Frequently Asked Questions - Specific Courses

Brain and Thought is cross-listed as a Cognitive Science course and also a Psychology course. However, because its focus is on neuroscience, and because it is taught by a neurobiologist from the School of Medicine (Dr. Amy Arnsten). 

The Junior Seminar in Cognitive Science was taught most recently in Fall 2016, and is currently expected to be taught again in Fall 2017. We strongly encourage all Junior majors to take this seminar. It will be an excellent opportunity to study the foundations of your field, and also to gain experience interacting with each other in a close-knit seminar setting. (And for once, you will have first priority in terms of getting into the seminar!) The contents of the seminar will be set largely by your interests. A sample syllabus from the Fall 2015 course can be found here.

This is a course designed to explore the ways in which contemporary cognitive science can bear on the traditional questions of philosophy. So, for example, the course might look at Nietzsche’s account of morality in light of contemporary work in moral cognition, or it might look Plato’s discussion of parts of the soul in light of recent research on “dual processing”. There will be a lot of serious cognitive science, but there will also be a fair amount of serious philosophical rumination. 

[An earlier version of this course was piloted as a Freshman seminar in Spring 2008 under the name “Life Lessons: What Philosophers Got Right about the Human Condition”]

Not much. Though the topics of the course overlap considerably (e.g. with both covering visual perception, language, and consciousness), the specific approaches and material discussed hardly overlap at all. Brain & Thought is devoted almost entirely to neuroscientific perspectives on these topics, whereas Introduction to Cognitive Science covers many higher-level perspectives in addition to neuroscience – and even the bits of this course that do explicitly focus on neuroscience do so with a different perspective. Introduction to Cognitive Science also includes lectures on several topics that are not discussed in Brain & Thought (e.g. modularity, innateness, computation, reasoning and decision-making, infant cognition, and the cognitive science of love/sex/attraction), and the reverse is also true (e.g. motor behavior, olfaction, taste, and Alzheimer’s Disease). In addition, Introduction to Cognitive Science includes material drawn from several different fields beyond neuroscience, including Linguistics, Computer Science, and Psychology. Both courses are thus strongly recommended for all majors.

This can depend on who is teaching Introduction to Psychology, since it is offered every semester, and is taught by many different faculty. Depending on who is teaching the course, the overlap can vary between roughly 5% and 20%. However, even those topics that are covered in both courses are typically treated with very different perspectives and specific material. More generally, the 80+% of non-overlapping material in these courses reflects differences in their respective fields. On one hand, cognitive science incorporates perspectives drawn from only some areas of psychology, and also includes tools and ideas drawn from computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, and beyond. In contrast, psychology incorporates perspectives drawn from only a small part of cognitive science, but also includes material related to clinical psychology, social and personality psychology, health psychology, etc. Many majors end up taking both of these courses, however, since Introduction to Cognitive Science is required for the major, while Introduction to Psychology is required in principle as a pre-requisite for many other psychology courses.

Not much: Brain and Thought was designed to be the mirror image of Neurobiology. Whereas Neurobiology has great emphasis on the ionic basis of the resting potential and action potential, Brain and Thought deals with this subject only briefly. Conversely, Brain and Thought spends much of the course on higher cortical mechanisms underlying perception and executive functions, topics which receive much less emphasis in Neurobiology. Brain and Thought also has a strong emphasis on human patients (including many readings and videos) and in this way is especially relevant for students wanting to pursue a medical career in neurology or psychiatry.