2010-2011 Academic Year Speakers

Thursday, December 9th, 4:00 Tolentine 215

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
The University of Pennsylvania
Topic: "Disembodying Cognition"

The idea that concepts are embodied by our motor and sensory systems is popular in current theorizing about cognition. Embodied cognition accounts come in different versions and are often contrasted with a purely symbolic amodal view of cognition. Simulation, or the hypothesis that concepts simulate the sensory and motor experience of real world encounters with instances of those concepts, has been prominent in psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Here, with a focus on spatial thought and language, I review recent work from my lab that raises questions about the nature of sensory motor grounding. In my view, the question of whether or not cognition is grounded is more fruitfully replaced by questions about gradations in this grounding. A focus on disembodying cognition, or on graded grounding,opens the way to think about how humans abstract. Within neuroscience, I propose that three functional anatomic axes help frame questions about the graded nature of grounded cognition. First, are questions of laterality differences. Do association cortices in both hemispheres instantiate the same kind of sensory or motor information? Second, are questions about ventral dorsal axes. Do neuronal ensembles along this axis shift from conceptual representations of objects to the relationships between objects? Third, are questions about gradients centripetally from sensory and motor cortices towards and within perisylvian cortices. Does sensory and perceptual
information become more language-like and then get transformed into language proper?

2009-2010 Academic Year Speakers

Friday, February 5th, 3:30 Mendel 154

Dr. Brian J. Scholl
Department of Psychology, Yale University
Topic: "It's Alive!;  Perceiving Animacy, and Some Visual Roots of Social Cognition

Beyond features such as color and shape, visual percepts can involve higher-level properties such as causality, animacy, and goal-directedness.  Cognitive scientists have long been captivated by such phenomena, but have faced challenges in studying them with quantitative precision, and in distinguishing true perceptual effects from higher-level inferences.  I will describe and demonstrate several new projects from our laboratory that address these challenges, exploring the perception of animacy from some new perspectives: (1) Demonstrations of several new types of perceived animacy, including 'the psychophysics of chasing', and the 'wolfpack illusion';  (2) Illustrations of how certain types of perceived animacy can be studied with several new performance measures, and how it is possible to assess their objective accuracy;  and (3) Demonstrations of several ways in which perceived animacy irresistibly and implicitly shapes other types of visual performance and interactive behavior.  Each of these research strands will involve perceptually salient demonstrations of various types.  Collectively, this work begins to reveal how perception involves recovering not only the physical structure of the world, but also its causal and social structure.

2007-2008 Academic Year Speakers

Thursday, October 4th, 3:30 CEER 001

Dr. Susan Goldin-Meadow
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago
Topic: "How our hands help us think"

When people talk, they gesture. We now know that these gestures are associated with learning. They can index moments of cognitive instability and reflect thoughts not yet found in speech. What I hope to do in this talk is raise the possibility that gesture might do more than just reflect learning -- it might be involved in the learning process itself.

I consider two non-mutually exclusive possibilities. First, gesture could play a role in the learning process by displaying, for all to see, the learner's newest, and perhaps undigested, thoughts. Parents, teachers, and peers would then have the opportunity to react to those unspoken thoughts and provide the learner with the input necessary for future steps. Second, gesture could play a role in the learning process more directly by providing another representational format, one that would allow the learner to explore, perhaps with less effort, ideas that may be difficult to think through in a verbal format. Thus gesture has the potential to contribute to cognitive change, directly by influencing the learner and indirectly by influencing the learning environment. Please check back throughout the semester as we further develop our speaker schedule.

2006-2007 Academic Year Speakers

February 22, 2007 - Dr. Paul Thagard, University of Waterloo Emotional Consciousness

December 1, 2006 - Dr. Steven Sloman, Brown University Causal Models of Reasoning and Choice