We human beings take it for granted that we are possessed of minds. I know that I have a mind and I assume that you do too. But what, exactly, are we referring to when we talk about the mind? Is a mind just a brain? What endows my mind with the property of being conscious? How does my mind allow me to extract music from sound waves, or relish the taste of chocolate, or daydream, or feel happy and sad, or reach for my cup when I want a sip of coffee? Are minds directly aware of the world out there? Or, when I think that I am perceiving reality, am I just consulting some representation of the world that my mind has built? How similar is my mind to your mind? Do you have to be a human being to have a mind? Could other entities have minds so long as they were built the right way? Does my computer have a mind? These are the kinds of question that are of interest to cognitive scientists.
The field of Cognitive Science traces its origins to two conferences in 1956, the MIT Symposium on Information Theory and the Dartmouth Conference at Dartmouth College. Both meetings focused on questions about how information is processed. From these conferences, the idea emerged that the human mind might just be a special kind of computer. The mind-computer analogy suggested to some people that questions about mind should no longer be the sole province of psychologists. Rather mental phenomena might most profitably be explored through the collaboration of all of the disciplines that had something to say about information processing more generally.
Cognitive Science is now a broadly multidisciplinary field in which philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, neuroscientists, biologists, and computer scientists, among others, combine their respective theories, technologies, and methodologies in the service of a unified exploration of mind. The hallmark of the field is a genuinely multidisciplinary outlook in which the perspectives and methods of all of the component disciplines are simultaneously brought to bear upon a particular question. In 1982, Vassar College became the first institution in the world to grant an undergraduate degree in Cognitive Science. The Cognitive Science Program provides a broad in-depth exposure to the exploration of mental phenomena. The theories and methods of all participating disciplines are represented in the courses offered by the Program, which models and exploits the truly integrative nature of the field.