Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS)

Autumn term 2010

  • Weeks 1 & 2 (Oct 5th, 12th) - No Meeting
  • Week 3 (Oct 19th) - Claire Petitmengin (Institut Télécom and École Polytechnique/CNRS, Paris): Let's trust the subject
  • Week 4 (Oct 26th) - Jamie Ward (University of Sussex): Synaesthesia as a disturbance of memory and perception
  • Week 5 (Nov 2nd) - Giovanna Colombetti (Exeter): Ideas  for an affective neuro-physio-phenomenology
  • Week 6 (Nov 9th) - Robert Pepperell (Cardiff School of Art & Design): Art, Perception and Consciousness
  • Week 7 (Nov 16th) - Jackie Cassell (BSMS), Lesley Axelrod (Informatics), Amanda Nicholson (BSMS): Electronic Patient Records as a Representation of the Health Service - Opportunities and Challenges
  • Week 8 (Nov 23rd) - Steve Furber (Manchester): Biologically-Inspired Massively-Parallel Architectures - computing beyond a million processors
  • Week 9 (Nov 30th) - Alison Pease (Edinburgh):  The role of axiomatisation in mathematical discovery
  • Week 10 (Dec 7th) - Shaun Gallagher (U Central Florida, U Herts): Enactive Intentionality

Week 3

Date: 19 October 2010
Speaker: Dr Claire Petitmengin (Institut Télécom (Télécom École de Management) and Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliquée (École Polytechnique / CNRS), Paris.)

Speaker Bio

Claire Petitmengin is a senior lecturer at the Institut Télécom and member of the CREA (Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie Appliquée, École Polytechnique/CNRS) in Paris. Since her doctoral thesis under the direction of Francisco Varela, her research has focused on pre-reflective lived experience, the methods enabling us to become aware of it, describe it, and detect experiential generic structures. Her research evaluates the reliability of these methods, and their educational and therapeutic applications. She is also interested in the process of mutual guidance and refinement of first person and third person analyses in the context of 'neuro-phenomenological' projects.  She was the editor of a recent three-volume landmark special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, bringing together a host of research papers on techniques for eliciting first-person lived experience; and she is now editing a follow-up issue of responses, due out in a few months.

Abstract: Let's trust the subject

How to validate first person reports? How can we ensure that the description of a past experience is not a falsified reconstruction? How to calibrate interview methods? How to measure the level of expertise of an interviewer or interviewee? Should we look for objective criteria, based on third person measures? Or should we identify criteria which are internal to the reports and the description process? Is not the exclusive use of objective criteria based on a naive conception of scientific validity? What experiments should we design to demonstrate the inevitability of first-person methods for a science of consciousness?
These issues will be discussed in the light of the debate currently taking place for preparing a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies devoted to comments and responses to the volume "Ten Years of Viewing from Within" (to be published in February 2011).

Hurlburt, R. T. (2009), "Iteratively apprehending pristine experience", In: Petitmengin, C. (ed.) (2009), pp. 156-189
Petitmengin, C. (ed.) (2009), Ten Years of Viewing from Within: The Legacy of Francisco Varela, Imprint Academic, Exeter, UK; also published as a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16(10-12), pp. 1-404
Petitmengin, C. & Bitbol, M. (2009), "The validity of first-person descriptions as authenticity and coherence", In: Petitmengin, C. (ed.) (2009), pp. 363-404

Week 4

Date: October 26th
Speaker: Dr Jamie Ward (University of Sussex)

Synaesthesia as a disturbance of memory and perception

Is synaesthesia a memory phenomenon or a perceptual phenomenon either in terms of its nature or underlying causes?  This question presupposes that memory and perception are different kinds.  However, some recent neurobiological models argue for a perception-memory continua along the visual ventral stream.  This kind of model may help to explain the puzzling nature of synaesthesia, and its potential causes.  People with the developmental form of synaesthesia report hyper-sensitivity in various perceptual domains but, curiously, acquired synaesthesia is linked to the opposite profile of hypo-sensitivity of perception.   These basic differences in perception may promote the formation of synaesthetic associations but they also have consequences for memory.  Synaesthetes have better performance on some tests of memory, but by no means all, and nor can their performance be attributed to their synaesthesia per se.  An alternative hypothesis is that their memory performance is a result of changes in perceptual processing, rather than a direct outcome of having synaesthesia.

Week 5

Date: November 2nd
Speaker: Dr Giovanna Colombetti

Speaker Bio

Dr. Giovanna Colombetti is particularly interested in the nature of emotion and the implications of the embodied-enactive approach for our understanding of various aspects of emotion, such as its relation to cognition and to the body, and the nature of emotion experience. She is currently working on a book provisionally titled The Feeling Body: Emoting the Embodied Mind. 

Ideas for an affective neuro-physio-phenomenology

The neuroscientific study of emotion experience has been neglected compared to other aspects of consciousness. Affective neuroscience is still largely dominated by a behaviouristic paradigm that focuses on the link between emotional stimuli, and neural, bodily and/or behavioural responses. To rectify this situation, I propose to augment affective neuroscience with the neurophenomenological method originally delineated by Varela (1996) to combine first-, second- and third-person methods in the study of consciousness. I argue that this integration will enrich affective neuroscience as well as neurophenomenology itself, given that the latter has not yet been applied to emotion experience, and has focused exclusively on the brain in spite of its association with the "enactive" view of the mind. Integrating neurophenomenology with affective neuroscience will extend the neurophenomenological method to the rest of the organism (hence the proposed label "affective neuro-physio-phenomenology"), enabling us better to understand how lived experience relates to physical processes.

Week 6

Date: Nov 9th
Speaker: Prof Robert Pepperell (Cardiff School of Art & Design)

Speaker Bio

Robert Pepperell PhD is Professor of Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art and Design. He studied at the Slade School of Art. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s he exhibited numerous innovative electronic works, including at Ars Electronica, the Barbican Gallery, Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, the ICA, and the Millennium Dome. He has also published several books, including The Posthuman Condition (1995 and 2003) and The Postdigital Membrane (with Michael Punt, 2000), as well as many articles, reviews and papers. He is currently researching the nature of perceptual consciousness through art, science and philosophy.

Abstract: Art, Perception and Consciousness

What can the study of art reveal about the nature of perception, cognition, and human consciousness? In the first part of this presentation I will talk about various art works, including a number of my own. I will discuss the perceptual and cognitive issues surrounding them and the empirical work I've done with neuroscientists and psychophysicists studying audience responses to them. In the second part I will raise about a number of philosophical issues relating to mind and consciousness that, I believe, the study of art can help us address.

Week 7

Date: Nov 16th
Speaker: Professor Jackie Cassell (BSMS), Dr Lesley Axelrod (Informatics), Dr Amanda Nicholson (BSMS) on behalf of the Patient Records Ergonmics Project.

Speaker Details

Jackie Cassell was a philosophy graduate of the University of Sussex, and is now professor of primary care epidemiology at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and a clinician in sexual health and public health.  Her research focuses on two areas - epidemiology and health services research in relation to sexually transmitted infections, and on the development of epidemiological methods to use large primary care databases for public health benefit.  She is Principal Investigator of PREP (Patient Records Enhancement Project).

PREP is a large study funded by the Wellcome Trust which spans BSMS and the School of Informatics, University of Brighton, UCL and the General Practice Research Database.  Dr Lesley Axelrod (Human Computer Interaction) and Dr Amanda Nicholson (Epidemiology) work on PREP.   Other local PREP investigators are Dr Rosemary Tate (BSMS, previously of Informatics), Professors John Carroll and Donia Scott (Informatics), Dr Des Watson and Dr Rob Koeling (Informatics), Ms Aishath Ali (BSMS), as well as Professors Helen Smith and Kevin Davies of BSMS.

Electronic Patient Records as a Representation of the Health Service - Opportunities and Challenges

Over the past two decades, general practitioners in the UK have come to base their clinical practice on highly usable and reliable computer systems, and are now almost completely paperless.  With this switch to digital records has come an avalanche of health related information, and large scale data warehouses of anonymised data.  These real-time health records provide opportunities to study epidemiology, patient care and indeed the health system itself, and they are increasingly used for public health research, adverse drug reaction surveillance and pharmaceutical industry research.

But can we believe what we see?  Health research using these records has to date been dissociated from the context of data production, and we have a poor understanding of what factors affect the content and the structure of data available for research.

The PREP project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is a large interdisciplinary study which aims to enhance the availability and richness of electronic patient records for health research.  We are exploring ways in which health care events are represented, concealed or "mis-represented" in the data.  Our methods include user studies in the field, natural language processing and epidemiological/statistical analysis.  A further crucial dimension of the work is a visualization tool, which will help researchers interrogate these complex data which can be intractable for researchers who have domain knowledge but lack data management skills.

We will give an overview of the PREP project, and demonstrate the epistemological challenges of representing and analysing these data, though our field studies and statistical analyses of rheumatoid arthritis.

Week 8

Date: Nov 23rd
Speaker: Prof Stephen Furber, University of Manchester

Speaker Bio

Steve Furber is the ICL Professor of Computer Engineering in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester. He received his B.A. degree in Mathematics in 1974 and his Ph.D. in Aerodynamics in 1980 from the University of Cambridge. From 1981 to 1990 he worked in the hardware development group within the R&D department at Acorn Computers Ltd, and was a principal designer of the BBC Microcomputer and the ARM 32-bit RISC microprocessor. The ARM is now the world's highest-volume 32-bit microprocessor, with total shipments exceeding 20 billion. At Manchester he leads the Advanced Processor Technologies research group with interests in multicore architectures, low-power and asynchronous digital design and neural systems engineering. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the BCS, the IET and the IEEE. His awards include a CBE, a Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal and the IET Faraday Medal, and he was a 2010 Millenium Technology Prize Laureate.

Abstract: Biologically-Inspired Massively-Parallel Architectures - Computing Beyond a Million Processors

The SpiNNaker project aims to develop parallel computer systems with more than a million embedded processors. The goal of the project is to support large-scale simulations of systems of spiking neurons in biological real time, an application that is highly parallel but also places very high loads on the communication infrastructure due to the very high connectivity of biological neurons. The design of the machine is very much influenced by the biological application it is intended to support, which has a lot to teach us about how we might build more efficient, fault-tolerant parallel computers in the future.

Week 9

Date: 30th November
Speaker: Dr Alison Pease (Edinburgh)

Speaker Bio

Alison Pease has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and philosophy, and was a teacher in high schools and colleges for four years before gaining her MSc and PhD in AI at the University of Edinburgh. Her main interest is in considering theories of how mathematics develops, and how people are able to reason mathematically. When possible she tries to give computational representations of such theories, as a means of understanding, testing and extending them.

The role of axiomatisation in mathematical discovery

Dirk Schlimm has argued that the role of axiomatisation in mathematical discovery and the evolution of contemporary mathematics has been undervalued in philosophy of science and mathematics. We describe some examples of mathematical invention that illustrate evolution of axiomatisations in historical case studies, and argue that heuristics suggested by Lakatos in his rational reconstructions and Boden in her work on creativity can be used to describe some axiomatic development in mathematics. We further illustrate this with a simple computational representation of some of these heuristics in a system based on Colton's HR program. This can take in a set of axioms in group theory, construct a theory from the axioms and evaluate the theory based on quality and difficulty, and then modify its axiom set by dropping, negating, or adding new axioms.

Week 10

Date: Dec 7th
Speaker: Prof Shaun Gallagher (U Central Florida, U Herts)

Enactive Intentionality (based on Gallagher and Miyahara, in press)

Speaker Bio

Shaun Gallagher (http://www.ummoss.org) is Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Sciences at the Institute of Simulation and Training, University of Central Florida. From next Autumn he will take up the Moss Chair of Excellence in Philosophy at the University of Memphis. He is also visiting Research Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Hertfordshire (UK), and Honorary Professor of Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. In Summer 2010 he was Visiting Researcher at CREA: Centre de Recherche en Epistemologie Appliquee, Paris.

He is Editor-in-chief of the journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. In addition to a long list of influential articles, his publications include the books How the Body Shapes the Mind (Oxford University Press 2005), The Phenomenological Mind, with Dan Zahavi (Routledge 2008), and Brainstorming (Imprint Academic 2008).


Both enactive and extended conceptions of cognition suggest that the mind is not "in the head" - but they differ on a number of issues, e.g., the role of functionalist models, embodiment, representations, etc. Some of these issues arise because we have not been able to move away from certain traditional conceptions of the mind. Rather than try to resolve these issues head-on, I propose to argue for a different conception of mind by looking for a concept of intentionality that satisfies both enactive and extended mind models. I examine different views of intentionality, and suggest that a concept of mind consistent with both enactive and extended models is best served by an enactive conception of intentionality.