Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the mechanics of cognition, or how the mind and brain work to acquire and manipulate knowledge. It includes study of the human mind, animal mind, and artificial intelligence. Because cognition forms the very basis of life’s organizational and survival mechanisms, cognitive science encompasses a large network of key disciplines. The various branches of this field include neuroscience, physiology, psychology, anthropology, linguistics, physics, artificial intelligence or computer science, and philosophy.
There is a popular adage about three blindfolded men describing an elephant by the parts of it each man can feel. None of the descriptions sound related, but when the blindfolds are removed, the parties can see they were all describing different parts of the same animal. Cognitive science is the cooperative effort that realizes that each different discipline reveals some aspect of intelligence that adds to the overall understanding of how the mind manifests through the brain. As different disciplines gain understanding, they can shed light on questions that lie in other disciplines. The overall goal of developing theories of cognition is therefore best served by the interdisciplinary nature of the field.
Modern imaging technology has helped cognitive science make significant inroads. Computer-Assisted Tomography (CAT) scans, Positron Emission Tomography (PET), and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) have allowed scientists to map the brain in new ways. Specific areas of the brain can be linked to anatomical location, creating a better understanding of mind/body correlations.
Though the desire to understand the mind and cognition dates at least as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, it was not until artificial intelligence gained headway that an interdisciplinary field of cognitive science evolved. The term was coined relatively recently, in 1973, by Christopher Longuet-Higgins. The Cognitive Science journal followed in 1977, and the Society for Cognitive Science was founded two years later.
Today, cognitive science is an exciting field with promising benefits for all of humanity. As scientists come to understand the nature of cognition, we learn, among other things, how to better apply teaching methods, advance useful robotics in computer sciences, and through neuroscience, take a step closer to understanding the brain. This could eventually result in recovery from damage suffered by stroke or other trauma, or provide solutions to diseases like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia. As we head forward, it seems clear that the benefits of this field are potentially as life-supportive as cognition itself.