Cognitive science

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Cognitive science

What is cognitive science?

Cognitive science is a multidisciplinary study of the human mind, attempting to understand how it functions. It studies visual perception, memory,  thinking, and reasoning, language, social cognition, and decision making.

It aims to glean a deeper and more effective understanding of the human mind, which could be used to develop intelligent machines.

Cognitive science builds on insights from a range of disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, biology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. It’s essentially a study of the manner in which the mind works and behaves. The field of cognitive science focuses on trying to understand intelligence and behavior and using these insights to help humans in several ways like creating educational programs or even developing devices that are more intelligent.

When cognitive scientists talk about “cognition”, they are talking about several types of thinking, including the types of thinking that are involved in perception, problem solving, learning, decision making, language use, and emotional experience

Cognitive science is based on the fundamental concept that “thinking can best be understood in terms of representational structures in the mind and computational procedures that operate on those structures.” 

The concept of psychology only really started developing in the 1800s and the focus was on experimental psychology. Scientists had adopted the theory of behaviorism around this time. This theory revolved around the idea that specific behaviors were programmed and would take place as a biological reaction to stimuli.

In the 1950s, the Cognitive Revolution was kicked off when some researchers from across a range of fields began developing mind-based theories that were created on the basis of computational procedures and complex representations. Cognitive psychology started gaining traction and by the 1960s it was very widely accepted. Ever since the 1970s, upwards of 60 universities across North America and Europe have developed cognitive science courses and programs.

cognitive science
Source: Wikipedia


What are the levels of analysis in cognitive science?

The fact that one cannot simply study a single level and expect to gain a whole understanding of how the mind functions is a central tenet of cognitive science. 

By studying a phenomenon from multiple levels, we can better understand the processes occurring in the brand that give raise to certain behaviour.

The psychologist David Marr suggested three levels of analysis:

The first level is the computational theory which involves specifying the goals of the computation.

The second level is representation and algorithms which focuses on providing a representation of the inputs and the outputs, along with the algorithms that transform the inputs into outputs.

After that, we come to the third level which deals with the hardware implementation. This essentially deals with the question of how the algorithms and the representations can be physically realized.


How is computer science important for cognitive science?

Computer science has added immense value to cognitive science. The very idea of computation has been extremely useful in understanding how the process of thinking may occur naturally.

Earlier, analogies for the working of the human mind involved devices like clocks and electronic switchboards, which could not hold much weight. With computer science, seeing how problems could be solved through the manipulation of symbols and representations using algorithms helped us get a better understanding of how the mind might function in a similar fashion.

But that is not the only way how computer science contributes to cognitive science. Theories and hypotheses in the about mental organization and functioning are widely tested on computers. 

It involves creating  algorithms that mimic the entities and processes that the hypothesis suggests. After that, the program is run on computers and the output is checked to see whether it resembles human performance. If it does, the hypothesis is considered valid.

How do AI and cognitive science tie into each other?

A lot of early artificial intelligence research was shaped by cognitive scientists. But artificial intelligence has also contributed greatly to cognitive science. 

A lot of the methods that are used to understand how humans learn and process information were borrowed from the domain of artificial intelligence.

Many algorithms and architectures used in artificial intelligence happen to be inspired by and tend to resemble natural forms of cognition. For example Convolutional Neural Networks loosely share similarities with the visual cortex.

Scientists are attempting to use computational cognitive science to replicate human intelligence in artificial intelligence systems. But cognitive computer science is also being used to understand humans better, thereby allowing the artificial intelligence systems to serve humans in a better manner.

What are the cognitive science theories?

There are several cognitive science theories which represent the manner in which the mind works. Some of these are: 

  • Formal logic
  • Rules
  • Bayesian
  • Deep learning
  • Concepts
  • Connectionism
  • Analogies
  • Images
  • Theoretical neuroscience

All of these theories possess an explanation pattern. As an example, in the case of concepts, people possess a set of concepts which establish part and kind hierarchies and other associations.


What are the cognitive science methods?

Today’s cognitive scientists tend to engage in computational modeling and theorizing as they endeavour to conduct cognitive research and gain an understanding of intelligence and the mind. This tends to involve experimenting with willing human subjects. These experiments generally tend to involve deductive reasoning in which the subjects are required to form and apply ideas to a series of problems. The Stroop test is an example of a particularly well known cognitive experiment. In this experiment, the subjects are shown words on a screen in a wide variety of colors. The participants are supposed to state what the color of the word is. But the catch is that the test is designed for the purpose of confusing the brain, so it might show the word “blue” on the screen but display it in an orange font. Such cognitive experiments are designed for the purpose of measuring logical thought and even figuring out how soon the brain suffers stress when it ends up getting an answer wrong.


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