Each of us carries around the most powerful machine on earth in our heads. Our brain is capable of building monuments that outlast generations, exploring inhabitable space at great distances from our planet, eradicating illnesses, destroying thousands of species and making movies about saving the world. The human brain is a fascinating subject of study, and Neuroscience and Cognitive Science focus on unravelling its mysteries.
Cognitive Science is the scientific study of the human mind and brain. A highly interdisciplinary field, Cog Sci combines ideas and tools from Psychology, Computer Science, Linguistics and even Philosophy. It focuses on how the mind represents and manipulates knowledge, how the brain learns, how it makes a decision, and how it performs any task. There are three main tracks that Cognitive Scientists can specialise in:
Computation and Cognition: This involves understanding human cognition through the lens of computers and vice versa. It works on the idea that our mental processes are computational and attempts to understand them through computer simulations. This is also replicated in intelligent machines. Computational Cognitive Science finds applications in medicine though brain pattern imaging and related treatments for neural disorders like epilepsy or seizures and psychological disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder or dementia.
Language and Cognition: This is the scientific study of the written and spoken language to build insights that can be used in intelligent machines like linguistically competent computers and chatbots. This is also useful in natural language interfaces like voice-based services. Linguistic Cognitive Science can also be used in the treatment of language-related disorders such as dyslexia or in speech therapy.
Philosophy and Cognitive Science: This is a more academic area that examine the theories of mind and answers questions like: is human thought mainly computational? How do the diverse fields of Cognitive Science such as Psychology, Linguistics, and Neuroscience connect? Is it possible to reduce human mental and psychological experiences to computational models?
So, what can one do with a degree in Cognitive Science? There are three main areas of work:
Medicine, therapy, biotechnology: Cognitive Scientists go on to do a degree in medicine or therapy, or work with doctors in the rehabilitation of mental processes of people with disability or injuries to parts of the brain, occupational or speech therapy. They work in research and occasionally in clinical practice to maintain all aspects of cognitive health, such as speed/attention, memory/learning, visuospatial ability, language, executive capacity and social cognition. Biomedical modelling that observes and measure the impact of medications on brain function is an emerging field that cognitive scientists can work in.
Computation and Artificial Intelligence: Computational Cognitive Science prepares you for some of the fastest-growing areas in Computer Science today like cognitive engineering (adding human factors to robots), designing and improving computer applications and robots, designing human-computer interfaces, deepening Artificial Intelligence and creating applications that use neural networks.
Special Needs and Language Education: Cognitive Scientists with degrees in education can work with students with special needs who are dealing with issues like attention deficit, dysgraphia or developmental disorders. They can also work to improve teaching methods in all areas but especially in learning language and motor skills.
So if you are someone who loves Science, Psychology and Maths, plunge in. The field is still emerging and new ideas and applications are being developed everyday.
With inputs from Ankit Goyal
The writer is the founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm. [email protected]