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Seminar: 12/3 - Lawrence Barsalou, Emory University

11:00 to 12:30 PM      at:  5101 Tolman

Grounding knowledge in the brain's modal systems

The human conceptual system contains categorical knowledge that supports online processing (perception, categorization, inference, action) and offline processing (memory, language, thought). Semantic memory, the dominant theory of the conceptual system, typically portrays it as modular and amodal. According to this approach, amodal symbols represent category knowledge in a modular system, separate from the brain’s modal systems for perception, action, and internal states (e.g., interoception, introspection, emotion). Alternatively, the conceptual system can be viewed as non-modular and modal, sharing representational mechanisms with the brain’s modal systems. On a given occasion, multimodal information about a category's members is reenacted (simulated) across relevant modalities to represent it conceptually. Additionally, the conceptual system can be viewed as emergent, situated, and dynamical. Misperceptions of this approach include viewing it as non-nativist, non-symbolic, and completely dependent on sensory-motor experience. These theoretical issues and related empirical evidence, both behavioral and neural, will be reviewed, focusing on the representation of abstract concepts and the implementation of symbolic operations.