Invited talks

relatori3Colin Blakemore, University of London
Title: Mind the Gap: The Gulf between Brain and Mind
Abstract: We have two kinds of models of how we operate in the world. The first comes to us through our subjective impressions. We feel ourselves to be agents, actively surveying the world around us, remembering things, thinking about problems, making decisions and deciding how to act. The second comes from science, especially burgeoning cognitive neuroscience, which postulates physical accounts of sensory processing, neural computation, storage of information and the operation of programs to generate action. The virtually universal belief among neuroscientists is that mental phenomena and the contents of subjective experience supervene on (and are entirely accounted for by) correlated neural properties. However, the form of the personal, private model of self-hood and agent-causation seems fundamentally incommensurate with a physical, reductionist account of human cognition and behaviour. I shall argue that the mental model of agency is instantiated by dedicated neural mechanisms that constitute a ‘meta-representation’, running in parallel with the reality of the neural control of behaviour. I shall ask what the functional value might be of such a meta-representation.

Ruth Byrne, Trinity College Dublin
Title: How People Think about Counterfactual Possibilities
Abstract: People think about counterfactual possibilities when they imagine alternatives to reality. In this talk I outline ways in which the mind computes counterfactuals to explain the past and prepare for the future, in part by implying causal and other relations. Counterfactuals also affect intentions and decisions and modulate emotions such as regret and relief and in this regard,  I describe new empirical results showing the effects of counterfactuals on moral judgments such as blame. The basic cognitive processes that compute counterfactuals mutate aspects of a mental representation of reality to create an imagined alternative, and compare alternative possibilities. Knowledge affects the plausibility of a counterfactual through the semantic and pragmatic modulation of the mental representation of alternative possibilities.  I consider experimental evidence that indicates that the cognitive processes that underlie counterfactual reasoning are based on the computation of possibilities rather than probabilities.

Nicola Clayton & Clive Wilkins, University of Cambridge
Title: The Projection of the Self in Time: Memory, Mental Time Travel and The Moustachio Quartet
Abstract: Mental time travel allows us to re-visit our memories and imagine future scenarios: that’s why memories are not only about the past, they are also prospective. We make use of this process of projecting the self in time to define multiple realities; ones that define our sense of self in space and time for our memories are dependent on the sequence in which events unfold, and they are reassessed each time they are revisited. Are we unique among the animal kingdom in possessing such abilities, or is mental time travel something we share with some other animals? Nicky and Clive, a scientist and fine artist respectively, explore these ideas about the complex relationships between memory and the subjective experience of thinking, including through ‘The Moustachio Quartet’, a series of novels that can be read in any order.

Angelo Cangelosi, University of Plymouth
Title: Developmental Robotics for Embodied Language Learning
Abstract: Growing theoretical and experimental research on action and language processing and on number learning and gestures clearly demonstrates the role of embodiment in cognition and language processing. In psychology and neuroscience this evidence constitutes the basis of embodied cognition, also known as grounded cognition (Pezzulo et al. 2012; Borghi & Cangelosi 2014). In robotics, these studies have important implications for the design of linguistic capabilities in cognitive agents and robots for human-robot communication, and have led to the new interdisciplinary approach of Developmental Robotics (Cangelosi & Schlesinger 2015). During the talk we will present examples of developmental robotics models and experimental results from iCub experiments on the embodiment biases in early word acquisition and grammar learning (Morse et al. 2015), experiment on the pointing and finger counting in number learning (De La Cruz et al. 2014) and on mental imagery and rotation (Seepanomwan et al. 2012). This approach highlights the benefit of a truly interdisciplinary cognitive science approach, combining studies from developmental psychology, cognitive robotics, neuroscience and philosophy of science.

Andrea Moro, Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori, Pavia
Title: Beyond the Boundaries of Babel: The Sound of Thought
Abstract: One of the major discoveries of modern linguistics is that languages cannot vary unboundedly: every grammar must meet some universal principles which generate an enormous but not infinite number of combinations in a modular way, admitting a some intertwined degree of freedom. The system is so complex that this underlying uniformity has escaped the attention of scholars for centuries. Only formal grammars have been able to arrive at this discovery in the last fifty years of research. A crucial question that naturally arises from this state of affairs is whether the limit of variation among grammars is accidental or biologically driven. By adopting neuroimaging techniques, we tested the acquisition of artificial languages which violate the universal principles of grammar it has been possible to provide strong evidence in favor of a biological perspective to the mystery of the absence of entire classes of conceivable grammars. A further topic relates to the sources of order as displayed in the syntax of natural languages; we will approach the physical basis of language. Language consists of waves: mechanical waves of air outside our brain (sound) and electric waves inside it (neuronal network). I will show that electric waves manifest sound like shapes even in the absence of any utterances paving the road to the deciphering of the neuronal code exploited by neurons with consequences on theoretical and applicative issues, such as the evolution of human language and the access to inner thought.

Diego Marconi, Università degli Studi di Torino
Title: Visual Imagery and Language Comprehension
Abstract: At least since the time of John Locke, philosophers have been arguing about the role of spontaneous mental imagery – particularly, visual imagery – in language comprehension. In the empiricist tradition such role was often regarded as essential, whereas other philosophers, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, argued that whether or not there was imagery, it was always irrelevant to genuine understanding. Much more recently, the empiricist view has been revived by proponents of the “embodied” or “simulation” framework, who tend to regard (visual) imagery as critical to language processing; more generally, they see semantic processing as based on the (re)activation of modal (e.g., perceptual or motor) content associated with past experience or derived from it. However, language may not be uniform in this respect: e.g., some words (‘square’, ‘banana’) appear to be more “visually loaded” or “visually imageable” than others (‘algebra’, ‘perplexity’), in that they more readily elicit spontaneous imagery. A growing body of research appears to have highlighted the facilitating role of highly imageable words in language understanding (and cognitive performance in general): imageable linguistic materials lead to faster lexical decisions, are better remembered than low imageable materials, are easier to recognize for subjects with deep dislexia, and so forth. I will report on a recent neuroimaging experiment that appears to show that, in normal subjects,  brain activation differentially associated with visual imagery is roughly proportional to the visual imageability of the linguistic stimuli.