Saturday, 3 August 2013

Brief introduction to Cognitive Science

1.    INTRODUCTION
Cognitive science is the scientific study of the human mind [1]. It is the interdisciplinary study of mind and intelligence, embracing philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, linguistics and anthropology [2]. Cognitive Science deals with the different capabilities of human mind from fundamental functions such as learning to complex capabilities such as high level logic and decision making.
The fundamental concept of cognitive science is "that thinking can best be understood in terms of representational structures in the mind and computational procedures that operate on those structures" [3]. This field is often perceived as similar to the physical sciences, and uses the scientific methods including simulation and modeling for better understanding, comparing the output of such models with features of human behavior in many cases. It is a collaborative endeavor of psychology, computer science, neuroscience, linguistics, and others related fields [4].
2.    HISTORY/DEVELOPMENT
Cognitive science (CS) is a young discipline that emerged from a research program started in 1975 [4]. However, the roots of modern Cognitive Science trace back to 1840s when Charles Babbage thought of making an “Analytical Engine” which was the first attempt at implementing AI. The modern culture of cognitive science was realized during the early cyberneticists in the 1930s and 1940s, such as Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts, who sought to understand the organizing principles of the mind.
A key contributor to the emergence of cognitive science, psychologist George Miller, dates its birth to September 11, 1956, the second day of a Symposium on Information Theory at MIT. The group of computer scientists Allen Newell and Herbert Simon, linguist Noam Chomsky, and Miller himself presented work that would turn each of their fields in a more cognitive direction [4].  
Its first major journal and society were established in the late 1970s. In the 1970s and early 1980s, much cognitive science research focused on the possibility of artificial intelligence. By 1980 cognitive science had developed an institutional profile and was the focus of serious funding initiatives. The late 80s and 90s saw the rise of neural networks and connectionism as a research paradigm. This history describes relevant developments within each field and traces collaboration between the fields in the last half of the twentieth century.   
3.    RESEARCH IN COGNITIVE SCIENCE
The researches in Cognitive Science have been conducted from different perspectives. Since it is a multidisciplinary subject researches in the fields like computer science, psychology, philosophy and others also have significant contribution to better understanding of Cognitive Science. As we have discussed in introduction section that the central hypothesis of cognitive science is that “thinking can best be understood in terms of representational structures in the mind and computational procedures that operate on those structures” [2]. All researches in Cognitive Science are directed towards the same hypothesis. It is only that the perspective of research is different.
Cognitive science has shared but collective theoretical ideas. In case of Psychology, although many cognitive psychologists now involve in theorizing and computational modeling, their fundamental method is experimenting with human participants, recording their feedback, and come to a logical conclusion. Psychological experiments that carefully approach mental operations from diverse directions are therefore crucial for cognitive science to be scientific [2]. Similar to the cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists also perform controlled experiments, but their observations are very different, since neuroscientists are concerned directly with the nature of the brain. The perspective of the research is different but they are still interrelated. Their primary objective is same.
The notable researchers in Cognitive Science include Daniel Dennett-computational systems expert, Jerry Fodor-a functionalist, David Chalmers-a Dualism advocate, Douglas Hofstadter-a writer. Similarly, Noam Chomsky and George Lakoff have been influential in linguistic point of view. In artificial intelligence, as mentioned in previous section, Marvin Minsky, Herbert A. Simon, Allen Newell, and Kevin Warwick are well known. From the discipline of psychology include George A. Miller, James McClelland, Philip Johnson-Laird, and Steven Pinker have contributed a lot. Anthropologists Dan Sperber, Edwin Hutchins, Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, and Joseph Henrich have been involved in collaborative projects.
4.     CONCLUSION
Hence, we can say that Cognitive Science is a multidisciplinary subject having interconnection with a number of subjects. Its concepts are originated from both abstract and pragmatic fields. It is implemented not only in study of human mind but also in technological field like Artificial Intelligence. Although its modern history is relatively shorter than various disciplines, a large number of researches have already been done in it using methodologies from various related subjects. Therefore, it has become an important subject that acts as an intermediate between abstract human thought and transforming its concepts into intelligent machines.  
References
[1] Unknown. “Research/Cognitive Science.” Internet: http://bcs.mit.edu/research/cognitivescience.html, [July 16, 2013]
[2] Paul Thagard. “Cognitive Science”. Internet: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cognitive-science/, June 9, 2010 [July 16, 2013]
[3] Paul Thagard. “Cognitive Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
[4] W. Betchel, A. Abrahamsen, G. Graham. “Cognitive Science: History” Internet: http://mechanism.ucsd.edu/teaching/w07/philpsych/bechtel.cogscihistory.pdf [2001]
©Dixit Bhatta 2013

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