People would think that cognitive science is the same thing as cognitive psychology, or maybe neuroscience. In actual fact, cognitive science is more than just that. It can cover diverse fields such as music, early child development, vision, computer games, linguistics, engineering, even philosophy. Sometimes a better question to ask is what cognitive science does not cover, but of course this is quite a rhetorical question and I am not going to reply to that here.
There was a psychology seminar programme yesterday and today known as CogSci Connects, which brings in experts from this field to give talks. I did not go due to other commitments, but the website looks pretty comprehensive on the subject matter covered and maybe I can talk a bit about stuff through my limited knowledge. Perhaps I will talk about the first four topics in cognitive science mentioned above — music, early child development, vision & perception and computer science.
In 1993, a paper was published in Nature — which is a prestigious scientific academic journal — showing 36 undergraduate students with temporarily boosted IQs after listening to Mozart’s Sonata in D Minor. While this sounds exciting, it later turned out to be just a marketing gimmick for recording companies. Really, everything that purportedly raises intelligence seems to come into question at one point or another, sadly.
However, an encouraging discovery is that our brains do respond positively to music. Apparently music is beneficial towards creativity and improvisation, so perhaps there is some truth in the idea that music gets us out of writer’s block! And for instrumental haters like me, there is no need to listen only to opera or Beethoven. Hip hop and jazz also produce different brain images, so really, your favourite songs will do just as well.
2. Early Childhood
Did you know that bilingual children have better focus and attention spans? There is research supporting this!
It is of course good news for me, being bilingual from young, and for the world as well, as it progresses towards breaking language barriers and getting kids to learn more languages in school. And of course we also know that children learn more when asked to solve problems on their own. If you ask me, kids are a mysterious bunch psychologically and cognitive-wise, and it requires a whole lot of developmental and early childhood psychology-focused research to break into those heads of theirs. Strange, isn’t it, when we were all children once?
3. Vision and Perception
Visual illusions are used often in movies, not just in 3-D effects, but even in phenomena like The Hobbit, where Gandalf is always taller than the hobbits. This is a replicable effect known as the Ames room, where a room is constructed such that it is not actually a normal square even though it seems to be when viewed in transverse. 2 people standing at different corners of the room will then be seen to vary wildly in height.
Something like this.
There has been a million and one optical illusions pertaining to perception and cognition and I shall not bore you with the same ones again. They can be found easily on the Net anyway. But naturally this raises many research questions on whether these illusions are universal to all people and why they form such illusions in the first place.
Have you seen the NerveGear in Sword Art Online? While our brain-computer interface may not have reached the stage capable of despatching microwaves to jolt the brain if one tries to take helmets off, it has attempted to directly communicate between brains and external devices. Thankfully we haven’t seen a Kayaba Akihiko roaming about anywhere, and science has mainly put such technology to good use, such as in restoring damaged hearing, sight and movement. If I’m not wrong, I believe I’ve heard about a chip that, when implanted in one’s brain, can allow a metallic hand several kilometres, even countries, away to move according to the brain’s wishes. It’s like a prosthetic limb that doesn’t even need to attach to you.
Cognitive science represents all things thrilling about science and the brain. Some universities regard it as a separate course entirely, rather than putting it under psychology or the life sciences. In any case, it is gaining more recognition worldwide and I expect to see great things happening as a result in the future, things that are not simply the product of science fiction. And hopefully they will not turn out to be as dystopic either.