What I got out of my Cognitive Science major at UGA – my exit essay

I never thought of myself as a science kid. Throughout high school, my strengths were decidedly in English and History and I tended to avoid science, math, and psychology courses like the plague. Maybe I was uncomfortable balancing equations, maybe I just had a fear of actually understanding myself. Nevertheless, English was my calling and I planned on pursuing that in college. But I did play a lot of computer games, mostly simulations and strategy. Though I did not think much of it at the time, these games involved a great deal of psychology and artificial intelligence. The concepts and principles of the field of Cognitive Science began to slowly creep into my mind and academic interests. I bought a subscription to Scientific American, I wrote essays and poems with subjects of mental states and philosophical questions, and I began to see the brain as an organ functioning with rules and observable patterns. With a heavy background in writing, I became a Cognitive Science major and had hopes of better understanding the brain and potentially the mind to which it is so closely connected.

In the Cognitive Science program, a student must choose three main areas of study from the following disciplines: Anthropology, Psychology, Computer Science, Philosophy, and Linguistics. My passion in writing and debate pushed me to focus on Philosophical Foundations as my first discipline of choice; my interest in the workings of the human brain led me to Psychological Foundations as my second; and finally, my experience with various languages brought me to choose Language and Culture as my third area of study. The three disciplines began to influence every facet of my life. I found my studies of philosophy caused me to question my religion, opened my mind to new perspectives and world-views, and valued my efforts and activities in both humbling and inspiring ways. From the basic, thought-provoking questions raised in Philosophy 1000 to the mind-boggling conundrums I tackled in Philosophy of Mind, the classes relentlessly forced me to rethink and reevaluate my positions—just as good philosophy courses should. My experiences in my Psychology and Neuroscience courses were similarly rewarding: I learned not only how the brain functions, but why it tends to react, change, and grow in the manner science has observed. I was able to engage in hands-on interaction with various methods of neuroimaging, and participated in psychological experiments that were both surprising and educational. In my Language and Culture coursework, I learned how languages originate, grow, change, and die. The range of study was great: from the tiny pieces of morphology and phonology that make up all languages to the grand, sweeping evolution of language and grammar over decades. These three areas of study melded perfectly together to become a well-rounded higher education, and collectively have bestowed upon me a much more accurate understanding of the brain, the mind, and everything in between.

Though many Cognitive Science majors are likely to migrate into the exciting, burgeoning world of Artificial Intelligence, I have chosen to apply my skills elsewhere: in the dynamic arena of New Media. New media is a world with a landscape that changes almost daily—literally at an exponential rate. Inside its expanding sphere one must question the status quo with relentless vigor, much like my philosophy courses forced me to question myself. The components and building blocks of new media change as quickly as the applications themselves, with new code libraries and even languages forming every year. These languages change in recognizable, observable, predictable ways and are in fact very similar to human language. As coding languages advance, I find myself applying lessons learned from my language and culture coursework in new, exciting ways. Syntax and style in code can be beautiful, just as beautiful as poetry. I never could have seen the true beauty in perfectly styled code without a background in linguistics. And finally, perhaps most importantly, my studies of the human brain, how it functions, why it reacts in certain ways, and how our mental state is affected by various stimuli has greatly changed the way I format applications, websites, and other user interface-heavy devices. Creating applications that function in ways that mimic the human brain makes them simpler, more intuitive, and just feel right. I can find the frustrating aspects of an application and name exactly why it is frustrating, based on psychology and neuroscience courses I have taken. The application of psychology to new media is, unfortunately, far too rare. A new breed of applications and devices are headed towards our desks, laptops, and pockets; the Cognitive Science major imparted upon me the perfect blend of linguistics, philosophy, and psychology to help me ensure that the new media in our immediate future is robust, intuitive, and useful.

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One response to “What I got out of my Cognitive Science major at UGA – my exit essay

  1. G.M. Holbrook

    That’s really cool that you were able to parlay your interests into a major that is far-ranging. I have very similar interests, but I chose English as a major, which didn’t really encompass all the disciplines you mentioned, so I had to take classes in those disciplines and only ended up with a smattering of all of them and no real skills to show for it.

    Good for you, Kiley!

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