What is cognitive science? An introduction


Definition: Cognitive science is the science of mind and behavior

  1. Cognitive science is a very wide subject.
    • All sorts of internal mental phenomena: Thinking, emotions, reasoning, language, feelings, etc.
    • All sorts of behavior: bodily movements, facial expressions, speech, etc.
    • Both normal and abnormal cases: prosopagnosia, autism, Cotard syndrome, Anton syndrome, alien hand, etc.
  2. Cognitive science is a science.
    • Theories must be testable - use experiments to check the predictions made by a theory.
    • If the predictions are confirmed, we are more confident of the theory.
    • If the predictions are wrong, we reject the theory, modify it, or check our experiments again.
    • Some examples of experiments: brain scans, psychophysics experiments, studies of cognitive deficits, reaction time, computer simulation.
  3. Cognitive science places special emphasis on the use and acquisition of knowledge and information.
    • Information is the key to understand the mind.

Cognitive science is very useful and important

  1. The mind is the final frontier of science.
  2. Whether the mind can be scientifically explained has great metaphysical and religious significance.
  3. Cognitive science has lots and lots of applications
    • Education, language teaching
    • AI and robotics
    • Mental health, addiction, psychiatry
    • Marketing
    • Management

Cognitive science is a young science ...

But the study of the mind has a long history.

Long history: the mind has always been an area of investigation

  • Philosophers and scientists were interested in understanding the mind long before cognitive science.
    • Philosophers - Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc.
    • Hippocrates (400BC) - Founder of Western medicine

@Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, grievances, and tears. Through it...we...think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant.@

  • The beginning of modern psychology
    • Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) - First psychology laboratory
    • William James (1842-1910) - The Principles of Psychology

Young science

Cognitive science came about in the 1960s as a result of different disciplines coming together. Very briefly, it was the result of three main developments:

  • The reaction against behaviorism in psychology, linguistics and philosophy;
  • The emergence of AI and computational theory in computer science; and
  • New discoveries about brain functions in neurophysiology.

@By 1960 it was clear that something interdisciplinary was happening. At Harvard we called it cognitive studies, at Carnegie-Mellon they called in information-processing psychology, and at La Jolla they called it cognitive science. – George Miller.@

The unifying theme was that to explain the mind we need to understand how information is processed in the brain.

A brief history of cognitive science

Rejection of behaviorism in psychology

  • Famous behaviorists: Pavlov, Skinner, Thorndike, Watson, etc.
  • What is behaviorism?
    • Scientific psychology should focus only on observable behavior.
    • Behavior to be explained in terms of conditioning.
  • Response: Psychological explanations must take into account internal mental states that are not directly observable.

The start of modern computing and AI

  • Mathematical definition of computation: Turing, Church, Post
  • Electronic computers - The beginning of AI
  • Famous names: John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon
  • The analogy of the mind as a computer turns out to be very fruitful.
    • Intelligence through dumb computations?
    • The famous Eliza computer program.

Developments in neurophysiology

Topographical representation of visual stimulus in area V1

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