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Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences

University of California at Berkeley
3210 Tolman Hall MC 1650
Berkeley, CA 94720-1650

Administration support for the Institute is provided by the staff of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. See the administration page for help and information.


All talks are in 5101 Tolman Hall, 11am-12:30pm.

February 3

Presenter: Dan Mirman, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Title: Complementary Semantic Systems

Abstract: Representing concepts in terms of semantic features, like < has 4 legs > or < is yellow >, has driven major advances in understanding semantic cognition, integrating behavioral, neural, and computational research. Feature-based approaches are very good at capturing taxonomic relations such as DOG -- BEAR, but it is less clear how they could capture thematic relations such as DOG -- LEASH, which are based on co-occurrence in time and space. Behavioral, computational, and neuroscience evidence shows that such relations are an important part of semantic cognition and that they dissociate from taxonomic relations. I will review some key pieces of this evidence, focusing on differences in activation time course, individual differences in strength taxonomic vs. thematic relations, and distinct neural correlates. I will conclude with two computational principles that may drive the development of these complementary semantic systems.

February 10

Presenter: Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, University of Oregon

Title: Husserlian Phenomenology and Darwinian Evolutionary Biology: Complementarities, Exemplifications, and Implications

Abstract: Descriptive foundations and a concern with origins are integral to both Husserlian phenomenology and Darwinian evolutionary biology. The complementary aspects are rooted in the lifeworld as it is experienced. Detailed specifications of the complementary aspects testify to a mutual relevance of phenomenology to evolutionary biology and of evolutionary biology to phenomenology. Exemplifications of the mutual relevance are given in terms of both human and nonhuman agentive abilities. The experiential exemplifications show that agentive abilities are rooted in the kinetic sequence: I move, I do, I can. The kinetic sequence in turn testifies to an ability to think in movement, a thinking that engenders corporeal concepts. It also, however, attests to the need for a veritable phenomenology of learning on the one hand and for a veritable recognition of mindful bodies on the other, mindful bodies that are a driving force both in the evolution of animate forms of life and in the evolution of repertoires of I cans.

February 17

Presenter: Poppy Crum, Dolby Labs

February 24

Presenter: Peter Godfrey-Smith, City University of New York and University of Sydney

Title: Subjectivity and Learning

March 10

Tim Brady, University of California, San Diego

Title: The nature of visual working memory: objects, scenes, and the role of semantic knowledge

Abstract: In this talk, I’ll suggest a rethinking of the nature of visual working memory: first, I’ll argue that we have a separate object working memory and scene working memory system, which show themselves in a wide variety of tasks (ranging from developmental psychology to cognitive neuroscience) and each contribute to nearly all working memory tasks. Second, I’ll argue that working memory, like long-term memory, has a capacity that depends critically on the semantic meaning of what you are asked to remember, as opposed to being merely the persistence of perceptual representations. In particular, I’ll argue that one of the ways we recognize visual scenes is by treating the scene as a global texture and processing the distribution of orientations and spatial frequencies holistically across the entire scene, without recognizing any objects. I’ll show that we can see reflections of this texture-based scene processing pathway in visual working memory, suggesting that visual working memory consists of separate scene/texture and object representations. I’ll show evidence that even the simplest visual working memory experiment -- with just 3 colored dots -- actually relies on dissociable memory representations from the object system and scene system. In the second part of the talk, I’ll discuss some recent EEG work trying to understand the nature of visual working memory, and, in particular, how visual working memory is affected by knowledge. I’ll show that brain measures of how much is actively being stored in working memory demonstrate a greater capacity for real objects than for simple stimuli. This suggests that working memory has no fixed capacity -- instead, our ability to remember new information depends critically on our existing knowledge.

March 24

Presenter: Elisabeth Camp, Rutgers University

Title: Formats for thinking

Abstract: Many philosophers, logicians and psychologists assume an exhaustive and exclusive dichotomy between "imagistic", iconic, or pictorial representations and "discursive", logical, or propositional ones. Others dismiss the distinction as meaningless, on the ground that any content can be captured in propositional terms. Adherents of both positions often conclude that thought -- at least, cognition of any real expressive capacity -- must be implemented in a language-like format. I offer a tour through representational types, identifying how their distinct semantic and syntactic principles produce empirically distinct profiles of expressive, inferential, and implementational powers and limitations, and suggest some desiderata for choosing among representational formats.

April 7

Presenter: Felipe de Brigard, Duke University

Title: Counterfactual thinking and comparative similarity

Counterfactual thinking involves imagining hypothetical alternatives to reality. Philosopher David Lewis argued that people estimate the subjective plausibility that a counterfactual event could have occurred by comparing an imagined possible world in which the counterfactual statement is true against the current, actual world in which the counterfactual statement is false. Accordingly, counterfactuals considered to be true in possible worlds comparatively more similar to ours are judged as more plausible than counterfactuals deemed true in possible worlds comparatively less similar. However, the use of comparative similarity as a strategy for evaluating the perceived plausibility of counterfactual thoughts has not been the subject of psychological research. Instead, extant research has focused on factors such as ease of simulation, norm deviation or repetition. In this talk I offer empirical evidence suggesting that comparative similarity is a promising model for understanding how people assess counterfactual plausibility.

April 21

Presenter: Emily Martin, New York University

Title: Objectivity and Trained Judgment: Toward an ethnography of experimental psychology

Abstract: Historians of psychology have described how the "introspection" of early Wundtian psychology largely came to be ruled out of experimental psychology settings by the mid-20th century. In this talk I will take a fresh look at the years before this process was complete -- from the vantage point of early ethnographic and psychological field expeditions and from observing several current psychology labs. I will discuss the importance of the psychological research conducted during and after the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits Islands (CAETS) in the history of anthropology and psychology and explore some possible ways of approaching experimental cognitive psychology ethnographically. The focus will be on the ways ‘practice trials’ in contemporary experiments complicate the ideal of objectivity. Surprisingly much of Wundt’s approach remains with us today.