What Is Cognitive Science? Its Basic Ideas And Development Phases

Cognitive science

Cognitive Science is a set of studies about the mind and its processes. Formally, it originated in the 1950s, along with the development of computer operating systems. It currently represents one of the areas that has most strongly impacted the analyzes of different scientific disciplines.

We will see below what Cognitive Science is and, based on a tour of the history of its development, we will explain what approaches make it up.

What is cognitive science?

Cognitive Science is a multidisciplinary perspective on the human mind which can be applied to other information processing systems, as long as they maintain similarities in terms of the laws that govern the processing.

Beyond being a body of knowledge with particular characteristics that are distinguishable from other bodies of knowledge; Cognitive Science is a set of sciences or disciplines of a scientific nature. It includes, for example, philosophy of mind, linguistics, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and studies in artificial intelligence, as well as some branches of anthropology.

In fact, Fierro (2011) tells us that it is probably more appropriate to call this science “cognitive paradigm”; since it is an approach to the mental, made up of basic principles, problems and solutions that has impacted scientific activity in different areas.

4 phases and perspectives of Cognitive Science

Valera (cited by Fierro, 2011) speaks of four main stages in the consolidation of cognitive science: cybernetics, classical cognitivism, connectionism, and corporatization-enaction. Each of them corresponds to a stage in the development of Cognitive Science, however, none of these has disappeared or been replaced by the next. These are theoretical approaches that coexist and are constantly problematized. We will see, following the same author, what each one is about.

1. Cybernetics

Cybernetics developed from 1940 to 1955 and is recognized as the stage in which the main theoretical tools of Cognitive Science appeared. It coincides with the appearance of the first computers and computer operating systems, which in turn laid the foundations for studies in artificial intelligence. At once, Different theories are developed about information processing, reasoning and communication.

These operating systems were the first self-organized systems, that is, they worked based on a series of previously programmed rules. Among other things, these systems and their functioning generated central questions for Cognitive Science. For example, do machines have the ability to think and develop autonomy like human beings?

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The impact specifically on psychology was decisive, since the beginning of the 20th century had seen marked by the predominance of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. The first does not focus so much on understanding “the mind”, but rather “the psyche”; and the second focuses strictly on behavior, so mental studies were relegated if not directly discarded.

For Cognitive Science at the time, the interest was neither in psychic structuring nor in observable behavior. In fact, it was not focused on the structure and anatomical functioning of the brain (which will later be recognized as the place where mental processes are generated).

Rather, he was interested in find systems equivalent to mental activity that would allow it to be explained and even reproduced. The latter is specified with the analogy of computational processing, where it is understood that the human mind works through a series of inputs (incoming messages or stimuli), and outputs (the generated messages or stimuli).

2. Classical cognitivism

This model is generated by the contributions of different experts, both from computer science and psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics and even economics. Among other things, this period, which corresponds to the mid-60’s, finishes consolidating the previous ideas: all types of intelligence works much like computer operating systems.

Thus, the mind was an encoder/decoder of fragments of information, which gave rise to “symbols”, “mental representations” and sequentially organized processes (one first and the other later). For this reason, this model is also known as a symbolist, representationalist model or sequential processing model.

Beyond studying the materials on which this is based (the hardware, which would be the brain), it is about finding the algorithm that generates them (the software, which would be the mind). From this the following is derived: there is an individual who, automatically following different rules, processes, represents and explains the information internally (for example using different symbols). And there is an environment that, functioning independently of this, can be faithfully represented by the human mind.

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However, the latter began to be questioned, precisely because of how the rules that would make us process the information were proposed. The proposal was that these rules led us to manipulate a set of symbols in a specific way. Through this manipulation, we generate and present a message to the environment.

But, one issue that this model of Cognitive Science overlooked was that these symbols mean something; Therefore, its mere order works to explain syntactic activity, but not semantic activity. For this reason, one could hardly speak of an artificial intelligence endowed with the capacity to generate meanings. In any case, its activity would be limited to logically ordering a set of symbols using a pre-programmed algorithm.

Furthermore, if cognitive processes were a sequential system (first one thing happens and then the other), doubts remained about how we performed those tasks that required the simultaneous activity of different cognitive processes. All this will lead to the next stages of Cognitive Science.

3. Connectionism

This approach is also known as “parallel distributed processing” or “neural network processing.” Among other things (such as those we mentioned in the previous section), this model from the 70’s emerged after the classical theory could not justify the viability of the functioning of the cognitive system in biological terms.

Without abandoning the computational architecture model of earlier periods, what this tradition suggests is that the mind does not actually function through sequentially organized symbols; but rather it acts by establishing different connections between the components of a complex network.

In this way it approaches the neural explanation models of human activity and information processing: The mind works through massive interconnections distributed throughout a network. And it is the connectivity of real happiness that generates the rapid activation, or deactivation, of cognitive processes.

Beyond finding syntactic rules that follow one another, here the processes act in parallel and are distributed quickly to solve a task. Classic examples of this approach include the mechanism of pattern recognition, such as faces.

The difference between this and neuroscience is that the latter tries to discover models of mathematical and computational development of the processes carried out by the brain, both human and animal, while connectionism focuses more on studying the consequences of said models at the level of information processing and processes. cognitive.

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4. Corporalization-enaction

Faced with approaches strongly focused on the internal rationality of the individual, this last approach recovers the role of the body in the development of mental processes. It emerged in the first half of the 20th century, with the work of Merleau-Ponty in the phenomenology of perception, where explained how the body has direct effects on mental activity.

However, in the specific field of cognitive sciences, this paradigm was introduced until the second half of the 20th century, when some theories proposed that it was possible to modify the mental activity of machines by manipulating their bodies (no longer through through a constant input of information). In these last It was proposed that intelligent behaviors took place when the machine interacted with the environment and not precisely because of its symbols and internal representations.

From here, cognitive science began to study body movements and their role in cognitive development and in the construction of the notion of agency, as well as in the acquisition of notions related to time and space. In fact, child and developmental psychology began to be revived, which had explained how the first mental schemas, originating in childhood, take place after the body interacts with the environment in certain ways.

It is through the body that we can generate concepts related to weight (heavy, light), volume or depth, spatial location (up, down, inside, outside), etc. This is finally articulated with the theories of enaction, which propose that cognition is the result of an interaction between the embodied mind and the environment which is possible only through motor action.

Finally, they join this latest current of cognitive science the extended mind hypotheses which suggest that mental processes are not only in the individual, much less in the brain, but in the environment itself.

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