Introduction to Cognitive Science

Department: Cognitive Science

Instructors: Tom Donoghue and Eric Leonardis
Instructors' Emails:;
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

Cognitive science is the study of the mind through psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy. In short, it’s thinking about how we think. We’ll learn about the brain, artificial intelligence (robots), and how we produce and understand language. We’ll explore many topics, such as how we learn and perceive the world around us, experimental techniques like fMRI and EEG, and skills like statistics and computer programming. The course will also highlight the importance of cognitive science and the many ways it is all around us. Our exploration of cog sci will take numerous forms, such as reading and writing, discussing and listening, and experimenting and observing.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

Upon completion of the course, students will have:

  • An understanding of exactly what cognitive science is, as well as how different fields contribute to the study of the mind. Exposure to many topics within the field. The ability to critically read cognitive science articles in the media and in academic journals. Practice presenting to small groups and the larger group, as well as debating and conducting experiments
  • An enthusiasm for learning more about the mind and behavior in the future

Tentative List of Topics

(most will be broken up into more than one class day)

  1. Overview of Cognitive Science
    • History of Cognitive Science
    • Overview of component fields: psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy
  2. Physiology of the Brain
    • Basic organization of the brain: anatomy, neurons, and neural communication (neurotransmitters, action potentials etc.)
    • Neural basis of learning and memory
    • Sleep: what it is and what it does
  3. Philosophy of the Mind
    • Logic, Mental Representation, Knowledge
    • Mind-body relationship
    • Consciousness: what it is and how might it work
    • Nature of scientific explanations - Emergence and Reductionism
  4. Psychology
    • Cognitive & behavioural psychology
    • Developmental and social psychology
    • Mental Health
  5. Anthropology
    • Human evolution and cultural studies
    • Museum visit and guest speaker(s)
  6. Language
    • Linguistics (the study of language): cognitive & functional approaches
    • Psychology and Neuroscience of Language (electrophysiology of language)
  7. Perception & Action
    • Sensation & Perception (psychophysics)
    • Perceptual illusions: why the world isn’t as it seems
    • Mirror Neurons
    • How do you know what you’re looking at: Object, Face, Body recognition
    • Embodied Cognition
  8. Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence
    • What is computation? (Turing Machines etc.)
    • Machine Learning (Neural networks, regression, classifiers)
    • Brain-computer Interfaces
  9. Human Computer Interaction & Robotics
    • Interactive design
    • Human-robot interaction, social robotics and the uncanny valley
    • Neural and robotic prostheses
  10. Techniques & Skills
    • Neuroimaging (fMRI, EEG) - including lab visits
    • Modeling the brain & basic computer programming (Python)
    • Statistics: correlation, causation and significance
  11. Spotlights: each day we will spotlight a different cognitive scientist and/or cognitive science career option
    • Probable scientists: Steven Pinker, Noam Chomsky, Alan Turing, Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Vilyanur Ramachandran
    • Careers: academia, education/administration, software engineer, anthropology (museum or field work), clinical & experimental psychology
    • Guest speakers: UCSD Cognitive Science faculty and graduate students re: their work

Working Materials List

These materials are some of those likely to be used in lectures or assigned as components of assignments (the actual list of consulted materials will be much greater)

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