Apr 18, 2021  
Rensselaer Catalog 2012-2013 
Rensselaer Catalog 2012-2013 [Archived Catalog]

Cognitive Science

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Head: Selmer Bringsjord

Director, Graduate Program in Cognitive Science: Michael J. Kalsher

Director, Undergraduate Advising, Cognitive Science: Bram van Heuveln

Director, Undergraduate Advising, Philosophy: Bill Puka

Director, Undergraduate Advising, Psychology: Michael J. Kalsher

Department Home Page: http://www.cogsci.rpi.edu

Cognitive Science is the scientific study of the mind, brain, and intelligence, particularly as it relates to mental abilities such as reasoning, decision making, memory, learning, attention, language, perception, and motor control. This young and emerging interdisciplinary field lies at the intesection of psychology, computer science, philosophy, neuroscience, and linguistics. Cognitive scientists aim to discover fundamental principles that underlie all forms of natural and artificial intelligence, from high-level reasoning to perceptual-motor behavior. The pursuit of this alluring and ambitious goal requires the use of various methods, tools, and perspectives. Cognitive scientists build computational, formal, and quantitative models, conduct experimental research on behavior, and investigate neural mechanisms. The knowledge gained by cognitive scientists has numerous real-world applications, such as the design of robots, speech recognition systems, automated reasoning systems, and human-computer interfaces.

As one of the few genuine departments of cognitive science in the world, the faculty offers unique and exciting opportunities for students to focus on the scientific study of mind, brain, and intelligence. Staffed by a core of cognitive-science oriented psychologists, philosophers, and computer scientists, the department complements Rensselaer’s traditional strengths in science, engineering, and technology, and is widely regarded as a leader in the area of computational cognitive modeling. The department offers a highly selective Ph.D. program in Cognitive Science and B.S. programs in both Psychology and Philosophy. Faculty research interests include computational cognitive modeling, artificial intelligence, human and machine reasoning, computational linguistics, perception and action, theoretical neuroscience, cognitive robotics, cognitive engineering, and advanced synthetic characters.

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Graduate training in Cognitive Science emphasizes research, modeling, and building of integrated cognitive systems. Within this broad scope the department has special strength in the following areas.

Artificial Intelligence

At Rensselaer AI is taken to be the field devoted to either engineering computational systems whose behavior is on par, or at least approaches, that of humans; or computational systems whose intelligence is regarded to be at once high by humans but qualitatively different than the capacities seen in humans. Of course, AI can be pursued in different ways. Here, given how AI is viewed, guidance as to how to engineer the relevant systems often comes from careful study of the cognitive powers of humans, including what forms of intelligence those powers classify as truly impressive.

Cognitive Engineering
Cognitive Engineering is the application of cognitive science theories to human factors problems. Putting cognitive theories to the test of real-world applications is a means of maintaining a focus on the truly important cognitive issues. At Rensselaer, cognitive engineering has two components; (1) research directed at solving applied problems, and (2) research directed at developing engineering tools that others with less cognitive training can use to solve applied problems.

Cognitive Robotics
Cognitive robotics is a field devoted to engineering robots whose actions are a function of knowledge, belief, preferences, plans, and so on. In short, a cognitive robot acts on the basis of the things that underlie the actions of human beings.

Computational Cognitive Modeling
Understanding an integrated cognitive system can be very complex. The possibilities for interaction among cognitive, perceptual, and action operations is astounding. The interplay of each of these with the other and with the external world cannot be simply predicted. Computation cognitive models provide a vehicle to manage this complexity with the goal of making progress towards understanding how integrated cognitive systems effect and are affected by their environment.

Computational Linguistics
We focus on language use that involves a deep understanding of semantics and intent. Work in the department includes integrating language parsing with reasoning about the world and people’s beliefs and desires; logically controlled languages for learning by reading; and using human language to retrieve and analyze information from heterogeneous sources.

Human and Machine Reasoning
Foci include logic-based and knowledge-based AI, theorem-proving, and psychology of reasoning. The multi-disciplinary group of researchers involved is known as Rensselaer Reasoning Group, which works out of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning (RAIR) Lab. 

Perception and Action
This area of research focuses on perception with an emphasis on its role in the performance of both routine and skilled goal-directed action.  Current research topics include visually guided locomotion in real and virtual environments, the coordination of eye and hand movements, and the integration of perception and action with higher-level cognition (e.g., learning and attention). At Rensselar, these topics are investigated from various theoretical perspectives, including ecological psychology, dynamical systems theory, and computational cognitive modeling.

Undergraduate Programs

Baccalaureate Programs

At the undergraduate level, the department maintains separate programs in cognitive science, philosophy, and psychology, leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in each discipline, respectively. An important goal of the undergraduate program is to prepare students for careers in the rapidly growing “Information Economy,” marked by the confluence of computation and cognition.

Dual Majors

Dual majors are available in all (philosophy and psychology) department curriculum areas.

Majors that may be combined with philosophy to form a dual major include computer science, physics, mathematics, biology, architecture, and various engineering majors (e.g., computer systems engineer). These dual programs serve the needs of those students desiring to combine the virtues of a liberal arts education with those of science, architecture, or engineering to achieve an education that is practical, stimulating, and diverse.

As an example of how such dual majors are structured, a student majoring in physics and philosophy would meet the requirements of the physics curriculum and take eight courses in philosophy. These might include PHIL 2130 Introduction to Philosophy of Science, PHIL 4360 Philosophical Problems of Space and Time, and PHIL 4310 Scientific Revolutions. A student majoring in computer science and philosophy would meet the requirements of the computer science curriculum and take eight philosophy courses that might include PHIL 2140 Introduction to Logic, PHIL 4260 Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, and PHIL 4420 Computability and Logic. For a mathematics-philosophy dual major, key courses might include PHIL 4380 Philosophy of Mathematics, PHIL 4140 Intermediate Logic, and PHIL 4440 Knowledge, and Rationality.

Dual majors with psychology may include computer science; electrical, computer, and systems engineering; and decision science and engineering systems. A dual major in management and psychology is also available. The Lally School of Management has established certain requirements that must be completed for this major in addition to those described above. For further information and a list of requirements for this dual major, see the Lally School of Management section of this catalog.

Minor Programs

The Department of Cognitive Science provides a variety of minor programs within its curricula.

Graduate Programs

Master’s Programs

The Cognitive Science Department offers a Master of Science degree in Cognitive Science. The degree is open only to two groups of students. The first group is those who are already admitted to Rensselaer in a doctoral program. This includes students in the Cognitive Science doctoral program as well as students in other doctoral programs (e.g., Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems, Computer Science, and so on). Rensselaer doctoral students who desire a Master’s in Cognitive Science should contact the department directly. Other students able to obtain a Master of Science degree in Cognitive Science are those in our five-year program that combines the Bachelor of Science in Psychology or Philosophy with the Cognitive Science master’s. See co-terminal B.S./M.S. programs for more information.

Co-terminal B.S./M.S .Programs

Qualified students, in consultation with an academic adviser, may design a five-year program to complete requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Psychology or Philosophy and the Master of Science in Cognitive Science. An additional 30 credit hours are required beyond the B.S. degree. Students must apply to the program prior to or early in the first semester of their junior year. This is a research-oriented Cognitive Science program that allows students to focus on one of the department’s research areas. Prior to applying, it is expected that students will have taken introductory courses in cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science, as well as been involved in one of the several research labs sponsored by department faculty.

Doctoral Program

The mission of the doctoral program in Cognitive Science is to train the next generation of world-class cognitive scientists and make seminal contributions to the field. In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science, this program trains students to integrate theories, methods, and tools from a variety of fields.

Because there are no traditional qualifiers, students become engaged in research from the beginning of their first semester in the program. Students work closely with individual faculty as well as teams of faculty, post-docs, and graduate students whose research interests include computational cognitive modeling, artificial intelligence, human and machine reasoning, computational linguistics, perception and action, theoretical neuroscience, cognitive robotics, cognitive engineering and advanced synthetic characters. There is a strong emphasis on building models of natural and artificial cognitive systems using formal, quantitative, and mathematical tools. The department has excellent research facilities, such as eye tracking equipment, an array of robotics equipment, and a large-scale immersive virtual environment lab. For information and guidance about applying to this new Ph.D. program, please contact Betty Osganian, Student Services Administrator at the undergraduate and graduate levels at osgane@rpi.edu.

Course Descriptions

Undergraduate courses in Philosophy or Psychology are described under the department codes PHIL and PSYC. Graduate courses in Cognitive Science are described in the Course Descriptions section under COGS.



Bringsjord, S.—Ph.D. (Brown University); logic and artificial intelligence, foundations of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, computational creativity.

Gray, Wayne D.—Ph.D. (University of California at Berkeley); interactive behavior, computational cognitive modeling, cognitive science.

Hendler, J.Ph.D. (Brown University); artificial intelligence, semantic Web, agent-based computing and high performance processing.

Koller, J.M.Ph.D. (University of Hawaii); Asian and comparative thought, social philosophy, philosophy of religion (emeritus).

McGuinness, D.L.—Ph.D. (Rutgers University); knowledge representation and reasoning, explanation, proof, trust, ontologies, semantic Web.

Puka, W.J.
—Ph.D. (Harvard University); ethics, cognitive-moral psychology, and applied cognitive science.

Rea, M.S.—Ph.D. (Ohio State University); visual psychophysics, lighting.

Reid, L.D.
—Ph.D. (University of Utah); physiological psychology of reinforcement, drug and alcohol addiction.

Sun, R.—Ph.D. (Brandeis University); computational cognitive modeling, cognitive architectures, skill learning, computational studies of consciousness, multi-agent interaction, connectionist and hybrid models.

Wallace, W.A.
—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); decision processes and cognition, decision support systems, improvisation, visualization and modeling.

Zenzen, M.J., Jr.
—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, aesthetics.

Associate Professors 

Cassimatis, N. L.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); integrated cognitive models, human-level artificial intelligence, physical reasoning, natural language understanding.

Fajen, B. R.—Ph.D. (University of Connecticut); visual perception, perception and action, ecological psychology, dynamical systems modeling; virtual reality.

Kalsher, M.J.—Ph.D. (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University); human factors, industrial/organizational psychology, applied experimental psychology.

Noble, R.G.
—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); psychobiology of choice and decision making.

Yang, Y.Ph.D. (New York University); cognitive psychology, thinking, reasoning and decision-making, and cognitive science.

Assistant Professor

Si, M.Ph.D. (University of Southern California); interactive narrative/serious game, embodied conversational agent (ECA), computational modeling of decision-making and emotion, emotion detection, human-computer interaction, multi-agent system.

Research Associate Professor

Schoelles, M.Ph.D. (George Mason University); computational cognitive modeling, interactive behavior, natural language processing.


Destefano, M.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); games design, psychology of play, system dynamics.

Fahey, J.T.
—Ph.D. (University at Albany); metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, epistemology, early modern philosophy.

Hubbell, C.L.Ph.D. (University at Albany); behavioral neuroscience; psycho-pharmacology, learning.

Traver, H.—Ph.D. (University at Albany); affirmative action, interactive learning, sexual harassment, industrial/organizational psychology.

van Heuveln, B.—Ph.D. (State University of New York at Binghamton); reasoning and logic, philosophy of computation, philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, cognitive science.

VerWys, C.—B.S. (University at Albany); social psychology, forensic psychology.

Walf, A.A.—Ph.D. (University at Albany); behavioral neuroscience, neuroendocrinology, behavioral endocrinology, plasticity in learning and emotions, hormonal modulation of growth of brain and body.

Adjunct Faculty

Anderson, K.—Ph.D. (University of Georgia); counseling/clinical psychology.

Carcasole, J.
—M.A. (University at Albany); moral and political philosophy, justice and punishment, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, epistemology.

Krueger, D.—M.A. (Northern Illinois University); Hume, personal identity, history of philosophy, and logic.

Milanese, J.—M.S. (University at Albany); philosophy of science, epistemology, environmental philosophy.

Ruecker, A.—M.A., MPA (City University of New York); cognitive and positive psychology; environmental psychology and human factors, health psychology, social psychology.

* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2012 Board of Trustees meeting.

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