The Rediscovery of the Mind: Harvard and the Cognitive Revolution (2007)

Presentation Date: 

Monday, April 23, 2007


William James Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

disordered-orderly minds in George Miller 1956

This new, permanent exhibit examines the Cognitive Revolution from a Harvard perspective.  By the middle of the 20th century, psychology was no longer the “science of mental life,” as William James had called it, but the “science of behavior.”  But in the postwar years, new ideas from linguistics, computation, and information theory overturned this world view and led to a rediscovery of the mind.  The turning point was 1956, when three epochal publications by researchers with Harvard ties forever changed the field:  George Miller’s The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two, Jerome Bruner’s A Study of Thinking, and Noam Chomsky’s Three Models for the Description of Language, based on work he did as a Junior Fellow before his move to MIT the year before.  Soon Miller and Bruner would set up the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies, a hothouse for new ideas whose alumni went on to found cognitive science programs all over the world.

The opening of the exhibit was accompanied by a major public symposium, “The Cognitive Revolution at Fifty, Plus or Minus One:  A Conversation with Jerome Bruner, Susan Carey, Noam Chomsky, and George Miller, moderated by Steven Pinker."

Co-curated with Steven Pinker and Jamie Cohen-Cole.

Jerome Bruner sketch

See also: 2000s