College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Cognitive Science

Department of Cognitive Science

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Introduction to Undergraduate Program

What is a major in Cognitive Science?

Cognitive science programs started to develop over a decade ago in response to a call for a more integrated approach that did not restrict the study of the mind to a single discipline. Initially, most cogsci programs were centered on psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and/or computing. They were inherently interdisciplinary, combining the perspectives and methods of several disciplines.

 

Why study Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University?

The uniqueness of the Case program in cognitive science lies partly in its unusual openness to additional input from the arts and humanities. All cognitive science departments, including this one, must teach the core disciplines underlying cognitive science, including cognitive neuroscience, experimental cognitive psychology, and a range of philosophical, evolutionary, linguistic, and computational theories of mind. But at Case Western Reserve there is an added dimension, evident in the fourth required course in the core program, which leans heavily in the direction of the visual arts, music, drama and literature. Insights from these disciplines will broaden the field of cognitive science in the same way that ethology broadened the study of animal behavior; by studying people in their natural environment (culture), rather than in the laboratory. We have a unique opportunity to do this very well at Case, because of the resources provided not only by CAS, but also by several eminent arts-related institutions in the University Circle community, who have shown great interest in collaborating with this program.

The program encourages students to develop wide-ranging expertise, cutting across at least two or three relevant disciplines. This kind of preparation will prove useful for a variety of possible careers. Students who wish to pursue a postgraduate degree will have more choice than is usual, having several fields to choose from. Those who enter the workforce on graduation will also find that they have been well-served by this program; there is significant demand for university graduates that can combine a systematic science-oriented approach with the breadth provided by expertise in the social sciences, arts and humanities.

The other unique feature of cognitive science at Case is the central academic and research theme of the program: the creative process. Please note that there is no implication that cognitive science can teach students to be creative any more than many other programs do; ideally, all Case programs should teach students to be creative in their own fields. Rather the focus in cognitive science is to subject the process of creativity and innovation to scientific analysis, and study the neural, cognitive and social sources of innovation and creative thought. It is important to do this for two reasons: (1) because innovation makes culture possible and drives it forward; (2) and also because innovation can sometimes move too fast, creating instability and social breakdown. We are living in a period of rapid change, and there is good reason to question whether the human species has the cognitive capacities needed to sustain the rate and scale of change, both cognitive and technological, that has developed during the past century. For these reasons it is important, in both academic and practical terms, to understand the deep cognitive sources of this change.

The educational philosophy behind this program is to give students the best possible opportunity to integrate a variety of backgrounds within the study of human cognition. Hence the study of a field of culture is not an option in the Case program; it is a requirement.