UCSD Cognitive Science

Mission Statement

The Department of Cognitive Science promotes the study of learning, perception, action, and interaction in the physical, material, social, and cultural world. The approach is inter-disciplinary employing ideas and techniques from a number of contributing disciplines, including anthropology, communications, computer science, ethology, electrical engineering, linguistics, neurology, neurosciences, philosophy,
psychology, rhetoric, and sociology. Historically, research in the department has involved a commitment to biological realism, the attribution of a crucial role for experience, and a constitutive role for physical and social context in cognitive activity. Our goal is to transcend theoretical limitations rooted in disciplinary boundaries and pursue a scientific account of cognition.



While the roots of the UCSD Cognitive Science community go back almost to the birth of the campus (1961), a landmark date for cognitive science at UCSD was the founding meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, held at UCSD in 1979. This meeting made cognitive science an internationally visible enterprise, and established UCSD as one of the leading centers of this new field.

The following 10-year period was a time of enormous excitement and intense activity as philosophers, linguists, psychologists, computer scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, and neuroscientists discovered in each other an interest in a common set of questions: What is the nature of intelligent activity? What are possible computational and biological mechanisms underlying such activity? What is the role of the environment (cultural and social as well as physical) in supporting and enabling cognition? How can complexity emerge from simple mechanisms? What is the role of learning, adaptation, and development in cognitive behavior? An interdisciplinary Ph.D. program was created, and the cognitive science community gave rise to numerous classes, seminars, joint research projects, and conferences.

The decision in 1986 to establish a Department of Cognitive Science was the logical outcome of this activity. Today, the department, the first Cognitive Science Department in the world, provides a focus for the continued evolution of the discipline of cognitive science. The interdisciplinary aspects of cognitive science continue to flourish, and the participation of the broader cognitive science community on campus continues to be fundamental to cognitive science as practiced at UCSD. The interdisciplinary Ph.D. program continues to be offered as a degree option (in addition to the departmental Ph.D.), with participation by members of the Departments of Anthropology, Biology, Cognitive Science, Communication, Computer Science and Engineering, Linguistics, Music, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Sociology.