10th anniversary Marshall M. Weinberg Symposium
The symposium took place virtually via Zoom on Friday, March 25, 2022.
The theme of the 2022 symposium is: The Cognitive Science of Concepts: Contrasting Perspectives Across the Disciplines. Concepts--mental representations that are the constituents of thought and the basis for reasoning--are understood and investigated in different ways across cognitive science's sub-disciplines, for example in developmental psychology, the study of animal cognition, and the study of artificial minds (i.e., AI). The 2022 Weinberg Symposium will present a range of contrasting and potentially complementary perspectives on concepts from leaders in the field in these respective sub-disciplines.
9:50-10:00 am Opening Remarks
Anne Curzan, Dean, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts,
University of Michigan
Susan Gelman, Heinz Werner Distinguished University Professor of Psychology
and Linguistics, University of Michigan
10:00-10:50 am How Concepts Develop: A Case Study on Social Essentialism
Marjorie Rhodes (NYU)
11:00-11:50 am Vaulting the Conceptual Divide, Boots First: How Radical Conceptual Change
Might Be Possible
Michael Strevens (NYU)
12:00-1:20 pm Lunch and small groups with speakers
1:30-2:20 pm Becoming Human: How (and How Early) Do Infants Link Language, Culture
Sandra Waxman (Northwestern)
2:30-3:20 pm How Chimpanzees Understand the World
Michael Tomasello (Duke)
3:30-4:30 pm Panel Discussion
2022 Featured Speakers
Our featured speakers are renowned experts in their respective disciplines, offering diverse perspectives in cognitive science.
Please click on their names below to read more about them.
Marjorie Rhodes (New York University)
Marjorie Rhodes is a Professor of Psychology at New York University. Her research examines conceptual development and the development of social cognition. Rhodes’ research contributions have been recognized by early career research awards from the Cognitive Development Society, the American Psychological Association, and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and her lab is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and the McDonnell Foundation.
How Concepts Develop: A Case Study on Social Essentialism
Social essentialism consists of the commonly held beliefs that certain ways of categorizing people (e.g., gender, race, religion) reflect meaningful and fundamental distinctions found in nature. Social essentialist representations do not accurately reflect the structure of the world but are nevertheless widespread across diverse cultural contexts, early developing in childhood, and foundational to how people make sense of the social world. In this talk, I will draw on experimental, cross-cultural, and longitudinal research to examine the mechanisms by which children develop these representations of the social world, as a case study of how young children construct concepts over the course of early childhood.
Michael Strevens (New York University)
Michael Strevens is Professor of Philosophy at New York University, where since 2004 he has taught and thought about the nature of science, concepts, and the psychology of philosophy. In his most recent book, "The Knowledge Machine", he explains why science is so successful at creating knowledge and why it took so long for humans to figure out how to do it right.
Vaulting the Conceptual Divide, Boots First: How Radical Conceptual Change Might Be Possible
Can we acquire concepts that allow us to think thoughts that we were never before capable of thinking? Both the history of science and the study of child development seem full of examples of this sort of radical conceptual change. Nevertheless, a powerful argument mounted by Jerry Fodor (among others) seems to show that radical conceptual enhancement is impossible given our current models of concept acquisition. Susan Carey has proposed a new model, Quinian bootstrapping, that promises to carry us beyond our current cognitive limitations to new conceptual lands. Carey’s own story, however—at least when applied to specific cases such as children’s acquisition of concepts for the natural numbers—seems to have its own insurmountable obstacle to conceptual escape. I will propose an even more bootstrappy fix.
Sandra Waxman (Northwestern University)
Sandra Waxman is the Louis W. Menk Chair in Psychology and a Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Recognized internationally, Waxman’s research is designed to discover how language, culture and cognition come together in the infant and child mind. Adopting a developmental and cross-linguistic approach, she identifies what language, cognitive and communicative capacities are available to infants from the very start, and how these are sculpted by experience. Adopting a cross-cultural approach, she asks how fundamental concepts (e.g., What does it mean to be alive? To be an agent?) are shaped by the language and belief systems of their cultural communities. Together, this work illuminates how infants’ earliest capacities are shaped by the linguistic, social and cultural communities in which they live. Sandra Waxman is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association for Psychological Sciences and Cognitive Science Society. She has received numerous awards, including the Cattell Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is co-editor of the newly-launched Annual Review of Developmental Science.
Becoming Human: How (and How Early) Do Infants Link Language, Culture and Concepts?
Language and culture are signatures of our species. Language is the pathway through which we share the contents of our minds, imagine new ideas and ignite them in others. But how, and how early, do infants link language, culture and thought? In this talk, I explore this question from two distinct, but related, vantage points. First, focusing on language, I’ll show that infants begin to forge this quintessentially human link between language and concepts in the first months of life. Even before they utter their first words, listening to language boosts infant cognition. Moreover, in very young infants, listening to vocalizations of non-human primates provides the same conceptual boost. Second, turning to culture, I’ll show how adopting a cross-cultural approach illuminates how very young children from distinct cultural communities acquire fundamental concepts of the natural world (animal, human) and how this is shaped by the community-wide belief systems of the cultures in which they are immersed. Throughout, I’ll describe exquisitely timed developmental cascades, fueled by both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’, leading infants and young children to discover increasingly precise links between language, culture and cognition, and use this link to learn about their world.
Michael Tomasello (Duke University)
Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, and emeritus director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. His research interests focus on processes of cooperation, communication, and cultural learning in human children and great apes. His recent books include Origins of Human Communication (MIT Press, 2008); Why We Cooperate (MIT Press, 2009); A Natural History of Human Thinking (Harvard University Press, 2014); A Natural History of Human Morality (Harvard University Press, 2016); Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny (Harvard University Press, 2019); and The Evolution of Agency: From Lizards to Humans (MIT Press, 2022).
How Chimpanzees Understand the World
Chimpanzees and humans are close evolutionary relatives who behave in many of the same ways based on a similar type of agentive organization. To what degree do they experience the world in similar ways as well? Recent studies of great apes have led to new insights especially into their understanding of the social world. Great apes know what other agents can and cannot see, what they can and cannot hear, what they can infer, and what they ‘know’. Apes thus actively monitor all kinds of psychological states in others. However, they do not seem to understand that others can have false beliefs as do human children. This illustrates a larger difference, that is, that children but not apes not only understand others’ mental states but also coordinate with them.
About the Marshall M. Weinberg Symposium
Held annually at the University of Michigan, the Marshall M. Weinberg Symposium provides an interdisciplinary forum that attracts leading scholars, researchers, and students from a variety of disciplines to examine the science behind significant and timely issues in cognitive science. The overall aim of the Symposium is to advance the reciprocal flow of ideas across fields in cognitive science, broadly understood to include neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, and artificial intelligence. The Symposium includes a keynote address, presentations by leaders in the field, student poster session, panel discussion, reception, and ample time for participant and student interaction.
Past symposia have explored such topics as artificial intelligence, bilingual brain research, the rationality of thought, the cognitive science of moral minds, and the use of neuroscience data in legal judgments, among others. The first Weinberg Symposium was held at U-M in 2009.
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