A future historian of the cognitive sciences—that recently formed amalgam of disciplines which probes the operations of the human mind—might select any of a number of episodes as marking the birth of this field. If he is interested in the earliest manifestations of interest in mental phenomena, he might revert to the questions posed by classical philosophers—Socrates seeking the nature of knowledge, Plato contemplating the source of ideas. Searching for less. remote antecedents of the contemporary movement, he might alight on certain dramatic moments in the history of modern thought—Descartes arguing that his existence could be inferred from his capacity to doubt, Locke responding to Molyneux’s questions about the experiences of a blind man restored to sight, or perhaps Kant being stirred from his “dogmatic slumbers” through a reading of Hume’s Essay on Human Understanding. If our historian discussed the origins of the cognition movement in the first days of experimental psychology, he might describe the opening of the first laboratory by Wilhelm Wundt in 1879, the portrait of the stream of consciousness offered by William James in 1890, or perhaps the recognition of purposive thinking and mental hypotheses in the introspections of problem-solving humans in Wurzburg around the turn of the century, or in the maze-running of Berkeley rats in the 1930’s. And if  he is on the alert for seminal publications which inspired today’s scholars, he might well cite Jean Piaget’s Origins of Intelligence in Children (French edition, 1936) or Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures (1957).

Although the moment when the cognitive sciences arose may be a matter of dispute, the time when the movement has come of age seems reasonably clear. Only in the last decade or so have cognitive studies seized the limelight of psychology and pointed toward a significant integration among such diverse fields as philosophy, neurology, and anthropology. Journals have proliferated, books number in the hundreds, foundations and government agencies have swarmed to support such research. If it were necessary to pinpoint the official coming-of-age of this field, a strong contender would be the days of October 10-13, 1975, when Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky engaged in their now famous debate of Abbaye de Royaumont.

The encounter at Royaumont lays claim to such historical importance for several reasons. To begin with, Chomsky and Piaget were recognized leaders of perhaps the two most influential schools in contemporary cognitive studies. Taken seriously by all scientists in their respective fields of linguistics and developmental psychology, they had achieved international reputations which far transcended theirareas of specialization. Accompanied by individuals who were intimately associated with their own programs of research, Piaget and Chomsky now presented their ideas to an illustrious gathering of scholars: Nobel laureates in biology, leading figures in philosophy, and mathematics, as well as several of the most prominent behavioral scientists in the world today. Those in attendance listened critically to the arguments and joined vigorously in the ensuing discussion, not hesitating to make pronouncements and take sides. It was almost as if two of the great figures of the seventeenth century—say, Descartes and Locke—had defied time and space to conduct a debate in front of the Royal Society and the Academy Francaise.

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