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Foundations of Cognitive Psychology

Cognition encompasses the scientific study of the human mind and how it processes information; it focuses on one of the most difficult of all mysteries that humans have addressed.

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Cognition encompasses the scientific study of the human mind and how it processes information; it focuses on one of the most difficult of all mysteries that humans have addressed. The mind is an enormously complex system holding a unique position in science: by necessity, we must use the mind to study itself, and so the focus of study and the instrument used for study are recursively linked. The sheer tenacity of human curiosity has in our own lifetimes brought answers to many of the most challenging scientific questions we have had the ambition to ask. Although many mysteries remain, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we find that we do understand much about the fundamental laws of chemistry, biology, and physics; the structure of space-time, the origins of the u niverse. We have plausible theories abou t the origins and nature of life and have mapped the entire human genome. We can now turn our attention inward, to exploring the nature of thought, and how our mental life comes to be what it is.

There are scientists from nearly every field engaged in this pursuit. Physicists try to understand how physical matter can give rise to that ineffable state we call consciousness, and the decidedly nonphysical ‘‘mind stuff ’’ that Descartes and other philosophers have argued about for centuries. Chemists, biologists, and neuroscientists join them in trying to explicate the mechanisms by which neurons communicate with each other and eventually form our thoughts, memories, emotions, and desires. At the other end of the spectrum, economists study how we balance choices about limited natural and financial resources, and anthropologists study the influence of culture on thought and the formation of societies. So at one end we find scientists studying atoms and cells, at the other end there are scientists studying entire groups of people. Cognitive psychologists tend to study the individual, and mental systems within individual brains, although ideally we try to stay informed of what our colleagues are doing. So cognition is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor, and this collection of readings is intended to reflect that.

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