Many months ago I read an article on Douglas Hofstadter, a name I’d heard since high school when my friend read Gödel, Escher, Bach. At the time I thought he was probably one of those overrated thinkers who writes inspiring, popular, but empty books. And I thought that all the way up until I read that article, “The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think,” and soon after, “An interview with Douglas R. Hofstadter.” I learned that we seem to share a paradigm of artificial intelligence that’s out of style right now, one based more on semantics than on statistics. I hadn’t even known he worked in AI or that it was the subject of GEB.
So I looked up where he worked–University of Indiana Bloomington (okay, bump that one way up my list). Not in the computer science department, though–in cognitive science. Well, whatever. Maybe I could still interact with him if I ended up there, if he hasn’t retired and moved away by that point.
After finding the articles, from time to time I’d look a little more into his research group, The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition. I bought GEB, made a note of his other books, set up a Google alert for news about him, and searched for his doctoral students on social media. Then on a whim a couple of weeks ago I took a closer look at his field, cognitive science. I’d heard of it in connection with AI, but it seemed like a hazy subject, and I’d disregarded it.
Now I visited the site of the Cognitive Science Society and read their mission statement: to foster cooperation among fields such as “Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, Anthropology, Psychology, Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Education.” I did a mental double-take. They’d just listed half my interests. And their definition of cognitive science reminded me of what I’ve recently come to see as one of my primary agendas, to understand the mind.
I was intrigued, and the researchy wheels of my mind immediately started spinning. Could this be a home for me? I had to learn more! So I’ve decided to investigate cognitive science as a possible career field instead of computer science. It’s only a slight shift, since the two overlap, but it might be a better fit. I bought an intro textbook, José Luis Bermúdez’s Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Science of the Mind, which I’ve been reading; made a list of key questions about the field; and began to search for grad programs. As I learn, I’m making a list of pros and cons. I’ll probably post my assessment once I have a better sense of the issues. But it looks promising.