Cognitive Science Speaker Series

In addition to learning from the skilled researchers at York University, the Cognitive Science program hosts a Speaker Series where you will have the opportunity to learn from other leading researchers from around the world. These talks will give you the chance to engage in some of the most recent research topics and findings in Cognitive Science.  Recent speakers have included primatologist Frans de Waal (Emory University), linguist Ray Jackendoff (Tufts University), cognitive neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe (MIT), and philosophers of cognitive science Tamar Gendler (Yale University) and Carl Craver (Washington University, St Louis), among others.

The Cognitive Science program also sponsors workshops on various topics in cognitive science, bringing together philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists and others to discuss their latest research:


Speaker Series 2018-2019

All talks are Wednesdays at 12:30pm in Ross S421 unless otherwise noted.

Download the Fall 2018 Speaker Series POSTER

Sep 12—Laura Niemi (Munk School, University of Toronto), Tracing the Process of Moral Judgment in Language and Cognition
When things go wrong, people ask questions like: “Who made it happen?” “Who was responsible?” and “Who is to blame?” In other words, they engage in a process of moral judgment that involves causal cognition. To what extent is this process permeated by people’s diverse values and ideological commitments; and, to what extent is it influenced by the language used to describe the event? This talk will cover findings from several studies combining individual differences measures with vignette-based experiments and psycholinguistics tasks. Collectively, the research demonstrates that values systematically map onto different patterns of causal attribution and language use. Studying morality through the lens of language brings precision to our understanding of the psychological underpinnings of diverse values, and also indicates that our understanding of language is incomplete without consideration of moral psychology.

Oct 3—Dale Stevens (Psychology, York University), Are Object Concepts Hardwired in the Brain?
Discrete parts of the human brain respond preferentially to very particular categories of objects. Moreover, the general organization of these “category-specialized” brain regions is remarkably similar across individuals. This is one of the most robust and oft replicated findings in the field of cognitive neuroscience, and it has sparked much controversy and debate regarding the fundamental nature of object concepts in the brain. Is this category-related organization innate/hardwired in the brain, or driven solely by external perceptual characteristics of objects, or something else? In this talk, I present recent evidence from my neuroimaging research demonstrating that while stable anatomical connectivity constrains the spatial topography of this category-related organization, malleable experience-driven "functional connectivity" among brain regions gives rise to category-specilazation.

Oct 24—Adam Pautz (Philosophy, Brown University), How Does Experience Represent the World?
Like many others, I think we should accept a representational theory of sensory consciousness: being conscious of the world is a matter of representing the world. Thus the hard problem of consciousness becomes the hard problem of representation. For example, how do electrical events in soggy grey matter enable us to represent bright orange pumpkins? The most popular answer (Armstrong, Dretske, Tye, Byrne and Hilbert, Hill) is that the sensible qualities (colors, smells, tastes, etc.) are "in the world" and the brain represents them by undergoing states that have the biological function of indicating them. In this talk, my primary aim is to develop some empirical arguments against this view. At the end, I will briefly motivate a radically different approach: a kind of internalist, non-reductive form representationalism.
NB: Pautz will be giving a companion talk the next day at the University of Toronto in which he will develop some quite different, more a priori arguments for a non-reductive, internalist theory of consciousness. The arguments will be founded on a series of novel thought-experiments.

Nov 7—Hayley Clatterbuck (Philosophy, University of Rochester), How Does Language Create New Concepts?

Jan 25—Chaz Firestone (Psychology, Johns Hopkins University)
**This is a joint talk with the Centre for Vision Research and is at 2pm on a Friday in BSB 163 **

Feb 6—Maggie Toplak (Psychology, York University)

Feb 27—Robert Briscoe (Philosophy, Ohio University)

March 27—Steven Piantadosi (Psychology, University of California Berkeley)

Speaker Series 2017-2018

Nov 03, 2017,  at 3.30 pm

Geoffrey MacDonald (Psychology, University of Toronto)

Love is the Drug: Social Reward and Interpersonal Behaviour Regulation

Abstract: Although a general principle is that animals regulate behaviour based on avoiding punishments and approaching rewards, relationship science has largely focused on safety rather than reward motives. In this talk, I argue for the importance of reward in the regulation of interpersonal behaviour. The studies I will discuss show that people regret missing opportunities for social reward and pursue relationships that promise reward. My data suggest that social reward is mediated by the release of endogenous opioids reflecting its addictive qualities. Finally, I explore boundary conditions to the pursuit of reward such that individuals high in the fear of being single or attachment avoidance are less motivated by social rewards.

Time and location:  3.30-5.30 pm (Friday), Ross S 421


Speaker Series 2016-2017

Oct 14 (Fri) with Philosophy: Sharon Street (NYU, Philosophy)
Meditation, Metaethics, and the View from Everywhere

Oct 19: Daphna Buchsbaum (UoT, Developmental Psychology)
How do you know that? Integrating Causal Knowledge and Learning from Others

We live in a causally complex world, where we must learn not only to predict the consequences of events (“the wind blowing could make that branch fall on me”), but also to act causally on the world ourselves (“pressing the remote control button turns on the TV”). How do children learn causal relationships, especially when the world presents them with sparse, ambiguous data or with multiple, conflicting sources of evidence? Social learning may be especially beneficial —with little expertise and few life experiences, children can quickly acquire large amounts of new information from other people without spending the time and effort to learn through trial-and-error. However, not all information from others is equally dependable. People can be ignorant, make mistakes, or give conflicting information. I will first present work suggesting that children are able to rationally combine multiple sources of information about which actions are causally necessary when deciding what to imitate, interpreting the same statistical evidence differently when it comes from a knowledgeable teacher versus a naïve demonstrator. I will next present research looking at how children and adults combine direct observation of probabilistic data with causal predictions provided by a social informant, and how this influences their future trust in that informant. Finally, I will present research looking at how people reconcile differences in opinion amongst multiple demonstrators, including how they balance the opinion of a majority against the quality of informants’ information. Throughout this work, I use computational probabilistic models to evaluate what learners with differing social assumptions should rationally infer from the social and statistical evidence they receive.

Oct 26: Chris Westbury, Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics)
Beyond ‘takete’ and ‘maluma’: Using big data to understand sound symbolism

Sound symbolism is the phenomenon of extracting semantics from formal (orthographic and/or phonological) elements of a string. Köhler (1929/1947) famously showed that people were much more likely to associate the nonword ‘takete’ with a spiky shape and the nonword ‘maluma’ with a round shape than the other way around. Sapir (1929) showed that people were more likely to associated the string ‘mal’ than the string ‘mil' with large things. These findings have been much replicated: indeed, a large proportion of the sound symbolism literature (40% in a review of 99 studies) consists of follow-up studies to Köhler and Sapir. I will point out several limitations in the sound symbolism literature and present results from three recent studies that try to overcome these limitations by using ‘big data’ (experiments that use thousands of randomly-generated stimuli). The first two studies address an unusual question that turns out to have a surprisingly clear and simple answer: Why do people consistently find some nonword strings humourous? The third study characterizes sound symbolic effects in nearly two dozen semantic categories, including several for which no sound symbolism effects have ever been suggested. I will end by discussing several plausible reasons why sound symbolic effects exist, and what their existence suggests about human cognitive processing.

Nov 04

Paul Katsafanas (Boston, Philosophy): "Fanaticism and Sacred Values"
Jan 11
Luke Roelofs (Philosophy, Australian National University)
'Octopuses, split-brains, and the universe: how unified does consciousness have to be?'

Short abstract: Normal human consciousness is in many ways remarkably well-integrated; plausibly this is part of what leads us to think of each person as a single conscious subject. By contrast, the conscious goings-on in the universe as a whole are not similarly well-integrated; plausibly this is part of what leads us to think of them as not belonging to a single conscious subject. But what should we think about systems that seem to fall somewhere in between, displaying too much integration to be called simply many and too little to be called simply one? With an eye to two particular examples of such cases (cephalopods and callosotomy patients) I review some rival ways of thinking about this question, and consider how far we can retain the simplicity of the common-sense outlook.

Feb 15
Jacob Beck (Philosophy, York University)
‘Is sensory experience analog?’

Abstract: Back in the 1980s several philosophers argued, on broadly introspective and a priori grounds, that sensory experience is analog. In the ensuing years, these arguments have been forcefully criticized, leaving the thesis that sensory experience is analog in doubt. My talk will have two aims: to diagnose a common flaw in these past arguments that traces to their armchair methodology; and to begin to develop a new, and more empirically informed, argument for the same conclusion.

Lunch and refreshments will be provided at the talks.

Speaker Series 2015-2016

Wednesday, November 18
Jennifer Steele (Psychology, York)
“How and When Do Children's Implicit Racial Biases Develop?”

Wednesday, December 02
Tim Bayne (Philosophy, University of Manchester and Western University)
"Can we Build a Consciousness Meter?

Speaker Series 2014-2015

September 10, 2014

Otavio Bueno (Philosophy, University of Miami)

“What Does a Mathematical Proof Really Prove?” *

September 24, 2014

Joni Sasaki (Psychology, York University)

“The Cultural and Biological Shaping of Religion's Effects”

October 8, 2014

Tina Malti (Psychology, University of Toronto, Mississauga)

“Mind, Emotions, and Morality”

October 22, 2014

Serife Tekin (Philosophy, Daemen College)

“Against Grief Erosion: Incompatible Research and Clinical Interests in Psychiatric Taxonomy”

November 19, 2014

Laurence Harris (Psychology and CVR, York University)

“The Vestibular System and the Sense of Self”

Wednesday, January 28
Frank Russo (Psychology, Ryerson)
"Oscillatory Brain Dynamics Underlying the Perception of Pitch, Rhythm,
and Emotion in Music and Speech"

Friday, February 6*
Ernie Lepore (Philosophy and Cognitive Science, Rutgers)
"On the Perspective-Taking and Open-Endedness of Slurring"

Wednesday, February 25
Robert Foley (Philosophy, Western)
"Flexible Interaction as a Criterion for Consciousness"

The speaker series is held on Weds at 3:30 pm in Ross S 421, unless otherwise indicated.

* = Joint session with Philosophy Department Colloquium

Speaker Series 2013-2014

September 18, 2013

Keith Schneider (Biology and Centre for Vision Research, York University)

"Visual Attention Affects our Decisions but not Perceptions"

October 16, 2013

Wayne Wu (Philosophy and Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University)
"What is Attention?"

January 31, 2014*
Robert McCauley (Philosophy, Emory University)
"The Cognitive Foundations of Science and Religion"

February 26, 2014
Steven Sloman (Psychology, Brown University)
"Explanation Fiends and Foes: Different Modes of Causal Reasoning"

March 12, 2014
Tina Malti (Psychology, University of Toronto - Mississauga)
"Mind, Emotions, and Morality" -- (Postponed due to weather)

* Joint with Philosophy Department Colloquium, scheduled for Friday instead of Wednesday.

Speaker Series 2012-2013

September 19, 2012

John Heil (Philosophy, Washington University St Louis)

"Real Modalities"

October 17, 2012

Adam Cohen (Psychology, Western)

“Theory of mind as a cognitive reflex”

November 7, 2012

Louise Barrett (Anthropology, Lethbridge)

“A little less representation, a little more action, please”

January 30, 2013

Rebecca Saxe (Neuroscience, MIT)

"The Happiness of Fish: Neural Mechanisms for Understanding Minds Unlike Your Own"

March 6, 2013

Hakob Barseghyan (Institute for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Toronto)

"A Descriptive Theory of Scientific Change"

April 5, 2013

Tyler Burge (Philosophy, UCLA)

"Perception: Origins of Mind"

Interdisciplinary Workshop - Animal Pain and Consciousness

January 11, 2013

workshop poster (PDF) | program (PDF)

Colin Allen (Department of Philosophy, University of Indiana)
Kristin Andrews (Department of Philosophy, York University)
Verena Gottschling (Department of Philosophy, York University)
Suzanne McDonald (Department of Psychology, York University)
Anne Russon (Department of Psychology, York University, Glendon)
Adam Shriver (The Rotman Institute of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario)

Flyers for past Speaker Series:

The Cognitive Science program also hosts social events, such as movie nights and other informal gatherings, which give students a chance to meet other Cognitive Science students and to talk with faculty members in a less formal setting.

Additionally, the Cognitive Science program organizes and hosts national and international conferences and workshops, notably the annual meeting for the Society for Philosophy and Psychology in June 2007.