The goal of this course is to provide an integrated overview of the some of the major approaches to understanding the mind and brain – approaches that together constitute contemporary cognitive science. The problems associated with understanding how and why our minds work the way they do are some of the deepest and most complex facing science, and no single discipline can lay claim to privileged status when it comes to making progress. Indeed, much of the recent excitement in the field has come from approaches that draw on the ideas and methods of multiple disciplines. In this course we’ll get a taste of some of that excitement.
The ideas and methods represented here include those drawn from empirical psychology, linguistics, philosophy, computer science and artificial intelligence, neuroscience, behavioral economics, ethology, and evolutionary biology. Rather than treat each approach separately, we focus on a set of relatively independent topics, each of which engages several of these approaches. The topics span learning, perception, language, decision making, memory, emotion, morality, humor and happiness.
Each time we visit a topic, we will ask: What theoretical issues are at stake? How are they being addressed? What are the key ideas? What are the basic phenomena, how were they discovered, and what counts as an explanation of them? We’ll start with topics that illustrate some of the fundamental ideas and then branch out from there. The aim is to arrive at an overview of the big ideas of cognitive science – the theoretical principles that constitute our current understanding of how our minds work.
Selected Comments from Winter 2014 Evaluations
(Co-taught by Prof. Sam Epstein and Prof. Rick Lewis)
"This was one of my favorite classes I've taken at UM! I had taken several philosophy and psychology classes my freshman year hoping we would cover exactly what this class covered, but to no avail. I'm glad I signed up for it. Sam and Rick are both awesome teachers and I feel like I learned a lot, but at the same time it was a really easy workload. Interesting and innovative."
"I have over 120 credits and this is one of the best course[s] I have taken at the University. One of few courses that want you to LEARN, not struggle to prove that they have a hard class and improve University's ranking."
"I loved the fact that this class was co-taught. This was by far one of the most interesting classes I have taken while at Michigan and much of it was a result of the professors being able to bounce ideas off of each other."
"The instructors were open to answering and asking questions to the students which made the lecture very engaging and encouraged students to attend and interact in lecture."
"Two top-notch professors teaching together created a discourse within the lecture hall that clarified, expanded and dissected ideas being covered. The instructors play off each other to create a both entertaining and informative class. They have a child-like giddiness for their subject areas that a student cannot help [but] get excited too or amazed [with] as well."