Defining Thoughts

Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Notion of Thought

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Abstracts

Lawrence W. Barsalou: 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, typically portrays the conceptual system as modular and amodal. According to this view, amodal symbols represent category knowledge in a modular system, separate from the brain’s modal systems for perception, action, and introspection (e.g., affect, mental states). 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. Behavioral and neural evidence is presented showing that modal simulations contribute to the representation of object categories, abstract categories, and to the symbolic operations of predication and conceptual combination. Although simulation plays important roles in the conceptual system, linguistic processes are important as well. Additional behavioral and neural evidence is presented showing that simulation and language contribute to conceptual processing simultaneously. Furthermore, either system can dominate under different task conditions, such that different profiles of conceptual processing emerge.
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Tim Bayne: Thought and the reach of phenomenal consciousness
One way in which to demarcate the domain of thought is by appeal to the notion of phenomenal character. According to this approach that has been implicit in recent philosophy of mind, thoughtish mental states can be distinguished from non-thoughtish mental states by virtue of the fact that non-thoughtish states enjoy phenomenal character (“what it’s likeness”) whereas thoughtish states lack phenomenal character. I argue that this approach to the demarcation of the mental fails on the grounds that paradigmatic thoughts, no less than paradigmatic non-thoughts, possess phenomenal character.
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Jose L. Bermúdez: Thoughts and mindreading
After giving a taxonomy of different types of mindreading, the paper focuses on propositional attitude mindreading. Studying propositional attitude mindreading is a good way of studying how thoughts are represented in everyday social interaction. The paper defends two main claims. The first is that propositional attitude mindreading is far less central to human social interaction and social coordination than philosophers standardly assume. The second is that, because of constraints upon how thoughts can be represented, propositional attitude mindreading is unavailable to (non-human) animals.
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Max Coltheart: Title: Thoughts, beliefs and delusions
The most prominent current theory concerning delusional beliefs is a development of an idea due to Brendan Maher (1971): that delusional beliefs are the product of applying rational reasoning processes to derive explanations of abnormal perceptual experiences. This is a one-factor theory, but it now seems clear that there need be two cognitive abnormalities postulated in any case of delusional belief if this general approach to explaining delusional belief is going to work. The first factor is some abnormality of perceptual or affective processing which now makes some things that happen to the affected person unexpected and unpredictable on the basis of how they currently conceive of the world. Efforts to try to understand what causes these events initially take the form of thoughts about how the world might actually be such that, if the world were like that, these events would be expected to occur. Such thoughts give rise via a process of abductive inference to a new belief about what the world is like: an explanatorily adequate but nevertheless delusional belief. But the belief that arises from these thoughts ought, after a process of belief evaluation, to be rejected, because (a) the belief is typically bizarre ("My wife as been replaced by an impostor" or "I am dead", for example); (b) there is good and available evidence that the belief is false; and (c) the person's family, friends and clinicians all urge that the belief is false. And indeed in some people in whom this first factor is present the thoughts it gives rise to do not result in delusional beliefs. We consider that this is because in such cases a process of belief evaluation can be used to reject these beliefs. But if this process of belief evaluation is also abnormal - that is the second factor in the two-factor theory of delusional belief - the potential belief is not rejected; it is adopted and thus a delusional belief arises.
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Pierre Jacob: Mirroring, imagining and mindreading
My paper is a critique of what I call the tuning-fork model of human social cognition. This model is based on the discovery of mirror neurons (MNs) in the ventral premotor cortex of monkeys; it involves the four following assumptions: (1) mirroring processes are processes of resonance or simulation. (2) They can be motor or non-motor. (3) Processes of motor mirroring (or action-mirroring), exemplified by the activity of MNs, constitute instances of third-person mindreading, whereby an observer represents the agent's intention. (4) Non-motor mirroring processes enable humans to represent others' emotions. After questioning all four assumptions, I point out that MNs in an observer's brain could not synchronically resonate with MNs in an agent's brain unless they discharged in a single brain in two distinct tasks at different times. Finally, I sketch a conceptualist alternative to the resonance model according to which a brain mechanism active in both the execution and the perception of e.g., the act of grasping is the neural basis of the concept of e.g., grasping.
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Martin M. Monti: Logic, Language and the Brain
The interplay between language and thought is pivotal to the study of human cognition (Gordon, 2004; Li and Gleitman, 2002; Pica et al., 2004). One domain in which the relationship of thought and language has been long debated and explored is logic reasoning. Within the fields of philosophy, linguistics and psychology various positions have been defended. At one extreme, it has been proposed that logic and grammatical competences are heavily intertwined, with the two being virtually equivalent. On the other hand, some authors have proposed that language is not sufficient for the understanding and manipulation of logic implications. The recent advance in non-invasive neuroimaging technology allowed this debate to benefit from one additional source of information: the brain. In a series of fMRI experiments I will address two fundamental questions: (i) what are the neural correlates of deductive reasoning? (ii) what is (if any) the role of language in deductive inference? Based on this evidence, I will suggest that logic reasoning is subserved by a distributed network of cortical foci that is disjoined from regions engaged by simple reading and by inferences based on linguistic competence. This latter result provides striking evidence for the idea that this aspect of human thought does not rely on the grammar of natural language. Furthermore, these findings are intriguingly consistent with other neuroimaging and neuropsychology evidence also reporting a remarkable degree of independence between other forms of high-level cognitive functions (e.g. arithmetic, problem-solving, and theory of mind) and language.
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Albert Newen: Thinking and acting in humans and animals
We have to distinguish between thinking in a broad and in a narrow sense. Thinking in a broad sense is already given if a cognitive system is acting on the basis of mental phenomena, i.e. internal information-based processes (of a minimal complexity) that are causally relevant in producing the behavior. Thinking in a narrow sense is relying on concepts. To account for both cases a general framework of different kinds of representations is introduced. We have to distinguish nonconceputal representations, conceptual representations and metarepresentations. While thinking in a broad sense can be realized by nonconceptual representations thinking in a narrow sense involves conceptual representations. It will be shown that humans and some animals share both kinds of thinking. The open question is to what extend metarepresentations are specific for humans: Children being four years old pass the false-belief-test and thereby develop a special social competence. Do we find anything comparable in animals? To what extend is thinking relying on social interaction?
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Hannes Rakoczy: Non-linguistic thought in infants and non-human animals
From the point of view of developmental and comparative psychology, I will explore intermediate grounds in between a stark Davidsonian lingualism (“no language no thought”) on the one hand, and language-of-thought positions on the other hand. Furthermore, I will argue, what we need for describing cognitive development is a dialectical picture that grants cognitive abilities in non- and pre-linguistic creatures, and that stresses specific cognitive foundations for language acquisition in humans, while at the same time recognizing the way speaking shapes and transforms thinking (see Tomasello & Rakoczy, 2003). In the first part, I will review empirical findings with animals and children on non-linguistic cognition in the areas of object permanence and object individuation –arguably the roots of objective thought- and instrumental action and practical reasoning. The picture that emerges here is that infants and other animals, notably primates, share basic cognitive abilities of objective thought and practical rationality. In the second part the focus will be on social cognition. I will review empirical findings suggesting that infants and great apes share some social cognitive abilities in the form of a simple understanding of perception and intentional action. Humans early in ontogeny, however, develop unique abilities of shared intentionality which are a crucial foundation for entering into culture, language, and proto-institutional practices. Participation in a linguistic community, in a dialectical fashion, then enables children to acquire more sophisticated forms of folk psychology, and cognition generally.
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Matthis Synofzik: Are thoughts motor processes?
Recent attempts to naturalize mental phenomena led to a new, seemingly attractive claim: Thoughts are no longer seen as cognitive representations that carry distinct features which distinguish them from other non-thought-related neural processes, but as motor representations that are not systematically different from any other motor processes (motor thesis of thought) or that carry features very analogue to motor processes (quasi-motor thesis of thought). In particular, recent approaches proposed that thoughts might be generated, controlled, and modified in the same way as motor processes by resorting to internal comparator mechanisms (thought comparator model). I will scrutinize the two central functions of the postulated thought comparator: thought generation and authorship of thoughts. By refering to conceptual evidence, neuroscientific data and patient studies I will show that the thought comparator, as it stands now, cannot sufficiently explain either of the two functions. We have to reach beyond simple prima-facie analogies between thoughts and sensorimotor control to achieve a deeper understanding of the nature and function of thoughts.
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Patrizia Thoma: Neurocognitive mechanisms of figurative language processing
The interpretation of proverbs has a long tradition in the assessment of abstract thinking, particularly in schizophrenia. Although the usefulness of proverb interpretation as a diagnostic tool has been questioned over the years, non-literal language nevertheless plays an important role in social interactions. The talk will provide a short overview of evidence from behavioural, lesion and imaging studies shedding light on the neurocognitive mechanisms mediating the comprehension and use of non-literal language. There is accumulating evidence showing that fronto-subcortical networks, which are characterized by pronounced structural and functional changes in the aging brain and in psychiatric disorders, represent the most important neuroanatomical substrate of non-literal language processing. Data from our lab focusing on the development of non-literal language comprehension across the lifespan and in neuropsychiatric disorders will be presented. Furthermore, it will be shown that non-literal language comprehension draws upon other higher-order cognitive processes, like for instance executive control functions, which are also mediated by fronto-subcortical circuitry. These data contribute to our understanding of non-literal language processing as an instance of higher-order abstract thinking processes.
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Kirsten G. Volz: Intuitions or thoughts?
Are intuitions thoughts or based on thoughts? Do intuitions follow from thoughts or are they triggered by thoughts? We assume that intuitions are difficult-to-articulate, affect-laden recognitions or judgments based on prior learning and experience, and are arrived through holistic associations. From an information processing perspective, we suggest that specific situational cues automatically activate, probably by a process of spreading activation, a mnemonic network, which integrates the entire stream of prior experiences that are all critically related to the crucial event. This mnemonic network is also denoted as a chunk. Due to the associative pre-activation, the chunk as a whole is processed more fluently than expected, presumably because the chunks’ constituents mutually facilitate their processing. This fluency is assumed to impinge on the current affective state in a positive way. Subsequently, the fluency-triggered affect may be used in explicit judgments. Importantly, it is not the fluency per se, but the affective derivates of processing fluency that can enter awareness and may serve as a basis for deliberative judgments. Accordingly, we would argue that intuitions cannot be characterized as thoughts and hence our framework may serve as a negative definition of thoughts.
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Gottfried Vosgerau: The place of thoughts within the mind
The notion of thought is used all over in different disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, neurosciences, linguistics, etc. Still, we do not seem to have a very clear notion. Indeed, up to now, no systematic theory of thoughts that takes into account the needs and views of the different disciplines has been formulated. Instead, in the recent years, motor-theories have been developed that are claimed to explain thoughts although it is still not clear what is to be explained at all. In this talk, I will present a systematic discussion of the relation of thoughts to other mental entities such as propositional attitudes, intentions, percepts, etc. In this way, I will try to "localize" thoughts within the mind relative to other mental phenomena. This discussion will also reveal some central features of thoughts and thus lead to desiderata for any theory of thoughts which will considerably frame the search for an interdiciplinarily usable notion of thought.
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