Foundations Of Cognitive Science


Gold’s paradox is an example of a problem of underdetermination.  In a problem of underdetermination, the information available from the environment is not sufficient to support a unique interpretation or inference (Dawson, 1991).  For instance, Gold (1967) proved that a finite number of expressions presented during text learning were not sufficient to uniquely determine the grammar from which these expressions were generated, provided that the grammar was more complicated than a regular grammar.  Another common phrase applied to a problem of underdetermination , particularly in the topic of language, is “the poverty of the stimulus”.

There are many approaches available for solving problems of underdetermination.  One that is most characteristic of classical cognitive science is to simplify the learning situation by assuming that some of the to-be-learned information is already present because it is innate.  For instance, classical cognitive scientists assume that much of the grammar of a human language is innately available before language learning begins.  “The child has an innate theory of potential structural descriptions that is sufficiently rich and fully developed so that he is able to determine, from a real situation in which a signal occurs, which structural descriptions may be appropriate to this signal” (Chomsky, 1965, p. 32).


  1. Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects Of The Theory Of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Dawson, M. R. W. (1991). The how and why of what went where in apparent motion: Modeling solutions to the motion correspondence process. Psychological Review, 98, 569-603.
  3. Gold, E. M. (1967). Language identification in the limit.  Information and Control, 10, 447-474.

(Added October 2009)