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.

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 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 artificial intelligence 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 cognitive science to replicate human intelligence in artificial intelligence systems. But it is also being used to understand humans better, thereby allowing the artificial intelligence systems to serve humans in a better manner.

This Glossary about “What is cognitive science?” was originally published in Engati blogs.

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