ICBS Today

Intellectual Roots of ICBS

Intellectual Roots of ICBS

The history of Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences at Berkeley broadly parallels the development of cognitive science as a whole. ICBS was originally founded on the Berkeley campus in 1961 as the Institute of Human Learning. The intellectual mission of the Institute in this "pre-cognitive" era was to understand all forms of learning and memory in humans by elaborating and extending behaviorist theories originally developed to account for animal behavior. During the late 1960s and 1970s, however, it became increasingly clear that a general theory of human learning - or even of animal learning, for that matter-was beyond the narrow range of such "stimulus-response" theories, and researchers interested in understanding the nature of mind began to cast their nets more widely.

The most productive leads came from the seemingly distant fields of linguistics and computer science where seminal thinkers such as Chomsky, Turing, Newell, and Simon provided new ways of thinking about the mind. The operation of digital computers became the dominant metaphor for understanding human mentality: minds were likened to programs that run on a particular sort of biological computers called brains. Such notions gave rise to a new philosophy of mind, called "functionalism," in which minds were defined by their functional rather than physical or experiential properties. This intellectual climate produced a paradigm shift-now called the "cognitive revolution" - in which the grip of behaviorism was broken, and new alliances were formed among cognitively oriented psychologists, computer scientists, philosophers, and linguists.

This transition in theoretical outlook occurred at Berkeley, as elsewhere, and transformed the Institute of Human Learning into the Institute of Cognitive Studies. The change was gradual, but unmistakable and irreversible. One of the watershed events was the funding of Berkeley's cognitive science program through a series of highly competitive grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation beginning in 1981. The change in the intellectual mission of the Institute was formally acknowledged in 1984 by changing its name to the Institute of Cognitive Studies.

At the turn of the century, the Institute was renamed once more to reflect a new evolution in the field of cognitive science. This time, the new leads came from the field of neuroscience, and changed the Institute of Cognitive Studies into the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences to indicate the marriage of the study of the mind and the brain in an interdisciplinary manner. We anticipate that the interactions between cognitive scientists and neuroscientists will continue to accelerate in the coming years. Understanding the brain will require an appreciation of the complexity of the mental faculties of human and non-human organisms, while the development of sophisticated theories of mental function will be informed and constrained by neuroscience.