One of my hobbies is reading about the history of psychology, and in particular, the history of psychology leading up to, and comprising, the cognitive revolution. It's not entirely for amusement, either. We can learn a lot from the historical movements of ideas in a particular science, especially in one as young as cognitive science. For example, cognitive science was born, in large part, in reaction to behaviorism, but also out of behaviorism, so in some ways it explicitly ignored some of the insights of behaviorism in order to distance itself from it, while in others it accepted some of the tenets of behaviorism unquestioningly. Even today, then, there are some largely unquestioned assumptions and biases in the majority of cognitive science research. The best example is the almost complete lack of attention to emotion and culture in cognitive scientific research. There have been movements, in recent years, to change this, especially in cognitive neuroscience, where researchers like Antonio Damasio have begun paying a lot of attention to the influence of emotion on cognitive processes, and cognitive anthropology, where people like Scott Atran, Doug Medin, and Richard Nisbett have begun to look at the role of culture in cognition. Still, the bulk of cognitive scientific research ignores these things, just as it did in the 1950s and 60s, either for philosophical or practical reasons.
While learning about important things like the inherent biases and unquestioned assumptions of cognitive science through studying its history is important, it's even more important that I learn useless trivia about my field. And one of the most important pieces of triva I've learned is the birthdate of cognitive science.
I imagine that for most sciences, there's not much of a concensus on the dates, or even the years, of their birth. We might say that modern physics was born on July 5, 1687, but couldn't we also say it was born earlier, with Kepler or Galileo? Even if we agree on the date, that's only the birthdate of modern physics (we could probably also say that modern biology was born on November 24, 1859), not the birthdate of physics (or biology) itself. But for cognitive science, there is widespread agreement about the year, and even the date of its birth. We could say that it was born in September, 1948, at the Hixon Symposium on Cerebral Mechanisms in Behavior at the California Institute of Technology, where Karl Lashley delivered the speech that likely killed behaviorism, but that date signals a death, more than a birth. It took a few years for researchers from multiple disciplines, including mathematics and computer science, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and philosophy, to come together and create something to replace behaviorism. And the consensus is that they finally did so on September 11, 1956.
What happened on September 11, 1956? Well, it was the second day of the Symposium on Information Theory at MIT. On that date, George Miller presented his now famous "Magical number seven plus or minus two" findings, and Noam Chomsky presented his "Three models for the description of language." Thus, Miller himself1, along with Newell and Simon2 and Gardner3 all give this date as the birthdate of cognitive science. Even if we can't agree on the exact date, the year is pretty uncontroversial. In addition to the works of Miller and Chomsky, it also saw the publication of The Study of Thinking, Claude Shannon and John McCarthy's edited book Automata Studies, and Newell and Simon's "The logic theory machine: A complex information processing system,"4 which was the most thorough description of an AI project to date. In addition, Newell and Simon, along with Marvin Minsky, McCarthy, Shannon, and Nat Rochester held a conference at Dartmouth that summer, which would turn out to be the first conference on artificial intelligence. So, in a sense, AI, cognitive psychology, and Chomskyan linguistics were all born in the span of a few months in 1956.
1 Miller, G. (2003). The cognitive revolution: A historical perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(3), 141-144.
2 Newell, A., and H. A. Simon. 1972. Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. (p. 4)
3 Gardner, H. (1985). The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution, New York: Basic Books.
4 Newell, A., and H. A. Simon. 1956. The logic theory machine: A complex information processing system. IRE Transactions on Information Theory, 2(3), 61-79.