The role of falsification in the development of cognitive architectures: insights from a lakatosian analysis

Cogn Sci. 2007 May 6;31(3):509-33. doi: 10.1080/15326900701326592.


It has been suggested that the enterprise of developing mechanistic theories of the human cognitive architecture is flawed because the theories produced are not directly falsifiable. Newell attempted to sidestep this criticism by arguing for a Lakatosian model of scientific progress in which cognitive architectures should be understood as theories that develop over time. However, Newell's own candidate cognitive architecture adhered only loosely to Lakatosian principles. This paper reconsiders the role of falsification and the potential utility of Lakatosian principles in the development of cognitive architectures. It is argued that a lack of direct falsifiability need not undermine the scientific development of a cognitive architecture if broadly Lakatosian principles are adopted. Moreover, it is demonstrated that the Lakatosian concepts of positive and negative heuristics for theory development and of general heuristic power offer methods for guiding the development of an architecture and for evaluating the contribution and potential of an architecture's research program.