Cognitive Science is the scientific study of cognitive phenomena such as reasoning, decision making, memory, learning, language, perception, and action. This young and emerging interdisciplinary field lies at the intersection of psychology, computer science, and philosophy, and has further important links to neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, mathematics, biology, and education.
Cognitive Science tries to understand one of the most complex and fascinating entities in the known universe — the human mind. Cognitive science also tries to understand other kinds of minds, whether they be animal minds, alien minds, or artificial minds. Thus, Cognitive Science promises to be the next ‘basic’ science, in line with physics, chemistry, and biology, as much of the research being conducted is aimed at discovering fundamental principles that underlie minds in general.
Just as the technologies based on physics, chemistry, and biology have had a tremendous impact on our lives, technology based on our understanding of cognitive systems has the potential to profoundly change the way we live and who we are. From using knowledge of human cognition to build ‘cognitively ergonomic’ tools and environments, to building devices to repair and augment cognitive skills and capacities, to creating artificially intelligent computers and robots, the applications of this discipline are right in line with Rensselaer’s slogan: “Why not change the world?”.
The Cognitive Science Department at Rensselaer is perfectly positioned to offer one of the very best degree programs of its kind in the world. While many cognitive science programs in the country have a definite focus on one of the contributing disciplines – whether this is psychology, computer science, philosophy, neuroscience, or linguistics – the cognitive science program at Rensselaer is truly interdisciplinary in that it carefully balances all of the important contributing fields. Moreover, students have ample opportunity to perform undergraduate research in any of the associated laboratories and research groups.
Cognitive Science lends itself very well as a dual major with Computer Science, Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences, Mathematics, or Biology. Students majoring in Computer Science can be inspired by the findings in cognitive science to develop or improve algorithms used in Artificial Intelligence, or to design more ‘cognitively ergonomic’ computer interfaces. Students majoring in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences could use Cognitive Science to figure out how to make virtual worlds more engaging, or how to make synthetic characters more psychologically plausible. Mathematics majors can try to mathematically describe the complex workings of the human mind or brain. And finally, students majoring in biology may be interested in the effects of hormones or other chemicals on the brain and their subsequent effects on cognition and behavior.
Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curriculum
Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:
- conceptual foundations and reasoning skills: critically evaluate conceptual foundations of cognitive science from philosophy, psychology, computer science, neuroscience, linguistics, and anthropology, through careful logical reasoning and argumentation, and clearly communicate these ideas and arguments in written or oral form.
- experimental design and evaluation skills: design and run experimental studies and evaluate empirical findings through statistical methods to test theories regarding mind, brain, and behavior.
- formal modeling skills: use logic, mathematics, programming languages, cognitive architectures, and other formal methods to produce and research mathematical and computational models of human cognition and artificial intelligence.