I've also written for Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today, and was employee number 2 at Lumosity where I was the company's first founding research scientist from 2007-09. I have been invited to teach at several universities, including Seoul National University, The Indian Institutes of Technology, and Stanford University.

I'm here to answer questions about cognitive science and to inspire interest in this field. Let's get started!

*Bio: www.amazon.com/author/paulli

*Book: www.amazon.com/The-Cognitive-Sciences-Interdisciplinary-Approach/dp/141299716X

*ID: www.imgur.com/XBFixGj

Thanks for your questions! This is my first time on Reddit. I'll try my best to answer questions throughout the day.

Comments: 69 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

h76CH3615 karma

Hi Paul,

Many of my colleagues are neurobiologists. They often claim that neurosciences will make psychology obsolete. Their logic seems to be that both disciplines are trying to answer the same questions (generally, how the mind works) but psychology looks 'down' from behavior while neuroscience looks 'up' through physiology and chemistry. They argue that the behavior-based approach is difficult to decouple from politics, and thus psychology often suffers from many of the problems that plague the social sciences in general. They also point to the recent explosion of the neurobiology literature and funding. I've noticed this myself in my weekly lit-reviews of PNAS, although it's not my field.

What's your take on all of this? As neuroscience continues to erode the question from the 'other end', can psychology remain relevant? What happens when physiology, genetics, and chemistry can be used to answer basic questions about human behavior better than psychology?

CogSciProfessor4 karma

I share the same sentiments as you since I was trained as a neuroscientist (and now teaching cognitive science). Before I answer your question, I want to share with you a neat visualization that appeared in Wired magazine recently. It shows how fields like neuroscience is becoming more and more interdisciplinary over time with other fields (including psychology!). It may appear that neuroscience has been making more progress than the others within CogSci, but this does not mean that those fields are becoming less relevant or even, obsolete. Rather I would describe what you observed as a cycle. This cycle is mainly due to new technologies, new methodologies, and new ideas a field is making (e.g. cognitive linguistics was huge back in the 1960s and now neuroscience and AI). With that said, it's okay that these fields are answering the same questions; we want them to. As cognitive scientists we want to see how these fields converge on those questions based on their own levels of analysis and their own viewpoint. It's only going to help us better understand ourselves and how we operate as human beings.

h76CH361 karma

Great answer! Thanks!

CogSciProfessor1 karma

You're welcome.

deadfermata6 karma

What is your opinion on 'science fiction' since a lot of the old science fiction is now reality. What do you think about calling it something like 'future science?'

Have you checked out /r/futurology?

CogSciProfessor18 karma

If you look at science fiction movies like Total Recall (2012/1990) and Inception (2010), they offer a glimpse of the incredible technologies the future may someday bring. In Total Recall, an ordinary factory worker discovers that his current life is a fabrication based on false memories implanted into his brain by the government. In Inception, a professional thief commits corporate espionage by hijacking his targets’ subconscious while they’re asleep. Using these examples, can such technologies of implanting memories in someone else’s mind be, as you alluded to, future science?

A few years ago, Tonegawa and other researchers used a technique called optogenetics, to control neurons in mice that had been genetically sensitized to light. Using this technique, which involves shining a light to stimulate the neurons, they implanted a false memory in a mouse. In their experiment, mice were set up in a room where an electric foot shock took place, while a light was delivered via fiber-optic cable to their hippocampus (where memories are stored). The mice were conditioned to pair the shock with the room, facilitated by the optical stimulation to those neurons in that part of the brain. However, the mice exhibited the same fear, manifested by freezing behavior, when optically reactivated in an entirely different room where a foot shock was never delivered! It reactivated that memory of being shocked in that original room.

Rather than implanting false memories in the mouse brains, researchers like Theodore Berger looked in a different direction. Berger designed silicon chips to model the signal processing activity of the hippocampus, to essentially create an artificial implant. He found out how electrical signals from neurons move through the hippocampus to form long-term memories. Ultimately, this implant may help people who suffer from memory loss eventually to form long-term memories. Think Alzheimer's! It may even help supplement our own memories, which can be unreliable at times, as shown in studies done by Elizabeth Loftus and others on eyewitness testimony and victims of abuse.

If the science fiction of implanting memories someday turns into science fact, we’ll have these movies to thank for in encouraging discussions about the moral and social implications. And if we want to begin to imagine what a near future tomorrow might bring, we’ll have to start by using our own memory to recall the past and project ourselves into these possible futures.

deadfermata3 karma

Implanting false memories huh?


CogSciProfessor5 karma

Yes, memory is one my favorite aspects of the mind. Thanks for your question!

daishide3 karma

I took Cognitive Psych in college in around ~97-98. What recent and important updates have I missed since I last studied your discipline?

CogSciProfessor1 karma

Too much to list it here. There's a sample chapter in my textbook on Amazon and Google Books that will go into more detail about what you missed since your college days in the field of Cog Psych. Thanks for your question.

princess_eve3 karma

Hey there, I have two questions (I hope that isn't too greedy). What is your view on sports such as Boxing that interferes so much with cognitive abilities? Do you ever think we will get to a point where we can prevent and treat Dementia?

CogSciProfessor1 karma

Hi there, please see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10946737. There's also work being done at Stanford on TBI and sports-related injuries. Hope this helps!

MonadnockValley3 karma

Go Bears! What's your favorite spot on campus?

CogSciProfessor3 karma

Go Bears!! Favorite spot: Campanile (Sather Tower). Favorite building: Hearst Mining.

pinkinked2 karma

Do you think the intersection between linguistics and cognitive science is an area that will be explored greatly in the coming years? What do you see coming of this?

CogSciProfessor5 karma

It already has and will continue in the coming years, especially in the area of natural language processing (NLP). Think IBM's Watson! In fact, a big part of our thoughts is heavily tied to language (concepts, propositions, etc) so there's more reason for linguists and cognitive scientists alike to explore the intersections between the two.

arj19852 karma

How much longer will it be before we learn to put our consciousness on to computers? Mind you, that once we crack this then we'll be able to essentially beam our consciousness anywhere at the speed of light.

CogSciProfessor1 karma

We're not even close. Not until we find the NCC (Neural correlates of consciousness). Then the other big problem is how to model that in a computer, etc... ‘Transcendence’ (2014) is a good movie though.

UsedToHaveKarma2 karma

What can you share about the potential for recovery from cognitive deficits resulting from TBI? What sort of therapies work best (if any)?

CogSciProfessor2 karma

It varies from person to person and depends on the extent of the damage. My answer to 'best' therapies would also be similar. Recovery can be as early as 6 months to 2 years.

CogSciProfessor4 karma

For example, in regards to our brain's plasticity, there was a little girl who was born with very little cortical tissue. Doctors did not see much of a future for her because she did not have a ‘normal’ brain; however, because of cortical plasticity and the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, she learned to function quite well later on in life. This probably would not be true for someone who was much older...

MarkDA2191 karma

My dad does research on this! It's such an exciting field right now!

CogSciProfessor2 karma

It is. Let your dad know to keep up the good work. I have a lot of respect for people in research; they work extremely hard.

Broken19852 karma

I've been paralyzed from the waist down for 30yrs. Is it true that the part of the brain that controls movement dies with no stimulation?

CogSciProfessor3 karma

With no stimulation that area of the brain that controls movement will be eventually rendered inactive and taken over by adjacent functional areas in the brain.

ItCameFromSpaaace3 karma

You should check out Dr. Ramachandran's work on phantom limb syndrome. He has a few videos that cover the topic nicely, focusing on neuroplasticity.

CogSciProfessor1 karma

Good one. Perhaps a little off topic, but his mirror box is also very interesting.

confessors1 karma

What do you think about the drug Evo, and is it safe? Or what could be some possible side effects on the brain if any? Thanks!

CogSciProfessor1 karma

I'm not familiar with that drug, and I'm not one to say what the side effects are on the brain since I'm not trained as a medical doctor. From my experience from hearing ads on 'brain booster drugs' or health supplements is to be careful; many could just be a placebo. My two cents.

TheGreatDainius1 karma

Thanks for posting! What advice do you have for a third-year psychology student?

CogSciProfessor1 karma

Try to get an internship and/or study abroad.

CogSciProfessor1 karma

And meet as many people as you can in college! I wish I had done that more back in undergrad.

SteamPoweredDick1 karma

Welcome to reddit, Paul! I'm a senior aspiring to study in the States. What caught my interest was the cognitive science courses being offered (these courses aren't offered here). Some universities I'm looking out for are UPenn, UCB (yay), UCLA, etc. I was just wondering: what career path am I getting into if I go into Cognitive Science?

CogSciProfessor2 karma

Here's what recent Cal grads are doing: https://career.berkeley.edu/Major/CogSci.stm

eleonoraz1 karma

In your opinion, what cognitive bias (or similar) is the most often exploited by companies and politicians to influence people's behaviour? Is there a way we can we prevent this from happening on a large scale or we just need to accept that that's how our brain works?

CogSciProfessor1 karma

I recommend first looking into work done by Kahneman and Tversky on cognitive bias.

super_randoman1 karma

How close are we to understanding the exact mechanisms the brain uses to generate thought? Like if I think about adding 1+1 what is going on in my head and how do the neurons do that computation?

CogSciProfessor1 karma

We're still working on that question, especially at the molecular and cellular level. Good question btw!

shmoe7271 karma

I have a phobia of syringes. I've never had a bad experience with them yet I always feel like I'm going to pass out when I'm around them. What causes these kinds of fears and what is the best method to treat it?

CogSciProfessor2 karma

Thanks for your question. I recommend checking out James Hamilton's work on this topic.

FlightofApollo11 karma

How exactly do you measure an individuals "cognitive ability?"

CogSciProfessor1 karma

Depends on the cognitive ability. Such as, are you talking about memory, processing speed, attention?

ruinevil1 karma

Do you know Dr. McCloskey at JHU?

CogSciProfessor2 karma

Not personally, but we cover one of his research articles in my class.

MarkDA2191 karma

I'm currently a psychobiology at Santa Clara University! I was wondering what you would suggest for me to do to look for a job or internship! I've read a lot of your stuff and would love to do research with you! But if not, do you have any contacts? Or even some life advice would be nice! Thank you so much for the AMA!

CogSciProfessor3 karma

Thanks Mark. Over here at Berkeley, we have a career center and a program called the undergraduate research apprentice program (or URAP for short). I would recommend you checking out these places at SCU.

MarkDA2191 karma

Does Berkeley only take research assistants and interns from their own programs?

CogSciProfessor2 karma

In most cases, yes.

123choji1 karma

Favorite book?

CogSciProfessor3 karma

I have a few, but a more recent one would probably be Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything(2012) by Joshua Foer.