise to bear if you are selected as a commentator.
          BBS Multiple Book Review of:

		     (Harvard University Press, 1990)

		     Allen Newell
		     School of Computer Science
		     Carnegie-Mellon University

This book presents the case that cognitive science should turn its
attention to developing theories of human cognition that cover the full
range of human perceptual, cognitive, and action phenomena. Cognitive
science has now produced a massive number of high quality regularities
with many microtheories that reveal important mechanisms. The need for
integration is pressing and will continue to increase. Equally
important, cognitive science now has the theoretical concepts and tools
to support serious attempts at unified theories. The argument is made
entirely by presenting an exemplar unified theory of cognition both to
show what a real unified theory would be like and to provide convincing
evidence that such theories are feasible. The exemplar is Soar, a
cognitive architecture realized as a software system. After a
detailed discussion of the architecture and its properties, with its
relation to the constraints on cognition in the real world and to
existing ideas in cognitive science, Soar is used as a theory for a
wide range of cognitive phenomena: immediate responses
(stimulus-response compatibility and the Sternberg phenomena); discrete
motor skills (transcription typing); memory and learning (episodic
memory and the acquisition of skill through practice); problem solving
(cryptarithmetic puzzles and syllogistic reasoning); language (sentence
verification and taking instructions); and development (transitions in
the balance beam task). The treatments vary in depth and adequacy, but
they clearly reveal a single, highly specific, operational theory that
works over the entire range of human cognition. Soar is presented as an
exemplar unified theory, not as the sole candidate. Cognitive science
is not ready yet for a single theory -- there must be multiple
attempts. But cognitive science must begin to work towards such unified

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