Will a degree in Cognitive Science include any formal mathematical, computational, statistical study?

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What is Cognitive Science?

Briefly stated, it is the study of the human mind. Due to the complexities of the brain, the discipline covers numerous topics. Therefore, cognitive science is multidisciplinary as it encompasses neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy, linguistics, biology, anthropology, psychology, and more.

Cognito (Latin) means learning, knowledge, or examination.

One of the world’s first psychologists was Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who studied the mind from the perspective of the soul. His philosophical approach took into account not just the human mind but all living things, including plants. He elaborated on his theories of the soul and the mind in his treatise – De Anima.

In addition to the ones named above, the study of cognitive science, then, involves a myriad of sciences, some of which are computer science, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and the social sciences.

Is Cognitive Science the same as Neuroscience?

Not so, although overlap does occur. Neuroscience focuses on the physiology of the brain at the neuron level. Scientists in this field examine the function of the brain – what happens where in the brain. The frontal lobe, for example, performs the tasks language, reasoning, and motor skills. The four parts of the limbic system (thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus) are the emotional center of the brain.

One area of overlap is in the diagnostic equipment used in both sciences—the fMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging that utilizes the same magnetic technology as a conventional MRI. The latter takes images of bones, cartilage, and related anatomy. An fMRI shows minute changes in the blood flow in the brain, in the case of a stroke.

College Programs

At the undergraduate level, students will have math courses, which might be part of the prerequisites for a Bachelor of Science degree. The University of California-Berkeley, for example, has calculus, analytic geometry, discrete mathematics, and probability theory as compulsory lower-division classes. Similarly, the University of Delaware‘s B.S. requires students to choose one of three mathematics options for any Arts and Science Program. Cognitive science students enrolled in Delaware must also select one of five statistics courses.

Computer science or computational study is common to the B.S. programs. Rice University’s Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Sciences offers four areas of specialization: Linguistics, Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Psychology. Regardless of your preferred concentration, the core requirements include computational thinking, programming in Python, machine learning, computational neuroscience, statistical machine learning, and more. Even the philosophy specialty has a class in mathematical logic.

It appears there is no escaping the trio of math, statistics, and computer science. The Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University offers a B.S. in Cognitive Science with three concentrations: Linguistics, Artificial Intelligence, and Cognitive Neuroscience. In addition to these three options, the program incorporates the study of philosophy and psychology—all with an emphasis on computer science. The comp[utational skills are necessary to understand computer simulations in the development and testing of cognitive processes.

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Why are math, statistics, and computer science important?

By studying the human mind, you integrate math and statistics using three primary theories:

Probability Theory: a branch of mathematics that studies a given set of data, then uses those as a predictive measure. The scientist takes the numerical characteristics of observations and experiments to determine an expected frequency of repetitions.

Statistical Theory: Akin to the above theory, this one also can be used as a means to formulate probability across a population using known statistical data. In cognitive science, it applies to the development and analysis of psychological tests.

Linear Model Theory: A statistical technique that includes regression analysis, variance, and correlational analysis. Regression models, for example, examine the relationship between two variables, such as income and years of education.

The University of Pennsylvania recognizes the importance of computer science in cognitive science by combing the two into one degree. Their School of Engineering offers a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer and Cognitive Science. Programming, algorithms, and artificial intelligence are topics of interest.  Graduates become computer scientists familiar with psychology, linguistics, and philosophy. By stressing programming, mathematical foundations, and computer systems, grads breach the wall between computer science and cognitive science.

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Master’s Anyone?

Individuals who aspire to pursue a master’s degree in the discipline will benefit from a foundation of math, statistics, and computer courses. The City University of New York (CUNY) has an M.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience whose core requirements include statistics. In comparison, the master’s program at the University of Maryland contains computational neuroscience.

The Kreiger School of Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins has a Master of Arts in Cognitive Science, with Computational Cognitive Science as a course. The program covers psychology, philosophy, neurophysiology, and computer science. There is no avoiding math, as the study plan includes a class titled – Mathematical Models of Language. This subject discusses a range of mathematical structures and techniques.

In summary – math, statistics, and computers are imperative in the study of cognitive science. Most sciences demand the examination of data, assessment of probability, and prediction analysis. Therefore, all of these blend mathematics, statistics, and computations to arrive at a valid conclusion or supposition.

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