Cognitive science is usually defined as the scientific study either of mind or of intelligence (e.g. Luger 1994). Practically every introduction to cognitive science also stresses that it is highly interdisciplinary; it is often said to consist of, take part in, and collaborate with psychology (especially cognitive psychology), artificial intelligence, linguistics and psycholinguistics, philosophy (especially philosophy of mind), neuroscience, logic, robotics, anthropology and biology (including biomechanics).


Cognitive science tends to view the world outside the mind much as other sciences do; thus it has an objective, observer-independent existence. Cognitive science is usually seen as compatible with and interdependent with the physical sciences, and makes frequent use of the scientific method, as well as simulation or modeling, often comparing the output of models with aspects of human behavior. Still, there is much disagreement about the exact relationship between cognitive science and other fields, and the inter-disciplinary nature of cognitive science is largely both unrealized and circumscribed.

Cognitive science has much to its credit. Among other accomplishments, it has given rise to models of human cognitive bias and risk perception, and has been influential in the development of behavioral finance, part of economics. It has also given rise to a new theory of the philosophy of mathematics, and many theories of artificial intelligence, persuasion and coercion. It has made its presence firmly known in philosophy of language and epistemology - a modern revival of rationalism - as well as constituting a substantial wing of modern linguistics.

Cognitive science?

The term "cognitive" in "cognitive science" is "used for any kind of mental operation or structure that can be studied in precise terms." (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999) This conceptualization is very broad, and should not be confused with how "cognitive" is used in some traditions of analytic philosophy, where "cognitive" has to do only with formal rules and truth conditional semantics. (Nonetheless, that interpretation would bring one close to the historically dominant school of thought within cognitive science on the nature of cognition - that it is essentially symbolic, propositional, and logical.)

The earliest entries for the word "cognitive" in the OED take it to mean roughly pertaining to "to the action or process of knowing". The first entry, from 1586, shows the word was at one time used in the context of discussions of Platonic theories of knowledge. Most in cognitive science, however, presumably do not believe their field is the study of anything as certain as the knowledge sought by Plato.


Many but not all who consider themselves cognitive scientists have a functionalist view of mind/intelligence, which means that, at least in theory, they study mind and intelligence from the perspective that these attributes could perhaps (at least someday) be properly attributed not only to human beings but also to, say, other animal species, alien life forms or particularly advanced computer sytems. This perspective is one of the reasons the term "cognitive science" is not exactly coextensive with neuroscience, psychology, or some combination of the two.


  1. Dualism
  2. Materialism
  3. Functionalism
  4. Mind/brain identity
  5. Quantum mind
  6. Modularity of Mind

Mind/brain identity theory

The mind/brain identity theory is the idea that, whatever "mind" and "intelligence" are, they are rooted strictly in the brain, and do not make use of, depend on, or interact with anything non-physical. Nonetheless, there is reasonable consensus that there is sense in talking about the organization of the mind without talking about the organization of the brain, and that cognitive scientists are not simply neuroscientists. Often the justification for this takes place by reference to different levels of analysis. A cognitive scientist is likely to assert that what he says about reasoning is true at the symbolic level of abstraction, while what the neuroscientist says is true at the physical level implementing the symbolic level (much like a computer as a physical object implements a virtual machine on which a word-processor runs). An exploration of this is found in the Chinese Room argument, which proposes a gedanken experiment to elucidate potential loci for "cognition".

Quantum mind theory:

There exist several different quantum models of mind. In one class, the brain is considered a quantum machine; in another, the brain is a classical machine that reduces the universal consciousness function.


Particular subtopics of cognitive science arguably include perception, attention, consciousness and memory. However, these are all long established fields within psychology, and there is a constant risk that cognitive scientists will merely reinvent discarded psychological analyses under a new vocabulary.

As described, cognitive science is an expansive field. However, it should be recognized that cognitive science is not equally concerned with every topic which might bear on the nature and operation of the mind or intelligence. Social and cultural factors, emotion, consciousness, animal cognition, comparative and evolutionary approaches are frequently de-emphasized or excluded outright, often on the basis of key philosophical conflicts. Some within the cognitive science community, however, consider these to be vital topics, and advocate the importance of investigating them.

Read more about experimental methods in cognitive science.