Cognitive Science Program: Goals and Objectives
Cognitive Science is a multidisciplinary field encompassing disciplines ranging from philosophy and psychology to anthropology, neuroscience, and computer science. The hallmark of the field is a genuinely multidisciplinary outlook in which the methods and perspectives of all of the component disciplines are simultaneously brought to bear upon questions that advance a unified exploration of mind. The program offers a course of study that suits the liberal arts vision because it is, in a way, a kind of microcosm of what a liberal arts education is about. We ask questions from a broad range of perspectives, expecting that the collaboration of many theories, methods, and points of view will yield the most robust picture of what minds are and how they do what they do.
To meet these goals, we have devised a coherent structure of courses and prerequisites. All students must take an introductory course that provides basic exposure to the field, including some practice in methodology. Without this course, students will have serious difficulties in upper-level courses. Majors then take three 200-level courses that examine some specific aspect of mind in greater depth, studying empirical evidence in terms of topic-relevant theory, data, methods, and debates. We also include "pointers" from one course to the next to indicate to students how the content matter of each course is related to that of others. Further, majors must take our laboratory course, in which they develop their practical competence by applying various methodologies to research questions in the field. In the 300-level seminar, majors apply the skills, content, and outlook they have acquired to a topic at an advanced level in a group setting. The major culminates with the thesis in which the student must incorporate the theory and methodology of at least two fields represented in cognitive science.
In addition to the requirements described above, students must also take four elective courses. We have organized possible electives thematically into what the program calls paths. These include embodied agents, evolved minds, cognition and the arts, cognition and language, cognition and culture, cognitive development and education, formal analysis of mind, decision-making and rationality, and mind and brain. This path structure helps to provide students with a coherent course of study. We wanted the student's package of electives to be internally coherent and to allow him/her to emerge with a sense of having gained some depth of understanding about an area relevant to cognition. The path structure also helps to guide students toward possible thesis topics.