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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 7

Presenter: Luc Steels, ICREA/Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Barcelona

Title: Can robots invent their own language, and what can we learn from this about human language evolution?

Abstract: For more than a decade we have been doing robotic experiments to understand how language could originate in a population of embodied agents. This has resulted in various fundamental mechanisms for the self-organisation of vocabularies, the co-evolution of words and grounded meanings, and the emergence of grammar. It has also lead to a number of technological advances in language processing technologies, in particular a new grammar formalism called Fluid Construction Grammar, that attempts to formalise and capture insights from construction grammar, and a new scheme for doing grounded semantics on robots. This talk gives a (very brief) overview of our approach and discusses the relevance for theories of human cultural evolution in general and language in particular. The talk is illustrated with live software demos and videos of robots playing language games.

February 14

Presenter: Ramesh Balasubramaniam, University of California, Merced

Title: Human sensorimotor coordination: a moving, gripping and occasionally tapping story

Abstract: Successful coordination involves the movement of various segments of the body that have to be controlled in a systematic and meaningful way. Studying how the brain puts together these movements involves a good understanding of the interaction between sensory information, cognitive processes and motor control. In this talk I will present recent work from my laboratory on sensorimotor coordination in the context of sequential tasks. Acts such as playing the piano, involve the repetitive movement of certain effectors (wrist, finger, arm) with respect to external events such as a metronome, a complex musical score and even the movements of other actors/musicians. From studying the timing aspect of these behaviors we can understand 1) how the brain organizes sequential movements 2) how rhythmic structures can be entrained and instantiated in individual and social contexts and 3) how rhythmic sequences are learned and encoded. In this talk, I will bring together evidence from neurophysiological and behavioral experiments in presenting a coherent view of the human sensorimotor coordination.

October 18

Presenter: Peter Godfrey-Smith, Philosophy Program, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Title: Memory as communication

Abstract: Memory can be seen as communication between stages - communication between an earlier and a later self. This idea only becomes more than a loose analogy, though, if there is a theory of communication that can add something substantial to our understanding of memory. I'll argue that recent models of communication, developed for quite different applications, can indeed play this role. Application of these ideas to memory can inform debates about the 'reconstructive' nature of memory, the function of episodic memory, and the relations between memory in genetic, epigenetic, and neural systems.

October 25

Presenter: Jenny Saffran, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Title: Beyond Nature versus Nurture: Changing views of infant language development

Long before infants produce their first words, they have learned a tremendous amount about their native language(s). What do infants know, and how did they learn it? In this talk, I will describe results from multiple lines of research that suggest that infants track statistical properties of language, and use this information for myriad aspects of language acquisition. Implications for atypical language development will also be considered.

February 28

Presenter: Justin Halberda, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University

Title: Interfaces: Number and math abilities; Visual attention and word meanings

Abstract: Our field has made terrific progress by studying cognitive systems in isolation from each other (e.g., a Theory of Mind Module, a Language Acquisition Device) - yet, we all acknowledge that the mind-body is a single integrated and unified machine. One way of addressing the challenges of charting this unification is by characterizing how various cognitive systems interface with each other. In this talk, I highlight two cases of interface: One between early mathematical cognition and formal math abilities, and another between the constraints of mid-level visual processing and lexical meanings. The goal is to demonstrate some of the surprising dependencies we've discovered between these systems, and to highlight how such dependencies may transform how we understand the systems involved.

March 14

Presenter: Tom Mitchell, Department of Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University

Title: TBA

Abstract: TBA

April 11

Presenter: Sonia Bishop, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley

Title: Anxiety, fear conditioning and decision making under threat of shock.

Abstract: The ability to track and update stimulus-stimulus and action-outcome contingencies is central to both the acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear and to reinforcement learning. While the fear conditioning literature has focused on the acquisition and over-writing of neutral stimulus (CS) - negative stimulus (UCS) associations, the decision-making literature has primarily investigated the effects of varying schedules of reward. There is however evidence that anxiety is not only linked to enhanced acquisition, maintenance and generalization of conditioned fears but also to altered decision-making. The work presented examines the extent to which trait vulnerability to anxiety is associated with disruption to associative learning, both using classical Pavlovian fear conditioning and a 2-arm bandit task requiring decision making under threat of shock. FMRI and pupillometry are used to characterize the mechanisms disrupted. In addition, traditional models from the reinforcement learning literature are combined with more recent Bayesian approaches to address the extent to which similar mechanisms underlie decision-making under threat as decision-making under conditions of varying probabilities and magnitudes of reward and to examine the aspects of decision making altered in high trait anxious individuals.

May 2

Presenter: Jonah Shupbach, Department of Philosophy, University of Utah

Title: Best explanations, Bayes's rule, and bonus points

Abstract: Bayesianism and Explanationism both offer theories of uncertain inference. The former uses probabilities to represent people's credences, and it associates particular inferences with the shifts in credence explicated by Bayes's Theorem as the differences between prior and posterior probabilities. Explanationism puts explanatory considerations at the center of certain cases of uncertain inferences by interpreting these as inferences to hypotheses judged to be the best explanations of the evidence. But how do these two theories relate to one another? Do they constitute competing theories? When people reason to the best explanation of the evidence before them, how often and how closely - if at all - do they approximate the shifts in credence predicted by Bayesianism? In this talk, I explore these questions, drawing upon ongoing experimental work as well as recent work in formal epistemology.


9/13/2013   Center for "big data" in psychology to be established at Berkeley
ICBS members recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a new research center

4/26/2013   Alison Gopnik on play and learning
A story in the New York Times highlights Gopnik's recent work on pretend play

5/27/2012   How do you refer to your mother's older sister?
Terry Regier and Charles Kemp find human kinship systems are simple and informative

5/22/2012   Len Talmy receives Gutenberg Research Award
The first time this prestigious award has been given to a cognitive scientist.

4/2/2012   Tania Lombrozo receives the Janet Taylor Spence Award
A significant early career award from the Association for Psychological Science.

10/28/2011   What do babies think?
Alison Gopnik gives a presentation at TED.

10/1/2010   Neurotechnology prize for Jose Carmena
Carmena received the New York Academy of Scienes Aspen Brain Forum Prize in Neurotechnology

4/3/2010   Forget Mozart, Try Kant.
Alison Gopnik on the inquiring baby.

3/13/2010   Jerry Feldman awarded the Berkeley Citation
Tribute for leadership in promoting interdisciplinary research and opportunities for study in computer science.

2/27/2010   The Interpretation of Dreams, 2010
Jack Gallant uses fMRI to take a peek at what's on your mind

7/26/2009   New Advances in Brain-Machine Interface Technology
Jose Carmena and Karunesh Ganguly demonstrate that the brain can consolidate a neural representation for long-term prosthetic control

7/21/2009   Conference on Neurocognitive Development, July 12-14, 2009
Conference proceedings available on-line.

7/19/2009   George Lakoff named Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor
Professorship in Linguistics and Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies for 2009-13

6/11/2009   Fillmore FEST: Conference in honor of Charles Fillmore, July 31 - Aug 2
Celebrate Chuck's 80th birthday at Berkeley during this special meeting.

5/5/2009   The Mental Navigator
Alison Gopnik's new book, "The Philisophical Baby" is discussed in the Boston Globe and SF Chronicle

4/30/2009   Archived Files from past ICBS Seminars and Workshops
Click for links to materials

3/16/2009   Berkeley Cognitive Science Undergraduates to Host Conference
First annual California Cognitive Science Conference on April 25

2/18/2009   Darwin Day Celebrated at ICBS
Webcasts from the workshop, "Evolution in the Cognitive Sciences"

12/27/2008   Alison Gopnik offers her ideas for revolutionizing undergraduate education.
In a Slate commentary, Gopnik suggests how to create "scientists in the dorm".

12/9/2008   A Personal Experience with Synesthesia
Sherri Roush discusses how sounds make her skin tingle-- literally.

10/27/2008   Alison Gopnik sounds off in Slate on mirror neurons.
Rea2007 essay on, "What the myth of mirror neurons gets wrong about the human brain."

4/28/2008   Paul Kay joins discussion in NY Times on how language influences thought
Science Times article discusses new views on an old debate.

4/13/2008   Art Shimamura awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship
Fellowship to support his efforts on a new book taking a neurocognitive approach to the psychology of art and aesthetics.

1/2/2008   Conference on Religion and Cognitive Science, Jan 16-18
Hosted by The Graduate Theological Union and the Cognitive Science Program at UC Berkeley

11/26/2007   George Lakoff to receive inaugural Giulio Preti Prize
The Regional Council of Tuscany honors Lakoff's contributions in the study of Science and Democracy.

6/14/2007   Exploring Beauty
Steve Palmer discusses the science of aesthetics in a presentation at Google.

6/12/2007   Updated web materials for Jerry Feldman's book, 'From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language'.
Check out recent Updates, Teaching Tips, and a Readers' Roadmap- a remarkable graphical guide to each chapter produced by John Torous, a recent student in CogSci 110 at Berkeley.

7/2/2006   Looking back into the future.
Eve Sweetser's cross-cultural research on how we speak about time.

1/20/2006   How do People Make Predictions?
New ICBS Member Tom Griffiths puts Bayes rule to the test

12/28/2005   Linguistic Modulation of Color Perception Differs for the Left and Right Cerebral Hemispheres.
ICBS members Kay and Ivry use neuropsychological methods to revisit the Whorf hypothesis

3/23/2005   Alva Noe brings the brain and body together in his new book.
Conversation with Alva Noe on the just published, "Action in Perception"

1/12/2005   LEONARDO review of recent Synesthesia Conference co-hosted by ICBS
Review of the The Fourth Annual National Conference of the American Synesthesia Association, Inc.

1/10/2005   "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?"
ICBS member Alison Gopnik and other scientists consider unsolvable problems

6/14/2004   George Lakoff of Linguistics and ICBS on the Language of Politics
UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics.