CogSci at CogSci 2011!

by Rachel Ostrand

5 September 2011

UCSD CogSci's standard-bearers bore down upon Boston this July to represent at CogSci 2011, the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. There was a strong showing of UCSDers at every level from undergrad to professor. Rachel Ostrand, Nancy Owens Renner, and Nathaniel Smith delivered well-attended talks, and Arielle Borovsky, Josh Lewis, Tyler Marghetis, Walter Talbott, and Esther Walker presented informative posters. David Kirsh was an invited panel member for one of the symposia. (Here are the proceedings.)

When not attending to scientific endeavors, the gang explored a selection of Boston's historical (and not so historical) spots. A walking tour across the Charles to scope out MIT's department left us in need of a refreshing and pretension-free ice cream pause. Luckily J. P. Licks on Newbury Street was able to fulfill such a delicious lack. Bunker Hill and Quincy Market-area wanderings turned up interesting eateries and lots of brick rowhomes built before California joined the Union.

After Friday's poster session, a few UCSDers headed out to Little Italy for dinner and then to the theater district for a night of singing at Jacob Wirth's: a restaurant-turned-piano-bar eager to welcome scientists willing to prove their knowledge of 70s and 80s songs and sing away the pressures of absorbing so much cognitive knowledge.

It was an excellent conference, and the collective UCSD brain learned a lot - ranging between language, interactions with the environment, embodiment, and Bayesian modeling - sure to inspire great research projects to come out of the department during the upcoming year. Perhaps the most surprising facet of the experience was Noam Chomsky's keynote address, in which we were informed that the internal structure of the language system, springing fully-formed from the human brain, is like a perfect snowflake – perfectly designed to be outwardly glossed in different ways, manifested as different languages.