Cognition is the scientific term used to describe the set of mental processes that relate to the knowledge of function such as memory, language, reasoning, learning, intelligence, problem solving, decision making, perception or attention. Cognitive processes are distinguished from mental processes that relate to the emotional function, which is traditionally the specialty of different forms of dynamic psychology (or psychodynamic), where the methods and applications are mainly clinical, such as psychoanalysis or clinical psychology.
Today, the cognition term can also be used to describe not only the treatment process of information called “high-level” such as reasoning, memory, decision making and executive functions in general, but also basic processes such as perception, motor skills and emotions. For example, Antonio Damasio in his book Descartes’ Error, considers that emotions are part of the cognitive functions as reasoning and decision making can not work without emotions.
Cognition is often extended beyond the sole framework of human cognition to include all “intelligent” process including among non-human animals or implemented in artificial systems, such as computers.
Cognitive science gather all scientific areas devoted to the study of cognition including neuroscience, psychology, artificial intelligence, mathematics applied to the modeling of mental functions, anthropology, and philosophy of mind. This transdisciplinary research is often federated by assumptions about the nature of cognition, conceived as simulation, as a formal symbol manipulation or as an emergent property of complex systems.
The exact definition of cognition and of the relationship between mental and brain activity (the “mind-body problem“) remains the subject of much debate in contemporary sciences (psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, etc.). Following the “cognitive revolution”, the dominant perspective since the mid-twentieth century uses the term cognitive functions which has the human mind and by which we build an operational representation of reality based on our perceptions capable especially to feed our reasoning and guide our actions. Other streaming research criticize this representationalist perspective and characterize the contrary cognition as an essentially dynamic and emergent phenomenon.
Cold cognition vs. hot cognition
Based on the vision own to the classical philosophy of the human cogitans and inspired by the metaphor of the idea of brain-computer of artificial intelligence, the study of human cognition was initially interested in the major functions of human mind, such as reasoning, memory, language, consciousness … leaving aside the affect, instinct or ethics.
However, although born of this conceptual framework, cognitive science has broken quite quickly this breakdown showing the multiple interactions that there could be between, for example, affect and memory, ethics and reasoning, etc. . The title of the book by Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error, illustrates this evolution: against René Descartes (and a vision of reasoning as truly human and detached from other human components), the neurologist opposes an approach in which emotions and reasoning interact. For example, memory and learning are more effective if they are accompanied by a emotional stimulus. The distinction between emotion and abstraction nevertheless based on a neurological basis. Thus, subjects with brain damage in the prefrontal cortex are unable to respond correctly to an emotional situation while being perfectly capable of abstract reasoning. The influence of emotions on decision interested experimental economics, which showed that individuals can act irrationally where traditional economic theories postulate the rationality of agents. The term cognition therefore includes today a vast set of mental processes.
Furthermore, advances in the study of animal behavior through cognitive ethology also challenged this conception of human cognition by showing that animals are also capable of reasoning, memory. Conversely, this discipline has helped to clarify cognition proper to man. Today, this work is part of a perspective of the theory of evolution that seeks to better understand how emerged and evolved different cognitive faculties.
Advances in the study of human and animal cognition quickly have been object of partial transpositions in certain information systems and knowledge management applications.
The metaphor often used is that of information processing. With an entry (input), an evaluation (treatment with different stages), an answer or output (output).
The “information processing” is bonded to at least three variables:
- cognitive events: thoughts easily accessible to consciousness;
- perceptions of reality;
- cognitive schemas: unconscious core beliefs, experiences, and perceptions of the world.
From cognitive science to cognition science
One consequence of these multidisciplinary interactions within what is called cognition is to change significantly how to organize research topics in cognitive science. However, this did not structure only in relation to different traditional objects of study of the constituent disciplines of this area of research (neurons and brain in neuroscience, mental processes in psychology, animal behavior for ethology, algorithms and modeling to IT, etc.) but often around cognitive function that is to be isolated from each other. Researchers from several disciplines will focus collectively, for example, memory or language. This change is evident in the emergence of the term: cognition science that reflects, or claims, the fact that this multidisciplinary field is poised to constitute itself as a science, unified in itself.
Translated from Wikipedia