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Cognitive Science 4: Cognitive Science and the Integration Challenge


Cognitive science: an interdisciplinary endeavor

Cognitive science draws from philosophy, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and anthropology, among others. These fields were listed by Gardner (1985), and the connection and overlap between these subjects regarding cognitive science have increased. What these different fields don’t do, however, is unify easily, which is what cognitive science as its own independent field is supposed to do.

Levels of explanation: The contrast between psychology and neuroscience

Both neuroscience and psychology are interdisciplinary fields, and so they may serve as a model for unifying a specific area of study. Different fields of psychology work on the same “level,” that of behavior of the entire organism. The fields of neuroscience, on the other hand, are split up depending on the organization of the brain, from high levels of behavior (cognitive and behavior neuroscience) zooming down all the way to molecular interactions between synapses (molecular neuroscience).

The integration challenge

The problem of unifying cognitive science as a single field is that its different areas differ in both the levels of organization, the behaviors/areas studied, and the methods of inquiry used to gather data. Pulling all these things together into one field is the source of the difficulty in the “integration challenge.”

Local Integration I: Evolutionary psychology and the psychology of reasoning

This is the first of two examples Bermudez provides of a “bridge” across two different fields. This doesn’t unify cognitive science as a whole, but is a step in the right direction.

Humans are very bad at abstract reasoning about conditionals (if x, then y), but when the abstractions are filled in with reasoning about rules and obligations (if you’re 21, then you can drink alcohol). The prisoner’s dilemma, and the evolutionary rationale behind detecting cheaters or defectors provides a higher level explanation of why humans are good at reasoning about rules and obligations. Together, these two areas are able to be locally integrated.

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