Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS)

Autumn 2020

Summer 2020

Tuesdays 16:00-17:30


Oct 6

Quantum-like concepts and their possible use(s) in social science
Emmanuel Haven
Memorial University, Canada

Abstract: In this talk we shall attempt to argue why some elements of the formalism of quantum mechanics may find applicability in the social sciences. We discuss specific areas of applications but also point out pitfalls and shortcomings. We also want to present some possible new avenues of research where this new movement of research may be heading towards.



Oct 20

The Synaptomic Theory of Behavior and Brain Disease
Prof Seth Grant

Abstract:This talk will outline a new molecular and synaptic theory of behavior called the “synaptomic theory,” named because it is centered on the synaptome—the complement of synapses in the brain. Synaptomic theory posits that synapses are structures of high molecular complexity and vast diversity that are observable in maps of the brain and that these synaptome maps are fundamental to behavior. Synaptome maps are a means of writing or storing information that can be retrieved by the patterns of activity that stimulate synapses. Synaptome maps have the capacity to store large amounts of information, including multiple representations within the same map. The dynamic properties of synapses allow synaptome maps to store dynamic sequences of representations that could serve to program behavioral sequences. Synaptome maps are genetically programmed and experience-dependent, thereby storing innate and learned behaviors, respectively. Although learning occurs by modification of the synapse proteome, it does not require long-term potentiation (LTP) of synaptic weight or growth of new synapses, and the theory predicts that LTP modulates information recall. The spatial architecture of synaptome maps arise from an underlying molecular hierarchy linking the genome to the supramolecular assembly of proteins into complexes and supercomplexes. This molecular hierarchy can explain how genome evolution results in the behavioral repertoire of the organism. Mutations disrupting this molecular hierarchy change the architecture of synaptome maps, potentially accounting for the behavioral phenotypes associated with neurological and psychiatric disorders.



Oct 27

Self-Understanding in the Information Age: First-Person Cognitive Science, Collective Intelligence, and the Design of Joint Cognitive Systems
Wendell Wallach

Abstract: Two core question have driven reflections about the role or roles (if any) for humans in the Information Age:

a) In what ways are we similar to and in what ways do we truly differ from the artificial entities we will create?

b) What will it mean to be human in a world shaped by emerging technologies that surpass or alter human capabilities?
This transdisciplinary talk will introduce a broad mapping that underscores key distinctions, insights, and research questions. What has been understood to date and by whom? Is first-person cognitive science a misnomer, or a useful discipline? Is self-understanding evolving or have humans become stupider? What forms of self-understanding will be essential to maintain meaningful agency given the use of insights from the cognitive sciences to manipulate behavior for economic and political goals? In what sense is intelligence an individual attribute and in what sense is it collective? How can we design institutions and systems that adaptively and constructively integrate multiple forms of intelligence in decision making and research?
Brief Bio:  Wendell Wallach is a scholar at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, where he chaired Technology and Ethics studies for eleven years. He is also a senior advisor to The Hastings Center and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. His latest book, a primer on emerging technologies, is entitled, A Dangerous Master: How to keep technology from slipping beyond our control.  In addition, he co-authored (with Colin Allen) Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong.  The eight volume Library of Essays on the Ethics of Emerging Technologies (edited by Wallach) was published by Routledge in Winter 2017.  He received the World Technology Award for Ethics in 2014 and for Journalism and Media in 2015, as well as a Fulbright Research Chair at the University of Ottawa in 2015-2016. The World Economic Forum appointed Mr. Wallach co-chair of its Global Future Council on Technology, Values, and Policy for the 2016-2018 term, and he is presently a member of their AI Council. Wendell is the lead organizer for the 1st International Congress for the Governance of AI (ICGAI), which will convene in Prague and has been rescheduled to May 2021.




Nov 3

Replications in Comparative Psychology
Marta Halina

Abstract: In order to assess the status of replication in comparative psychology, it is important to clarify what constitutes a replicated experiment. In this paper, I adopt the Resampling Account of replication recently advanced by the philosopher Edouard Machery. I apply this account to an area of comparative psychology—namely, nonhuman primate theory of mind research. Two key findings emerge from this analysis. First, under the account of replication advanced here, genuine replications are common in comparative psychology. Second, I argue that different types of replications offer different epistemic benefits to researchers. This finding diverges from Machery’s view. Finally, I suggest that community-level change is needed in order to promote a wide range of replications and their associated diversity of epistemic benefits.



Nov 17

Cultural Evolution, Reasoning, and Moral Progress
Dan Kelly

Abstract:In this talk I consider recent discussions of moral progress from the perspective of cultural evolutionary theory. I begin by describing a premise shared by those theorists I am addressing, namely that morality is best construed as an evolved and evolving kind of sociocultural technology, a complex set of adaptations that has norms and normative psychology at its core.

I then divide those theorists into two camps, depending on their view of the contribution that reasoning and intentional human activity make to moral progress. Rationalists see reasoning and human activity aimed at moral progress as playing a central and perhaps indispensable role to bringing it about. I examine several variations on this view and the specific forms of reasoning (e.g. normative reasoning, consistency reasoning) their advocates see as most important, and raise some difficulties for each. Skeptics have doubts that reasoning and human activity aimed at moral progress have the kind of influence that rationalists tout. Such theorists defend their skepticism with a number of related arguments: they are suspicious of claims to the kind of expertise that would be required to guide moral progress, they have more confidence in the wisdom accumulated in tradition than in contemporary human reasoning, or they are deeply dubious that we can understand, let alone effectively control, the relevant sociocultural technology. One way or another, these arguments hold that the systems of interconnected norms and institutions have become too large and complex for us to fathom, and so it is hubristic to think we could engineer their improvement.

I then formulate an argument similar in spirit to these skeptical arguments that emphasizes causal opacity, the idea that the process of cultural evolution often generates packages of traits whose complete workings and even adaptive benefits remain opaque to their human beneficiaries. I argue that rather than supporting the skeptical position, this cultural evolutionary perspective points to a third way between those suggested by either the skeptics or the rationalists. I end with a brief sketch of the program suggested by this third way, highlighting that it recasts the role of reason and reasoners as students and steerers of the process of culture evolution and the myriad mechanisms of change, but also implies that we should bring no small amount of epistemic humility to the task of trying to understand and guide moral progress.



Dec 1

What could cognition be, if not human cognition?
Carrie Figdor

Abstract:How should we characterize and individuate cognitive capacities within an evolutionary framework? I will first show how the Scala Naturae lingers in our thinking about cognition despite its obsolescence, and how this way of thinking obstructs the pursuit of a science of cognition, as opposed to a science of human cognition that is fitfully extended to nonhuman domains. I also explain the very different way evolutionary theory requires us to think about cognition, and what this implies for understanding human uniqueness and comparative cognition.



Dec 8

Seeing and inviting participation in autistic interactions
Hanne De Jeagher
Universtity of the Basque Country

Abstract:What does it take to see how autistic people participate in social interactions? And what does it take to support and invite more participation? Western medicine and cognitive science tend to think of autism mainly in terms of social and communicative deficits. But research shows that autistic people can interact with a skill and sophistication that are hard to see when starting from a deficit idea. Research also shows that not only autistic people, but also their nonautistic interaction partners can have difficulties interacting with each other. To do justice to these findings, we need a different approach to autistic interactions—one that helps everyone see, invite, and support better participation. I introduce such an approach, based on the enactive theory of participatory sense-making and supported by insights from indigenous epistemologies. This approach helps counteract the homogenising tendencies of the “global mental health” movement, which attempts to erase rather than recognise difference, and often precludes respectful engagements. Based in the lived experiences of people in their socio-cultural-material and interactive contexts, I put forward an engaged—even engaging—epistemology for understanding how we interact across difference. From this perspective, we see participatory sense-making at work across the scientific, diagnostic, therapeutic, and everyday interactions of autistic and non-autistic people, and how everyone can invite and support more of it.



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