About CCBS

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The Center for Cognitive Science was established at The Ohio State University in 1989. 

At the time, the Center was just a proposal that was granted funding by then Provost, Myles Brand. Founding Director of the Center, Dr. Peter Culicover, took this funding and established the Center for Cognitive Science. His mission was to give cognitive science a home at Ohio State by building a strong network of collaborators and supporters across the university.

The Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences (as it is now known) has grown significantly since its early days. Today, with affiliations and support from across the university and beyond, the Center is a thriving hub of activity and collaboration. We are proud to educate, inspire, and support our members, affiliates and the greater Columbus community. 

The Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences (CCBS) is currently directed by Dr. Andrew Leber, Ph.D. The Center carries forward its mission of advancing the study of mind, brain and formal models of cognitive processes and promoting interdisciplinary research in cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience.


 

For a full history of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, read Dr. Culicover's 30 year retrospective below.

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Imperfect Recollections of the Early History of the Center for Cognitive Science

By Dr. Peter Culicover

 

Introduction

Let me begin by thanking Andy Leber for inviting me to this event. Being able to celebrate the thirtieth year of the founding of the Center for Cognitive Science is a testament to the many people in the university who have lent their energies to the Center, and who have continued to support the center in its activities and goals. I will keep my remarks as brief as possible, but given that I have the opportunity, I will indulge myself in recollecting what we tried to accomplish when we established the center, who played important roles, some of our successes and failures, and to reflect on the nature of academic administration and the place of interdisciplinary research in a university like Ohio State. I have entitled my notes “Imperfect recollections of the early history of the Center for Cognitive Science”. My recollections are imperfect in part because my memory is imperfect (not because I’m getting on in years – it always has been a bit spotty when it comes to historical events), and in part because at some point in the past 16 years since I was Director, I deleted all of my files.

The background

While the Center was established in 1989, the story of its founding goes back into the mid-1970s, and in many respects is autobiographical, so I will start there with the history of cognitive science and how I came to be involved in it. By his own account, cognitive science was originally envisaged by George Miller as the intersection of psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, computer science, anthropology and philosophy. As Miller says, “I saw psychology, linguistics and computer science as central, the other three as peripheral. These fields represented, and still represent, an institutionally convenient but intellectually awkward division. Each, by historical accident, had inherited a particular way of looking at cognition and each had progressed far enough to recognize that the solution to some of its problems depended crucially on the solution of problems traditionally allocated to other disciplines.

Around 1975, again by his own account, Miller was able to convince the Sloan Foundation to explore putting funding into the establishment of cognitive science programs at various universities. Says Miller: “The program that was initiated provided grants to several universities with the condition that the funds be used to promote communication between disciplines.”

At the time I was an Assistant and then Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at UC Irvine. This School was completely interdisciplinary. It was founded by an initial group of social scientists who believed that the traditional university departmental structure was detrimental to the advance of interdisciplinary research, so there were no departments. Thus, the institutionally convenient but intellectually awkward divisions that Miller refers to were not present, at least for psychology, linguistics and anthropology as contributors to cognitive science.

It was an interesting, but not entirely successful experiment. My observation is that departmental structure is critical for the effective management of undergraduate programs, and organizing the faculty along the lines of traditional academic disciplines has the virtue of providing the vast majority of graduate students with necessary professional training. It is the rare student who can thrive without this structure. In fact, the School is now organized into more or less traditional departments.

Be that as it may, we did have a cognitive science group, if not a department, and because of my obsessive nature, I agreed to be chair of that group – no one else wanted to do it and there were some administrative things that need to be done. The major strengths of the group were vision, language and mathematical psychology. One member, Ken Wexler, a mathematical psychologist who trained at Stanford with Pat Suppes, was very interested in linguistics and in Noam Chomsky and I was one of Chomsky’s students. Wexler and I began working together on a formal, interdisciplinary approach to language acquisition, something that might well not have happened in a more traditional university structure. Thus, we were in a good position to make a proposal to the Sloan Foundation and to get funding from them.

Enter Myles Brand, a philosopher who had become Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona. (Myles subsequently was Provost at OSU, President at Oregon and Indiana, and President of the NCAA.) He was a very gifted administrator who managed to get both Linguistics, Psychology and Philosophy into his college at UA, as well as History, Political Science and Sociology. And even Speech Communication. (Myles was well known in the early 1990s for being the person who fired beloved basketball coach Bobby Knight at Indiana University.) It turns that that my best friend was Adrian Akmajian, who was the Head of the Linguistics department at the University of Arizona. I knew the entire department well, because I had spent a lot of time visiting with Adrian, and I knew Myles as well, who was very friendly with many of the linguists. When Adrian passed away in 1983, Myles recruited me to be the Head of the Department. But, importantly for the story, Myles was a philosopher of action who had become quite interested in the work of Roger Shank and more generally was interested in setting up a cognitive science program at UA. Because of my experience with cognitive science at UCI, he offered me both the Head position and the directorship of the Cognitive Science Program. I liked the idea –I wanted to be in a real linguistics department and I wanted to stay involved in cognitive science – and so I went to UA in 1984.

Cognitive Science at UA was very special. The main players were Mike Harnish, a philosophy of language, Alan Goldman, a philosopher of epistemology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science, to some extent Keith Lehrer, also a philosopher, and Myles Brand himself. There wasn’t too much buy-in from linguistics, psychology, or the other departments, but thanks to the budgetary process of the university at that time, Myles was able to secure a several hundred thousand dollars of permanent funding for new faculty positions in cognitive science. We were able to use this funding to recruit Lynn Nadel and Lynn Cooper into Psychology at the beginning, and later Merrill Garrett and Ken Forster.

Nadel’s early work with John O’Keefe on the hippocampus as a cognitive map is still very influential O’Keefe won the Nobel Prize a few years ago for related work), and Nadel in particular was, and is, an extraordinary source of ideas, energy and interdisciplinary interactions. Because the group was newly established and largely because of the lack of prior interest in cognitive science at UA, it was necessary for us to work closely together: Nadel, Cooper, Harnish and me. In fact we published a book together on connectionism and cognition with MIT Press, based on a very exciting conference that we put on. This working relationship gave me a model for how a cognitive program might work, alongside the one that I had been a part of at UCI.

The Establishment

In 1986 Myles Brand moved to Ohio State to become Provost. He recruited me again, in 1987, this time to be Associate Provost, probably because he liked me. I accepted the position for personal and family reasons, although I was very happy at Arizona. Myles was still interested in cognitive science, of course, and wanted to establish something at Ohio State, which was at the time somewhat behind the more active institutions. There was strength in AI in Computer Science, in the person of Chandrasekaran and John Josephson. And there was a group of faculty, led I believe by Lester Krueger of Psychology, who had managed to put together a speaker series using funding that Myles gave them.

At the time, President Ed Jennings was pulling 5% of each college’s budgets back to the center and redistributing the money to the colleges based on competitive proposals for new programs. Myles decided to use some of this money for cognitive science, and set aside a little less than $500K of annual rate for an inter-disciplinary Center. The Department of Psychology, which had a competing proposal that was not funded, was not happy, needless to say. This said, Jim Naylor, the chair, became a good friend and strong supporter of the Center and contributed his wisdom for many years on the first Executive Committee. As did Brian Joseph, the chair of Linguistics, and George Smith, the chair of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Myles envisioned that a Center would be established that would report at first to the Provost, and then after a few years would report to the Vice President for Research. The rationale for having the Center report so high was that it would span not only departments in Arts and Sciences, but Engineering and even Medicine and Education. He asked me to organize a search for a director. In the course of searching, I realized that I would rather be the director of such a center than an associate provost. Rather than ask directly, which was tricky, given that I was supposed to be running the search, I got Bill Kern, the Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, to suggest to Myles that I might be appropriate for the job. Myles thought I liked being an associate provost but asked me if I was interested, and was surprised when I said that I was. But in the end he offered me the position. So I left the Provost’s office and became the director.

Our original space was in the Stadium. We had a lot of space, but couldn’t give it away at first. It is an interesting observation about a university the size of OSU that many departments are very large, they have their own buildings, perhaps several, and faculty have many colleagues and students to keep them busy right there. They are thus centers of gravity on their own. It is difficult and even counterproductive for a faculty member to set up a lab or to otherwise carry out research in a more distant location, unless there are special circumstances. There were, in fact, special circumstances when Vladimir Sloutsky came to the Center to see if he could use our space, given that there was insufficient space for him in the College of Education. We were able to provide Vladimir with sufficient space for his re-search in the Stadium, and later in our temporary quarters in Page Hall, and I think it worked out very nicely for him, for the Center and for the University.

My Objectives

When I took over as Director of the Center I wanted to see to what extent it would be possible to replicate some of what I had at UCI and UA. Of course it is not possible to recreate something entirely at another institution, but the only way to see what is possible is to try lots of things. At the same time, putting on programs helps to identify who is interested in interdisciplinary interactions, who is likely to get along, who has the energy and interest to actually invest in something new, and so on. In addition to Chandra in Computer Science, Jordan Pollack joined OSU in Computer Science and was deeply committed to cognitive science. He was primarily responsible for establishing the graduate student group, GradCog, for proposing Cogfest, and for getting the Center to fund summer interdisciplinary research opportunities for graduate students – I think. Carolyn Palmer was a major contributor from psychology, and was at the center of a distinguished group in music cognition that included Mari Jones of psychology and in the minds of others who chose to come here. I would say that the enhancement of the faculty and the intellectual environment that the Center helped to create has contributed to helping OSU at keep up with its peers in cognitive science; whether it would have happened without the Center is a question that can’t really be answered.

My plan was to use the substantial annual rate to generate, through careful planning and consultation, an ongoing series of faculty appointments over several years, but we ran into the usual problem: no good deed goes unpunished. The university encountered a series of budget crises and much of the uncommitted funding was taken back. We did have enough to continue with the programs that had been initiated, however, and of course the tenure-track faculty were secure. As the departments picked up the Center’s share of their salary, money was freed up to return to the Center, which in due course was also taken back, in large part.

Diana Raffman of philosophy, which led to the recruitment of David Huron of the School of Music. The cognitive engineers, Dave Woods and Phil Smith, were involved, and so was Tom Ostrom, a distinguished social psychologist. I worked with Tom for several years to see if we could set up an effort in decision making with him taking the lead, but sadly, he passed away before it could happen.

We established a brown bag series that met every Friday, where we enticed people to make the long trek over to the Stadium by providing pizza. We had distinguished speakers that were aimed at interdisciplinary audiences, who might not be invited by individual departments because their work did not fall that centrally into what the majority of departmental faculty were interested in. We were able to get funding from the Office of Research to fund a lecture series on consciousness, with participation from David Chalmers, Dan Schachter, Ray Jackendoff and John Searle, and perhaps others (and here my lack of documentation shows up).

I wanted to use the annual rate to hire faculty in various departments who would contribute to the university’s strengths in cognitive neuroscience, computational cognitive psychology, language processing and perception, and so on. The idea was to make it possible for departments to hire in areas where they might not go on their own, but might entertain if there was seed funding. Through our efforts we were successful in helping to attract to OSU Deliang Wang (computational neuroscience) and Eric Fossler-Lussier (speech perception) in Computer Science, Jim Todd (visual perception) and Ben Givens (cognitive neuroscience) in Psychology, Chris Brew (computational linguistics) and Julie Boland and later Shari Speer (psycholinguistics) in Linguistics, using the Center’s resources in various ways. The Center played a role in helping to recruit Neil Tennant.(philosophy of mind and many other things) to Philosophy, and I like to think that it may have been a factor in the minds of others who chose to come here. I would say that the enhancement of the faculty and the intellectual environment that the Center helped to create has contributed to helping OSU at keep up with its peers in cognitive science; whether it would have happened without the Center is a question that can’t really be answered.

My plan was to use the substantial annual rate to generate, through careful planning and consultation, an ongoing series of faculty appointments over several years, but we ran into the usual problem: no good deed goes unpunished. The university encountered a series of budget crises and much of the uncommitted funding was taken back. We did have enough to continue with the programs that had been initiated, however, and of course the tenure-track faculty were secure. As the departments picked up the Center’s share of their salary, money was freed up to return to the Center, which in due course was also taken back, in large part.

Observations

I’ve science at Ohio State was that of Myles Brand. On reflection, it did have the intended effect, which was the significant enhancement of the faculty and the intellectual environment in the relevant areas. Those who remember the 80’s will remember that there were other significant things that Myles did that were not warmly welcomed by the rest of the university at the time, but that is the way institutions work.

And this brings me to a broader perspective on the Center and its place in the university. There are intellectual, budgetary and institutional considerations, that is, stresses, that inevitably bear on an interdisciplinary center that does not fit neatly into traditional structures. Perhaps the most serious of these is budgetary. When Myles Brand committed funding for the Center, he was able to do so because as Provost he had considerable discretion over funding, and was able to exercise his academic judgment as well as his prejudices in that regard. But the budget process was changed a couple of provosts later (Ed Ray), so that the budgets of academic units were then determined primarily by instruction and extramural funding.

Under such a regime, the Center was completely unable to generate its own funding stream to justify its budget. It was never founded to align with federal funding sources, unlike units such as the Byrd Polar Research Center, or with industrial sources, such as the Welding Institute. The Center could not mount an instructional program, of course, and could not realistically compete with departments and colleges to house funded research. It could provide space, but not much else, and even that could be and was taken away. Its main contribution has been an intellectual one, providing an environment for people to become aware of and interact with and even work with people in other departments. But even funded interdisciplinary research across departments can be distributed across the departments of the participating faculty, and there was and is no incentive to situate such research in the Center. We did pursue all possible training and center grants, as we should, but were not successful.

Of course this brings us to the proposition, shared no doubt by most if not all of the faculty, that money should not be the sole determinant of the value of an interdisciplinary center. Intellectual and institutional considerations will, hopefully, also play a role. In fact, I would submit that especially at an enormous university like Ohio State, such a center is essential. The gravitational forces exerted by the departments are so strong that they must be countered by some external force such as the center, if the university is going to continue to keep up with contemporary scientific movements that cross traditional departmental boundaries. As I noted above, departments are essential for management of the curriculum and for the professionalization of graduate students. But they are not essential for pushing research in new directions, especially those that are not closely associated with the profession that they represented. This fact has been well recognized by the National Science Foundation for decades, as it was by the faculty who founded the School of Social Sciences at UCI that I discussed earlier. I would say that the simple fact that the Center is still here after 30 years is testament to the insights of those at Ohio State that have recognized the importance of the Center over the years and the contributions that it can make. And to the hard work of everyone who has given their time and energy to keeping this effort alive.

 

Peter Culicover is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Linguistics. He has previously served at Ohio State as the Chair of the Department of Linguistics, Director of the Center for Cognitive Science, and Associate Provost. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Linguistic Society of America. He is particularly interested in the foundations of syntactic theory and in explaining why languages, and their grammars, are the way they are. Dr. Culicover received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from MIT.

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