25th Annual Workshop, Genoa, 2-4 July 2008

Abstracts of papers to be presented in alphabetical order on the surname of the first author. The email adresses have been editted to reduce the risk of address-harvesting by spam-engines. Names of persons expected to be present are in italics.

Abstracts of papers to be presented in alphabetical order on the surname of the first author. The email adresses have been editted to reduce the risk of address-harvesting by spam-engines. Names of persons expected to be present are in italics.

Robin Allott, Seaford, England

The Evolution/Machine: Reconsidering La Mettrie’s l’Lomme-machine

  La Mettrie was born in Brittany, in the town of Saint-Malo. After studying medicine at Paris and Rheims, he worked under Hermann Boerhaave at Leiden. In 1745, he published his first work, Histoire naturelle De l'ame. Public outcry over his materialism led to La Mettrie's self-exile to Holland. There, in 1748, he published L'homme machine, an extension of Descartes' automata concept from animals to man. The book was publicly burned and La Mettrie was forced to seek protection from Frederick the Great at Berlin, until his death in 1751.  The following (condensed freely from the English translation) gives some idea of  the argument in L’Homme Machine:  “ Let us conclude boldly that man is a machine. The human body is a watch, a large watch constructed with such skill and ingenuity. To be a machine, to feel, to think, to know how to distinguish good from bad, as well as blue from yellow, in a word, to be born with an intelligence and a sure moral instinct, and to be but an animal, are therefore characters which are no more contradictory, than to be an ape or a parrot and to be able to give oneself pleasure. In general, the form and the structure of the brains of quadrupeds are almost the same as those of the brain of man; the same shape, the same arrangement everywhere, man the one whose brain is largest, and more convoluted. The transition from animals to man is not violent, The springs of the human machine: All the vital, animal, natural, and automatic motions are carried on by their action. In a purely mechanical way  the eyelids are lowered at the menace of a blow and the pupil contracts in broad daylight to save the retina, the pores of the skin close in winter so that the cold cannot penetrate to the interior of the blood.

  There is little in the detail of what La Mettrie said which nowadays would be disputed. Research in molecular biology and in neuroscience every day is showing how wonderfully the “springs” of human and animal action function.   But the question remains how human kind advanced from shared mechanical animality to  the heights of  achievement which have left other animals far behind. Whether or not we use the word ‘machine’ is unimportant  but how to explain the emergence or the superstructure which humans have erected on the same physical base as the ape, the dog, the drosophila? La Mettrie asked what was man before the invention of words and the knowledge of language? But how was language possible and how could generate society, arts, science and so much else? And how much of our behaviour is still essentially mechanical? How far are we still creatures of the machine? Evolutionary biology has introduced a completely new dimension – which La Mettrie no doubt would have welcomed as demonstrating life also as machine. Can we free ourselves from the body/machine and even from the evolution/machine? In The Descent of Man Darwin explained everything about the descent of man except the central question, why and how did man become man with the astonishing powers and accomplishments that we have seen, in evolutionary terms over a remarkably short period? why did man not remain a rather second-class ape, like his cousins, the gorilla and the chimpanzee? where are the buildings built by gorillas, where is the music, literature or art of the chimpanzee? For the origin of species and the anatomical and physiological sections of the book, Darwin had Huxley's works to draw on - which he did very heavily. For the central problem of humanity, the mental and technological power, he had to rely on his own intuitions, guesses or, flatly, his just so stories which need and lack any verification The ascent of intelligence still awaits an adequate account how humans acquired intelligence? Understanding of the human mind and human consciousness has in fact advanced surprisingly little since La Mettrie’s time.

E-mail: rallott at percepp . demon . uk


Michela Balconi, Guido Mazza, Davide Crivelli, and Edoardo Santucci

Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Milan

Motor Imagery And Action Execution, Some Theoretical And Empirical Considerations On Biological And Non Biological System Inter-Actions

Recent research on motor imagery has underlined the similarity between the neural systems implicated into organizing imagery of action and the action execution itself. In fact, motor imagery is accompanied by changes in the peripheral (autonomic) systems (i.e. heart rate and respiration frequency), as well as in neural networks, marked by EEG modulation, at all analogous to those implicated into the real execution of action. Moreover, primary motor cortex seems to be involved in motor imagery, as shown by recent research with neuroimaging techniques.

Nevertheless, we discarded the idea proposed by some theoretical models that motor imagery functions are nothing also than motor execution with inhibition of the final motor pathways. Evidences in this direction come from clinical neuropsychology: for example, a dissociation between motor execution and motor imagery was found in patients with parietal lesions. These findings raise the question whether the similarity between imagery and execution of action is just superficial, and whether motor imagery is rather a mental simulation of perceptual events, relatively independent from action execution per se.

Adjunctive considerations should be done about a special kind of action, the interpersonal action (inter-action), that is action that includes non only non biological-biological (artefact-subject) but even biological-biological (subject-subject) interactions.

The empirical part of this contribution has explored the neural systems implicated into motor  imagery and motor action into three interaction conditions:

- interaction between two biological systems (bio-bio);

- interaction between a biological system and an artefact biological-similar (bio-art);

-  interaction between one biological system and an object (a cylinder) (bio-obj).

In addition, the three conditions were tested into three action modalities: a real action (arm movement) execution (action), a real action execution after viewing the movement (imitation), a motor imagery of the movement (imagination).

The neural networks implicated into the different interaction conditions and action modalities were analyzed by the event-related potential (ERP) modulation. Twenty subjects were submitted to the experimental procedure, after placing on their scalp an electrocup (32 electrodes). Although significant similarities were found between the experimental conditions in terms of motor area modulation, main differences were also revealed in the cortical areas activated during motor imagery and motor execution. Specifically, the intervention of frontal sites was monitored, in order to check for their contribution  in action regulation.

E-mails: michela.balconi at unicatt . it , Guido.Mazza at unicatt . it

Bernard H. Bichakjian

University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Language Evolution: Stereotypes And Misunderstanding Vs. Considered Judgment

This presentation will first rebut the prevailing contention that linguistic features across time and space are gratuitous variants of one another. It will argue that such a view is partially inspired by political and parochial motives and buttressed with a misunderstanding of the complexity criterion and an improperly assumed correlation between culture and language.

  After these rebuttals, the presentation will turn to the task of demonstrating that linguistic features i.e., speech sounds, grammatical markers, and syntactic strategies, have proceeded along an evolutionary course. A number of major unidirectional shifts will be presented, and it will be argued that these serial changes have been driven by an evolutionary process – one that continuously replaces existing features with ever-more advantageous alternatives, i.e., alternatives that interface with more parsimonious neuromuscular algorithms while being, at least equally, if not distinctly more functional. Reducing the production cost while increasing the productivity is the keystone of all forms of evolution – language evolution is no exception.

E-mail: BHB at Post . Harvard. edu ; webpage:

Roberta Camba and Sergio Morra, Università di Genova, Italia

Theory of Constructive Operators and Catastrophe Theory:

A new look at number conservation

  Continuity versus discontinuity of cognitive development is a long-vexed question that recurrently returns in new forms into the debate. Neo-Piagetian authors have re-framed Piaget’s account of stages in cognitive development and suggested that stage discontinuities or qualitative leaps are an outcome of the (possibly continuous) growth of basic cognitive capacities (e.g., working memory, attentional resources).

  The catastrophe theory (Thom, 1972) is a mathematical theory that deals with sudden transitions; it proposes that discontinuous phenomena (such as the transitions characterized by qualitative changes in psychological development) can be described by particular models in which the sudden discontinuity is an emergent property accounted for by changes in one or more variables, called “control parameters”. One of these models, called the “cusp”, represents one behavioural variable as a function of two control parameters.

  Here we reconsider number conservation in a study that combines neo-Piagetian theoretical concepts and catastrophe-theory models.

  Pascual-Leone (1980, 1989) suggests that performance both in Piagetian tasks and tests of field dependence can be explained in terms of interactions between several psychological constructs: the influence of salient misleading information, the previous learning of appropriate or inappropriate strategies, the efficiency of control processes (in particular inhibitory processes), the ability to keep in mind many pieces of relevant information. This ability is operationalized by means of several tests of M-capacity (i.e., the maximum number of schemes that a subject can activate simultaneously).

  We investigate whether acquisition of number conservation (which involves a solution of the conflict between cognitive and perceptual factors) can be described by a catastrophe model. In particular, we propose a cusp model in which the two control parameters are a cognitive variable (either field independence or M-capacity) and a property of the stimuli (the number of elements in the sets used in the conservation task).

  In three experiments we presented number-conservation tasks, tests of M-capacity and tests of field independence to kindergarteners and first-graders. Training effects were also considered in the third experiment.

  The results support a cusp-catastrophe model of number-conservation acquisition, in which field independence seems to be the most adequate cognitive control parameter and the number of elements in the first item of the conservation task only affects kindergarteners, but not first-graders. In particular, four catastrophe flags (Gilmore, 1980) were clearly detected, and some evidence was also found for two others.

E-mail: morra at nous. unige. it

G.J. Dalenoort, Groningen, The Netherlands

Elements of a neural architecture underlying language

In the language and cognition of people who know more than one language, interesting phenomena can be observed, like interferences between words belonging to different languages, coping with the problem that for a word in one language more than one translation in another language exist, the effortless transition from one language to another. Other problems are that some languages do not have different forms for verbs, only one form of a verb word exists, and it may be a problem to translate the shades of meaning possible in, say English, to a language like Malaysian, where, e.g.,  past tense must be made clear by means of the use of words referring to the past. These, and many other phenomena give rise to hypotheses and speculations on the architecture of the neural systems underlying language. It will be argued that only a multidisciplinary approach at different levels of description, including the construction of working simulation models, can lead to a satisfactory overall understanding of our language system, and in particular, that of multilingual persons.

  Functional models are expressed in terms of such concepts as grammar, lexicon, meaning, context, storing items into, and retrieving items from memory, matching personal pronouns with verbs, and so on. With the advent of the digital computer (1950-2008), functional models became very “popular”, and this has also led to grammars in terms of rewriting rules and other formal systems belonging to theoretical computer science. It is an important question how such hierarchical systems can be transposed (“could be implemented”) into the collective and self-organising systems that make up our brains. There still exist opinions that we have “computer programs” in our heads, where it is obvious that our brain is avery different computer than our desk tops. For example, our brain operates in a massive parallel fashion, whereas parallel computation in digital computers is only pseudo-parallel. Our brain does not have to be programmed, it learns autonomously in an appropriate environment; and these are only two conspicuous differences.

  Some specific aspects of the architecture of neural networks will be dscribed, such as the nature of the memory trace, learning, procedural and declarative knowledge, binding.

E-mail: G.J.Dalenoort at xs4all .nl

Marco Damonte, Università di Genova, Dept. of Philosophy

Aquinas’ Perception Theory in the Light of some Neurological Pathologies

  Aquinas’ theory of knowledge is based on the fact that human cognition is divided into three parts (simplex apprehensio, judgment and reasoning), each of which is divided into different stages. According to Stump, this complex cognitive theory could be confirmed by studies on mental pathologies. Aquinas’ thesis could be corroborated by the fact that cognition can be interrupted at roughly any point in this process. This paper will take perception into consideration.

  Aquinas argues perception requires three stages:

(1) sensory cognition (the role of five external senses and of four internal senses culminate in the sensible proper species (1a) and in the phantasmata - a sort of mental image - (1b) respectively);

(2) intellective cognition (which lies in the intelligible species, namely in a spoken word which enables us to cognize the “quiddity” of an extra-mental thing);

(3) first operation of the intellect (intelligible species informs the potential intellect which gives rise to intellectual intention and which allows the formation of a concept with which we are able to recognize genus and species of the perceived thing).

  The neurological pathologies examined are the following:  Blindsight,  Sensory Agnosia,  Severe Dementia

  A blindsight patient, whose pathology is due to primary vision area lesions, has an integral anatomic ocular structure and thus maintains his ability to localize a sensory stimulus, but only if the output can be given by a manual indication helped by other senses; he has sensible species, but not phantasms: (1a) vs. (1b).

  A patient who has sensory (visual) agnosia can process visual data and have conscious access to that data, but can’t recognize what he perceives through his eyes, because of lesions in the parieto-tempor-occipital regions of the cerebral cortex. This deficit confirms the existence of intelligible species distinguished from intellectual intention: (2) vs. (3).

  Finally, in the case of severe dementia there may be fully functional sensory powers, without the patient’s having any detectable intellective functioning -especially memory-; such a patient may track what he sees without any indication that he understands what is happening around him or any sign that he has an ongoing inner mental life. In such a case he have sensory awareness, but not intelligible species and their corresponding intentions: (1) vs. (2) and (3).

  Stump’s suggestion permits a profound definition of the notion and of the process of perception by the light of Aquinas’ theory and it permits appreciation of the medieval philosopher’s contribution to contemporary debate. Moreover Stump's model can be used with regard to the mind-body problem (in fact it closely relates philosophical distinctions and brain function) and with regard to methodological discussion (contributions of medical science and of philosophy have the same dignity: the former is not limited to giving examples and the latter is not limited to elaborating data, but it plays a fundamental role in the interpretation of data).

References: Farah, M. (1990). Visual agnosia: Disorders of Object Recognition and What They Tell Us About Normal Vision, Bradford Books: MIT Press/ Kenny, A. (1993). Aquinas on Mind, London and New York: Routledge/ Sacks, O. (1985). The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, New York: Summit Books./Stump, E. (2003). Aquinas, London and New York: Routledge.

E-mail: marco.damonte at unige .it

Markus Eronen, University of Osnabrück, Germany

How to Explain the Brain? Reductionism vs. Multilevel Mechanisms

I will compare and critisize two recent approaches to explanation and reduction in neuroscience: John Bickle’s ”ruthless” metascientific reductionism and Carl Craver’s mechanistic explanation. I will also present my own approach, which is a kind of middle way between the two positions.   The main idea of Bickle’s metascientific reductionism is that instead of  imposing philosophical intuitions on what reduction has to be, we should  examine scientific case studies to understand reduction. The reductionist  methodology that thus emerges has two parts: (1) intervene causally into  cellular or molecular pathways, (2) track statistically significant  differences in the behavior of the animals. When this strategy is successful  and a mind-to-molecules linkage has been forged, a reduction has been  established. According to Bickle, the case of LTP (Long Term Potentiation) and memory consolidation is a paradigm example of an accomplished psychoneural reduction, and psychological explanations lose their status as causally-mechanistically explanatory when the cellular and molecular  explanations are complete.

  Craver’s analysis is quite different: he sees LTP as a multilevel mechanism,  He argues that there is no fundamental level of explanation in neuroscience, and that entities of higher levels can and do have causal and explanatory relevance. This is clearly in sharp contrast to Bickle’s view.  Craver builds on Woodward’s recent account of causal explanation, according to which causal explanatory relationships are relationships that are  potentially exploitable for purposes of manipulation and control.

  I believe that Craver and Woodward are right in arguing that higher-level  things can be causally explanatory, even when cellular and molecular  explanations are complete. If we accept Woodward’s model of causal  explanation, we see that Bickle’s claims about higher-level explanations  losing their status as causally/mechanically explanatory are unwarranted.  However, I think it is also crucially important to emphasize the ways in  which lower-level explanations tend to be better than higher-level ones. I  will argue that lower-level generalizations in neuroscience are generally  more invariant than higher-level ones, and thus provide better or deeper  explanations. I will show that also in the case of LTP, the generalizations  at the cellular-electrophysiological and molecular levels are generally more  invariant and thus better than the higher-level generalizations. This leads  to a restricted form of explanatory pluralism, according to which  nonfundamental things can have causal explanatory relevance even when  lower-level explanations are complete, but lower-level generalizations and  explanations tend to be better than higher-level ones.

E-mail: maeronen at uos. de

F. Gasparetti, F., A. Micarelli, G. Sansonetti

Dipartimento di Informatica e Automazione, Università "Roma Tre", Italia

Towards Modeling of Information Needs in Web Browsing Activities

With the exponential growth of the available information on the Web, current search tools, even if based on sophisticated indexing and retrieval algorithms, has difficulty meeting efficiency and effectiveness performance demanded by users searching for relevant information.

  Very few attempts have been undertaken to better understand the user behaviour, preferences and needs during Web information seeking tasks. Statistical approaches for user profiling have been proposed in order to recognize information needs during the Web interaction. Nevertheless, a few of them are based on cognitive processes able to effectively predict and comprehend basic human tasks underlying search activities.

  The simulation of the human memory processes in terms of learning and recall by means of short and long-term semantic memory structures provides relevant information useful to adapt the traditional HCI in several important domains, such as filtering, retrieval and recommending systems. We propose a new approach for modeling of Web information needs ground in the well-studied Search of Associative Memory (SAM). A Web search evaluation shows potential benefits of the proposed approach in real scenarios.

E-mail: gsansone at dia.uniroma3 .it

Alberto Greco, Claudio Caneva, University of Genoa

Motor representation: a new path to meaning

The concept of representation, still central in cognitive science, has been enriched in the last years with the idea of nonsymbolic representations, which is now commonly accepted. Among nonsymbolic representations, motor representation has acquired a special importance because action is fundamental in thinking and language, and also because this field had been neglected by cognitivist approaches and only recently, with embodied cognition approaches, has been taken into account. Furthermore, it has a very multidisciplinary interest as long as all cognitive sciences are concerned with it.

In this paper, we first attempt to provide a taxonomy of motor representations, considered by level (issue of primitives), by kind (visuomotor, motor, kinesthetic), by function (recall, anticipate, categorize). Then we consider the question of the organisation of this kind of representations and of their association with linguistic labels, related to the issues of primitives and of how they acquire their meaningfulness.

In conclusion, we briefly examine also the results of a series of experiments with human participants and (NN) neural-network simulations, where meaningless verbal labels and nonsense hand movements were arbitrarily associated, in holistic and compositional conditions. Each movement could be executed in three different ways, according to hand position. In the holistic condition, a different word was associated with each movement, irrespective of hand position, whereas in the compositional condition each movement could be defined by a two-word sentence where the first word referred to the movement and the second referred to the hand position.

This paradigm poses difficult problems, since it studies the emergence of compositional meaning in a rather extreme situation; no wonder if in different experiments we had inconsistent results. Nonetheless, it seems that some first conclusions can be drawn. In a recognition task, the availability of a compositional system looks useless; in a naming task, it seems that compositionality may be best exploited only when the syntactic role of elements is firmly grounded and connected to distinguishable features.

E-mail: greco at disa

Miriam Kyselo, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück, Germany

No Action, no Consciousness? Confronting the Enactive Approach to

Consciousness with Neuromedical Cases of Locked-in Syndrome (LiS)

Cognition is not solely about the brain. This is an insight cognitive scientists have recently emphasised repeatedly. Instead of taking the brain as being the locus where reasoning, imagination, evaluation as well as consciousness take place, cognition is regarded as a coupled process between the brain and the body of an agent in its environment. This is an alternative view to classical cognitivism: Enactivism. This approach takes cognition to be enacted, action-oriented and constituted by the dynamical, sensory-motor interactions of the body with the environment.

This paper adopts an enactive perspective on consciousness and discusses its possibly most radical implication: without a body, which enactively engages in sensory-motor activities in the world, there will be no consciousness.

In the first section I will provide an overview of central assumptions of an enactive approach to consciousness as well as a part of its criticism. These theoretical considerations will be followed by a somewhat more practical second part. I will introduce the so-called Locked-in Syndrome (LiS). A patient is called “locked-in” when, either after a stroke, an accident or for example in consequence of a neurological disorder like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) her body is completely paralysed. All voluntary muscles, except for the eyes, cease to function. In the classical state blinking and vertical eye movements are preserved. Unfortunately, in case of ALS, the progress of the disease is degenerative. That is to say that there will be a state, where even the eye movement stops and the patient will be completely locked-in. She cannot speak or move; sometimes not even breathe without artificial respiration. From the outside these patients appear as bodies without any sign of mental life, they appear to be in a vegetative state.

A lot of people would agree that LiS patients are still conscious, that their mind is locked inside of her body. While this assertion seems understandably clear for patients whose eyes are still open, I am less sure about the cases of patients in the final stadium of ALS. Are they conscious? What about coma patients that had been diagnosed with being in a vegetative state, with no conscious activity – how do we know we are not mistaken? I assume the most radical hypothesis of enactive consciousness to be that a patient, not communicating and being completely locked-in, will loose her consciousness because the constitutive coupling of brain, body and environment has been “interrupted”. In the third section of the paper I will discuss this hypothesis and arguments from and against the enactive approach to consciousnes.

I wish to show that Locked-in syndrome and related neuromedical states cases raise serious questions to where the limits of an enactive approach to consciousness are, and they invite to spelling out what the sensory-motor interaction constraint really is about.

E-mail: miriam.kyselo at googlemail .com

Manuela Mariani, Laura Salmon, Università di Genova, Italia

Toward a Neurolinguistic Theory of Bilingualism: an integration with Translation, Theory and Acquisition of  a Second Language

The critical and theoretical framework on Neurolinguistics of bilingualism presented by Paradis (2004) seems to be a crucial contribution to the development of the research in Translatology. In Paradis’ perspective, nevertheless, even if some connections to the field of the teaching of a second language are proposed, no mention is made of the plain existence of Translation Research. Recent translation theory, and TTP especially (cf. Salmon 2003, 2006, 2007), can yet offer a useful support to the main core of Paradis’ framework and to а deeper understanding of some problems and concepts involved in his main hypotheses: a) the interaction of implicit/explicit competence and the definition of what linguistic competence actually is; b) the relationship among declarative memory, implicit procedures and pragmatic competence; c) the concept of “translation equivalence”; d) the role of the right hemisphere and the corpus callosum in learning and acquisition of a second language.

E-mail: salmon at unige .it

Rita Mascialino, Udine, Italia

The meaning of language viewed in the perspective of dynamic spatiality

The meaning of language can be viewed in the perspective of the concept of “dynamic spatiality”; this concept can be considered to be an original form of the adaptation of living beings to life. It therefore allows the interpretation of the way concepts, feelings, and emotions take shape and develop. The main goal of this study is to show: a.) that the surface level of language communication provides a platform for a general as well as an approximate understanding of meaning; b.) that at a deeper level more complex aspects of meaning can be seen; c.) that the reconstruction of “dynamic spatialiy” underlying language proves to be an objective way to describe meaning also at an unconscious level; d.) that the analysis and interpretation of literary texts, as well as their interlinguistic translation, can obtain a higher degree of objectivity than otherwise. Additional keywords specific to the subject of this study are:: “endospatial scheme”, “exospatial scheme”, “endoplot” and “exoplot”, which belong to the evolutionary spatial method conceived for the investigation of the meaning of language, both as words and as syntax. In order to outline the nature of this spatial method, an analysis and interpretation of “Aphorism 1” by Franz Kafka will be presented, together with some crucial explanations concerning the above-mentioned technical terms.

E-mail: info at meqrima . it

Alexei Medvedev

School of International Studies, Adelaide, University of South Australia

A Linguistic Solution to the Mind-Body Problem

The essay attempts to consolidate sound symbolic studies in linguistics and theory of consciousness in philosophy of mind by formulation of a presumably more adequate amalgamated phonosemantic cognitive theory. First, the focus of the philosophico-linguistic investigation is on the dialectical nature of sound symbolism that is understood here, in a broader sense, as relationships between sound and meaning in human speech that bridges the Cartesian abyss of the ‘Great Divide’ between human thought and the world, the body and the mind. Second, the essay is aimed at a critical exposition of a connectionist vehicle theory of consciousness that was suggested by Gerard O’Brien and Jonathan Opie. The theory promotes vehicle explicit mental representation as the only possible form of phenomenal consciousness in terms of the computational theory of mind as the mainstream of contemporary cognitive science. Third, the author draws the contours of the tentative Rigorously Universal Phonosemantic Hypothesis (RUPH [ru:f]) on naming following Wittgenstein’s idea that there is “no special access to the referents other than that linguistic access which for some reason we are not satisfied with”. The connectionist vehicle theory of consciousness claims that “states of consciousness are identical with states individuated by their intrinsic properties, rather than by their functional context”; that diverse neurally realized parallel distributed processing (PDP) networks as a more adequate model capture better “the complexity of the phenomenal world”; that only “stable” PDP states represent states of consciousness. The tentative Rigorously Universal Phonosemantic Hypothesis (RUPH) suggests the main principles of naming that should be rigorously universal, that is, applicable to any language, and valid in as many languages as possible. It is thus supposed that human speech as a sequence of utterances has appeared earlier than words which were initially built ad hoc by agglutination of meaningful phonosemes  a concept of phones as bearers of intrinsic meaning  with their further fossilization and complete loss of the primordial reference.

  Similar to the vehicle theory of consciousness, RUPH also suggests a “simple, yet bold empirical hypothesis, with testable consequences”, which holds that meaning as “phenomenal experience is to be explained, not [only] in terms of what explicit mental representations do [‘process’ notion], but [either] in terms of what they are [‘vehicle’ notion of phonosemes with intrinsic traits]”. RUPH appears a robust vehicle [as ‘medium’] theory “to explore the central paradigm of ‘stable states in a sea of unconscious causal [lingual] activity’” due to that “[t]he simpler the notion of representation, the stronger the link to the environment”. The RUPH produces strong plausible materialistic assumptions which overlap presumably or, at least, narrow the ‘explanatory gap’ between the material correlate of the brain and the phenomenal world of consciousness. The notion of phonosemes takes a particular place within the ‘totality of phenomenal experience’ and the ‘continuum of degrees of abstractness’ as transition from the unconscious to the conscious in language, from the material to the ideal, from the concrete to the abstract.

E-mail: meday001 at students.unisa. edu. au

Paolo Odoardi

Dep. of Semiotics, University of Bologna.

Text, cognition and memory:

What Semiotics can say about remembering a movie

Memory is one of the most fascinating and challenging issues in contemporary studies of cognition. The topic of memory is broad; the specific focus of this paper is to consider how humans cognize and memorize information and meanings that are not directly experienced, but received through languages. In communication people share cognitive contents. Texts are with no doubt one of the most powerful artifacts used to exchange knowledge and feelings. The term “text” in Semiotics identifies any complex gathering of signs, such as a book, a musical piece, a TV show, a painting or a movie. On one side, Semiotics (the science of signs and language) has developed several conceptual tools to analyze how texts work. On the other side, in the field of cognitive studies, there have been many discoveries regarding memory mechanisms. The major intent of the present research is to establish a productive alignment between the semiotic "theory of text" and the "theory of memory" outlined in Cognitive Science. The theoretical framework in which this research is set is an active interdisciplinary dialogue between these two fields of research.

The attempt to study how human subjects remember and/or misremember a text has been developed through an experimental setting. The experiment uses the method contrived by experimental psychology in memory research. It traditionally consist of two steps: the acquisition of memory and the process of recall or retrieval. Movies have been chosen as a specific case study because in Semiotics they are considered ‘cinematographic texts’. The experiment involved about forty subjects. After an initial screening of a full-length feature movie, the participants were interviewed twice according to a pre-established set of questions. The first interview was held immediately after the screening and the subsequent, follow-up interview, three months from screening. This procedure was repeated with different movies to produce comparative results. The outcome of the experiment is a corpus of data gained through the qualitative method of interviewing.

The data serve as the starting point for the analysis. This paper will present some of the results the  research is now developing. Several questions arise from this study. Is it possible to identify trends in the processes of recalling the movies? Are some elements better remembered than others? Is it possible to classify, from a semiotic point of view, the elements remembered as a specific part or structure of the text? How do the cognitive mechanisms of memory influence the construction of meaning and its remembrance? Do different movies produce different processes of recall? What is the role of emotion? What is the role of narrative? What can these data tell us about the functioning of memory? On the other side, can these data give us guidelines to create texts to be remembered and texts to be forgotten? Can we think of a theory of text in term of memorability? This paper will go through some of the data collected attempting to address these questions and to outline some answers. The interviews show several analogies and differences in the assessment of the movies. These trends allow us to sketch several hypotheses that are experimentally found. They can give us a better scientific understanding of text memorization.


Bartlett, F.Charles 1932 Remembering: An Experimental and Social Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eco, Umberto 1976. A theory of semiotics.Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Larsen, Steen F. 1988. Remembering without experiencing: Memory for reported events. In Neisser, Ulrich and Winograd, Eugene, Remembering reconsidered: ecological and traditional approaches to the study of memory. 326-355. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pethes, Nicolas and Ruchatz, Jens 2001. Gedächtnis und Erinnerung. Ein interdisziplinäres Lexikon. Reinbek: Rowohlt.

Sowa, John F. 2000. Knowledge Representation: Logical, Philosophical, and Computational Foundations. Pacific Grove: Brooks Cole Publishing.

E-mail: paolo. odoardi at gmail. com

Martin Peniak and Angelo Cangelosi, Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition Research Group, School of Computing, Communications, and Electronics, Univ. of Plymouth,

Autonomous Robot Exploration of Unknown Terrain: A Preliminary Model of Mars Rover Robot

Much work in the field of autonomous mobile robotics has been done, for example through evolutionary robotics. Such studies are often based on a simple robot, such as Khepera, and have been tested for navigation and obstacle avoidance in plain terrains. Approaches based on evolutionary robotics have both a scientific aim to model cognition in natural and artificial systems, as well as for the design of autonomous robots (Nolfi & Floreano 2002). One potential area of application of autonomous mobile robotics is in the field of interplanetary exploration. For example, the Rovers Spirit and Opportunity robots currently exploring Martian surface are capable of autonomous navigation with hazard avoidance utilising stereo cameras. However, there is no other way for the rover to avoid obstacles in case of the cameras failure. Navigation based on infrared sensors could be used as a possible back-up solution in case of such failure.

We present a new simulation model of the Rover Mars robot based on infrared sensors. This work has the objective to investigate the possibility of using an alternative (back-up) obstacle avoidance system for future rovers capable of performing autonomous tasks in challenging planetary terrain environments. The 3D simulation model of the robot and of Mars terrain is based on the physics engine Open Dynamics Engine. The robot model has forty sensors attached at three different height levels to allow detection of small and high obstacles as well as steep slopes and holes that are over 30cm. The robot control system consists of an artificial neural network trained using evolutionary computation techniques. The model has been tested in various terrain configuration and variable sensor configuration. Simulations results show that the robot is able to learn to avoid rocks, holes and steep slopes purely based on the infrared sensory inputs. As the controller is based on a neural network, this allows it to have good performance even in presence of increased noise.

This evolutionary robotics model of autonomous navigation also has relevance for the study of cognitive systems, such as spatial cognition. Analyses of the robot’s behaviour and neural network will show the strategies used by the robot to explore environment and use spatial navigation strategies.

Nolfi S. & Floreano D. (2002). Synthesis of autonomous robots through artificial evolution, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, (6) 1: 31-37.

E-mail: mpeniak at .uk, acangelosi at plymouth.

Ilaria Serafini

Institute for Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrueck, Germany

Is a phenomenal account of consciousness possible?

During the last fifty years different approaches have tried to explain or describe the consciousness. Examples include the philosophical discussion about the brain-mind problem, and the biological trend proposed by the neurosciences that reduces the analysis of consciousness to the activity of the central nervous system. The goal of my paper is to find out the possibility to interpret consciousness as something that happens, which means to conceive it  as having a “factual-biological” component. In my view, the enactive approach proposed by the philosopher Alva Noë would be a good starting point from which to move towards the description of an eventual biological interpretation of consciousness.

  Consciousness is intended by Noë as perceptual consciousness, which qualifies consciousness as a physical and phenomenal event which requires to be “acted” by the animal. Perceptual consciousness is not a metaphysical or qualitative property that emerges in the human being, but it can be intended as the way in which the active perceiver enacts the content of perceptual experiences, “he works it out”. This connection between perceptual experiences and consciousness seems to be a valid suggestion to consider in order to structure a biological approach to consciousness. Indeed the decisive contribution of giving a phenomenal account about consciousness implies to conceive the animal as having an active and decisive role in the perceptual consciousness. The enactive view also tries to “embed” the consciousness into the environment, because the perceptual consciousness is a physical event that requires an active role of the animal, which is conceived by the enactive approach as the integration between nervous central system, sensorimotor skill and the environment around. This means to conceive perceptual consciousness as a phenomenon dependent on the way in which the animal “affords” all the context around by possessing and exercising the sensorimotor skills with which the animal’s body is equipped.

  The constitutive idea behind the enactive approach towards perceptual consciousness is that perceiving is a way of acting. Perception is not something that happens inside us and that gains a subjective dimension, and neither a phenomenon that just happens to the animal conceived passively under the effects of the natural events. To perceive, the enactive approach claims, is something that we do. The possession and the exercise of sensorimotor skills and knowledge are the indispensable conditions for perception. What Noë calls sensorimotor knowledge is (implicit) knowledge about the effects of movement on sensory stimulation.

  A characteristic aspect of the approach of Noë is a kind of “holism” regarding human perception, which is conceived as the integration of bodily skills, nervous system and environment.

Such a view fits well with the multidisciplinary approach to human cognition that is characteristic of cognitive science.

  The enactive approach seems to be a stronger alternative to the traditional view about consciousness proposed by philosophy of mind. Consciousness is not meant as an inner subjective phenomenon, but as something that can be realized through the activity of the animal in the environment.

E-mail: Iserafin at uos. de


Christian Stary

Department of Business Information Systems – Communications Engineering,

Competence Center Knowledge Management, University of Linz, Austria

Educational Knowledge-Transfer Support in e-Learning Environments

Qualifying teachers for novel education and class-room development requires novel structures and settings in blended learning environments. On one hand, e-learning systems have to be enriched with constructivist elements. On the other hand, face-to-face meetings need to allow (hands-on-)experience based on physical and intellectual design cases. The presentation will report on a novel course on reformist education and knowledge management designed for elementary school teachers from an European region. In blended learning scenarios not only concepts developed by Freinet, Montessori, and others are discussed, but also concrete inputs for classroom and transfer design are elaborated.

  From the content perspective the coaches of that course have implemented didactic markups. They allow the students (in that case teachers) to filter, select and navigate certain types of knowledge (examples, explanation a.t.l.). From the interaction perspective in the virtual setting reformist structures, such as the Dalton plan, have been implemented, linking content elements directly to communication entries for student collaboration. In the classroom setting reformist material, such as Nikitin cubes, has been provided for student empowerment. This material allows educational, e.g., in geometry, and design experience, e.g., developing a Freinet classroom design.

  After one year running the course some qualitative data gathered from the coaches and the students can be reflected for further work. Of particular interest is the effect of reformist design and material, and constructivist e-learning on the transfer.

E-mail: Christian.Stary at ce.uni-linz .ac .at

Vadim Tikhanoff ¹, Angelo Cangelosi ¹, Giorgio Metta ²

¹ University of Plymouth, UK, ² Italian Institute of Technology

Emergence of Communication in Autonomous Robots

  In this paper we present a brief overview of research on language learning in cognitive robotics. The research aim is focused on using novel developmental robotic methodologies to study language acquisition and human robot interaction. It investigates how the language acquired by a robotic agent can be directly grounded in perceptual and action representations. The main hypothesis is that such a grounding approach will permit a more efficient development of language capabilities in robots. The development and application of sensor-grounded language systems leads the way to a new kind of cognitive model that is able to deal directly (as an infant would) from natural human environments, bypassing the need for manual transcription or coding. These kinds of novel systems are able to approach learning from a human perspective, through dealing with natural sensory data.

  The authors present experiments on the imitative interactions between a humanoid robot and a user. A dynamic system was implemented, in a humanoid robot, based on multiple neural networks models and algorithms aimed at replicating the functionality of the human speech pre-processing (the ear) and the brains ability to classify/recognize speech and action. (“mirror system hypothesis”, Arbib 2002)

  Our model has been trained using a vast amount of data collected from various sources. The data comprises of more than 100 single word utterances from two different speakers (words spoken in isolation), 544 syllable utterances from two different speakers, for determining the ability of the system to distinguish between substantially small differences.

  The data was collected using different sources such as: an “off the shelf” microphone, sound files gathered from various users vocalizing words, syllables and utterances (with and without noise) and directly (real time) from the robot’s “ears”. Preliminary results shows that our system was able to learn and distinguish between the different speech/sounds produced in a substantially small amount of time.

  Ongoing work is based on extending the current system to incorporate visual processing techniques that can support the robot to detect an track an object or categories of objects situated in its environment. Moreover, using visual processing tools will make the robot not only able to accommodate the sound errors that may occur, but also cast aside unnecessary speech or noise signal/frequencies.

E-mail: vadim.tikhanoff at

Konstantin Todorov

Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrueck, Germany

From Structure to Semantics: A Two–Stage Approach to Ontology Mapping

Ontologies in Artificial Intelligence have been introduced to describe the semantics of data in order to provide a uniform framework of understanding between different parties. The main common reference to an ontology definition was provided by Gruber in 1993. He described ontologies as knowledge bodies which bring a formal representation of a shared conceptualization of a domain. A conceptualization in this context is viewed as a base for formal knowledge representation - the objects, concepts and other entities that are assumed to exist in a certain area of interest together with the relationships holding among them.

  Ontologies play an important role in various application fields (e.g. Knowledge Management, Natural Language Processing and other). However, after introducing the Semantic Web they have been paid much more attention to, as being one of its central elements.

  The main goal of the Semantic Web is to provide web resources understandable by both humans and machines. Yet in similar open and evolving systems with decentralized nature, it is unlikely to expect that different parties would adopt the same ontologies. The problem of ontology mapping evolves from the need to reconcile ontologies which cover the same or similar domains of knowledge but use different terminologies, in order to unlock the potential of the Semantic Web and make understanding between different sides (software agents or human users) possible. In a reduced and simplified model of the problem, one is interested in taking two input ontologies, identifying the similarities between their elements (concepts, relations, individuals) and merging their overlapping (or identified as similar) parts.

   In the current paper, we present a combined approach for mapping hierarchical ontologies with instances taken from properly classified text documents with the goal of establishing correspondences between web directories. In contrast to other ontology–*mapping endeavors, we take into account both structural and instance information contained in the input ontologies. In the first stage we introduce a graph representation of hierarchical ontologies and a distance metric on a set of taxonomies. In the second step we describe an instance-based method for deriving similarity assertions for two concepts of two input ontologies using a* set-theoretic approach to concept modeling combined with machine learning techniques (SVMs in our case). The two approaches are put together in one procedure for ontology–*mapping, based on both intentional and extensional similarity measures.

  A basic question of general interest discussed in the paper is whether and to what extent semantic–*similarity information can be extracted out of structural similarity judgments, or: “how is semantics embedded in structure?”.

E-mail: ktodorov at

Mara Vendrame, Ilaria Cutica & Monica Bucciarelli

Center for Cognitive Science and Dep. of Psychology, Univ. of Turin

Co-speech gestures and discourse comprehension: A useful support for oral

deaf people?

A series of experimental studies suggest that co-speech gestures (movements of the arms and hands) enhance listener’s comprehension of a discourse (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2001; McNeill, 1992; McNeil, Alibali & Evans, 2000).

  Cutica and Bucciarelli (2008) assume that deep comprehension of a discourse relies on the construction of a mental model of the states of affairs described (Johnson-Laird, 1983; Kintsch, 1983; 1998). Also, they assume that co-speech gestures facilitate the construction of a complete mental model of the discourse by the listener. Indeed, co-speech gestures convey information in a non-discrete representational format (see Bucciarelli, 2007); as models are non-discrete mental representations (see Hildebrandt, Moratz, Rickheit & Sagerer, 1999; Rickheit & Sicheleschmidt, 1999), co-speech gestures may result in representations that are easily included in the mental representation of discourse. The literature on mental models (Johnson-Laird, 1983; Johnson-Laird & Byrne, 1991) reveals that individuals who have built an articulated model of a given material are more likely to draw correct inferences from the information explicitly contained in that material, compared to individuals who have built a less articulated model. Furthermore, model representations do not generally contain surface information (the linguistic form of sentences, see Johnson-Laird, 1983; Johnson-Laird & Stevenson, 1970; Garnham, Oakhill & Cain, 1998). Consistently, Cutica and Bucciarelli (2008), hypothesize that an articulated mental model of the discourse facilitate the retention of content information and the drawing of correct inferences, at the expense of reducing memory for the surface code. Both predictions were confirmed on hearing individuals; a discourse accompanied by gestures, as compared with a discourse not accompanied by gestures, results in better recollection of conceptual information, in a greater number of discourse-based inference drawn from the information explicit in the discourse, and in a worse retention of the literality of the discourse. 

  In a former study, we investigated the role of co-speech gestures on lip-reading by oral deaf individuals (Vendrame, Cutica & Bucciarelli, 2007). We assumed that in oral-deaf individuals, like in hearing individuals, the gestures accompanying the discourse facilitate the retention of content information and the drawing of correct inferences. Our experimental results confirmed our expectations. Aim of our present investigation is to test, still on an oral deafs population, the prediction that the speaker’s co-speech gestures penalize the retention of the literality of the discourse.

  In our experiment, thirty-six oral deafs (mean age: 34) attended to a video in which an actor uttered a discourse. Half of the participants were assigned to the Gesture condition and half to the No-Gesture condition. In the Gesture condition the discourse was accompanied by gestures in the No-Gesture condition the discourse was not accompanied by gestures. Then, participants were invited to perform a recognition task. The results confirm our prediction: participants in the Gesture condition were poorer than participants in the No-Gesture condition in retaining the surface form of the text.

  We conclude that co-speech gestures are a useful support for oral deaf people, but not in the case in which the goal is also to remember the verbatim of the discourse- and in school as well as in other learning environments this could be the case.


Bucciarelli, M. (2007). How the construction of mental models improves learning. Mind & Society, issue 1, vol. 6, 67-89.

Cutica I., & Bucciarelli, M. (2008). The deep versus the shallow: Effects of co-speech gestures in learning from discourse. In press: Cognitive Science.

Garham, A., Oakhill, J., & Cain, K. (1998). Selective retention of information about the superficial

form of text: ellipses with antecedents in main and subordinate clauses. The Quarterly Experimental Psychology: Section A, 51, 19-39.

Hildebrandt, B., Moratz, R., Rickheit, G. e Sagerer, G. (1999). Cognitive modelling of vision and speech understanding. In G. Rickheit, C. Habel (Eds.). Mental models in discourse processing and reasoning, 213-236. Elsevier: The Netherlands.

Iverson, J.M., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2001). The resilience of gesture in talk: gesture in blind speakers and listeners. Developm. Science, 4, 416-422.

Johnson-Laird, P.N., & Stevenson, R. (1970). Memory for syntax. Nature, 227, 412.

Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1983). Mental Models: Towards a cognitive science of language, and consciousness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Johnson-Laird, P.N., & Byrne, R.M.J. (1991). Deduction. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd, London.

McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McNeill, N.M., Alibali, M.V., & Evans, J.L. (2000). The role of gesture in children’s comprehension of spoken language: now they need them, now they don’t. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24, 131-150.

Rickheit, G., Sichelschmidt, S. (1999). Mental models: some answers, some questions, some suggestions. In G. Rickheit, C. Habel (Eds.), Mental models in discourse processing and reasoning (pp.9-40). Elsevier,  North-Holland.

van Dijk, I.A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

Vendrame, M., Cutica I., & Bucciarelli, M. (2007). Discourse compre-hension by oral deaf individuals: The role of spontaneous gestures accompanying discourse. Proceedings of the XV th Meeting of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (p. 116). Marseille, France.

E-mail: mara .vendrame at unito .it

P.H. de Vries, Dept. of Psychology, Univ. of Groningen, The Netherlands

The control of top-down processes in self-organizing cognitive systems

In a self-organizing cognitive system, knowledge must be represented in a modular way in order for an efficient functioning of the system as well as for further development of its knowledge. This modularity gives rise to two questions. How can high-level modules obtain the control of a cognitive task such that processes in elementary modules are facilitated but do not become dominant in the system. Alternatively it must be possible that control shifts to lower levels when this is needed in a task. This leads to the question of how the top-down functioning of a module must be interrupted such that a process at a lower level does become dominant but does not loose the support of a higher level module. An example of such a cognitive task can be found in the area of letter– and word recognition. High–level modules corresponding to the memory traces for words facilitate the processing of letters at a lower level. Generally we therefore perceive a word as a unit, without being conscious of its individual letters. If necessary, however, we can report properties of these letters such as their identity or position.

  A conceptual network for information processing in the brain will be discussed, which provides answers to these questions. The network is based on principles of self-organization. These principles are used to explain the formation and functioning of memory traces as well as the occurrence of temporary binding. Computer simulations of the network will be discussed as well as some relevant experiments in the domain of letter– and word recognition.

E-mail: vries at rug .nl



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