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Foundations & Frontiers

The Foundations & Frontiers Speaker Series brings leading cognitive scientists to U-M (virtually) to present a special pair of presentations on the same day. The first presentation serves as an introduction to an important theoretical idea or method in the field -- the Foundations. The second presentation concerns the application of that idea or method to an innovative topic, thus exploring the Frontiers of the field in a way that highlights the significance of the theoretical idea.

Recent Events

Dr. Sydney Levine

Dr. Sydney Levine
Friday, March 5, 2021

Dr. Sydney Levine is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT and the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Dr. Levine will present "Universalization: philosophical origins and cognitive applications," beginning at 3 pm on March 5.


3:00 pm - 3:30 pm      Foundations Presentation 
3:30 pm - 3:45 pm      Q & A
—5 minute break—
3:50 pm - 4:40 pm      Frontiers Presentation 
4:40 pm - 5:05 pm      Q & A

Presentation Abstract

Some people think it is immoral not to vote, but why?  Current theories of moral psychology — based largely on outcomes, rules, or affect — have trouble explaining this intuition.  After all, one vote typically makes no difference in the overall outcome of an election.  Moreover, there is not necessarily a rule or norm that mandates voting.  And the thought of not voting isn’t particularly emotionally charged.  Rather, I propose that moral judgments in cases like this arise out of the logic of universalization — essentially the process of asking “what if everyone did that?”  

The logic of universalization is well-known to moral philosophers, appearing in the theories of Kant, RM Hare, George Singer, TM Scanlon and others.  In the Foundations section of this talk, I will introduce the concept of universalization and explore how and why it has been used so effectively in moral philosophy.  In the Frontiers section of the talk, I will demonstrate how I have used this philosophical concept as a starting place for a model of moral cognition.  I will define a computational model of universalization and show how it predicts subject judgments with quantitative precision.  In addition, developmental work suggests that universalization may even be used by children as young as 4.  Finally, I will end by showing how universalization may be the key to a unified theory of moral cognition.

Presentation Video


Dr. Frederike Petzschner
October 30, 2020

Dr. Frederike Petzschner is a Carney Institute Fellow in the Center for Computational Brain Science and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University. 

Presentation Abstract

Dr. Petzschner gave two presentations on October 30, each followed by a Q&A session.

"A Brief History of Computation" (Foundations Presentation)
Our notion of what the capabilities and function of the brain and mind are has evolved fundamentally in the past century. As a result, we have moved from early Psychophysics to Behaviorism to the Cognitive Revolution, when theories of computation entered the forefront of modern Cognitive Science. This history and the fundamental questions posed at different times provide a great deal of insight into our modern thinking and paves the way where the field might take us in the future. In this lecture, I will try to provide a short guide through the history of computation and discuss what could be learned from it.

"Computational Approaches for Mental Health" (Frontiers Presentation)
The growing field of Computational Psychiatry provides a prime example of how theories of computation may provide not only insights into the function of healthy minds but also mental disorders. In this lecture, I will discuss three examples of where we apply computational methods to understand learning, perception or decision-making in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Gambling Addiction and Disorders of Interoception.

Presentation Video

For more information about the Foundations & Frontiers Speaker Series, please contact