Carl Zimmer on the brain in National Geographic

A walk in the brain with Carl Zimmer

“Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time around brains. I’ve held slices of human brains preserved on glass slides. I’ve gazed through transparent mouse brains that look like marbles. I’ve spent a very uncomfortable hour having my own brain scanned … I’ve interviewed a woman about what it was like for her to be able to control a robot arm with an electrode implanted in her brain. I’ve talked to neuroscientists about the ideas they’ve used their own brains to generate to explain how the brain works.”

Interview with Jeff LIchtman

A way with words

Karin Stromswold: A way with words

“Stromswold’s research on how prenatal and neonatal factors interact with genetic factors to influence linguistic and non-linguistic development suggests that the more formal aspects of language (syntax, morphology, and phonology) may have a stronger genetic component than, for example, vocabulary or discourse and pragmatics (the social aspects of language), each of which is more influenced by the postnatal environment.”

The cognitive neuroscience of language acquisition.

Paul Bloom: The pleasures of imagination

The Pleasures of Imagination

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Developmental psychologists have long been interested in children’s appreciation of the distinction between pretense and reality. We know that children who have reached their fourth birthday tend to have a relatively sophisticated understanding, because when we ask them straight out about what is real and what is pretend, they tend to get it right. What about younger children? Two-year-olds pretend to be animals and airplanes, and they can understand when other people do the same thing. A child sees her father roaring and prowling like a lion, and might run away, but she doesn’t act as though she thinks her father is actually a lion. If she believed that, she would be terrified. The pleasure children get from such activities would be impossible to explain if they didn’t have a reasonably sophisticated understanding that the pretend is not real.”

Elizabeth Spelke: Language is the secret ingredient

From the New York Times: Insights from the youngest minds

“Dr. Spelke has proposed that human language is the secret ingredient, the cognitive catalyst that allows our numeric, architectonic and social modules to join forces, swap ideas and take us to far horizons. “What’s special about language is its productive combinatorial power,” she said. “We can use it to combine anything with anything.” … She points out that children start integrating what they know about the shape of the environment, their navigational sense, with what they know about its landmarks — object recognition — at just the age when they begin to master spatial language and words like “left” and “right.” Yet, she acknowledges, her ideas about language as the central consolidator of human intelligence remain unproved and contentious.”

What semantic idea is ready for retirement?

The Guardian reports on this year’s Edge question: What scientific idea is ready for retirement?

Dan Sperber’s answer: The standard approach to meaning is ready for retirement.

“What is meaning? There are dozens of theories. I suspect however that little would be lost if most of them were retired and the others quarantined until we have had a serious conversation as to why we need a theory of meaning in the first place. Today I am nominating for retirement just the standard approach to meaning found in the study of language and communication.”

Conditionals: Dorothy Edgington

A festschrift for Dorothy Edgington is in the making. It’s not a secret: Conditionals, Probability, and Paradox: Themes from the Philosophy of Dorothy Edgington. Lee Walters and John Hawthorne (eds), OUP.

Here is my contribution to the volume: Chasing Hook. Quantified Indicative Conditionals. Here is Sabine Iatridou’s contribution. And here is Edgington’s chapter on conditionals in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Douglas Bemis: Constructing complex ideas

Douglas Bemis

My current project is to develop a comprehensive model of how complex ideas are constructed from individual pieces within the brain. This model will be based upon fMRI, MEG, and EEG data (and hopefully extended to intracranial data as well!). The end product will be a computational description of the neural processes responsible for combining individual mental representations into coherent and unified structures. A key component of this investigation is the use of minimal combinatorial contexts, such as red boat, in order to isolate core combinatorial mechanisms.”

MOOCs on Logic: Language & Information

The University of Melbourne offers a sequence of two MOOCs with introductions to propositional and predicate logic. They look like good introductions for undergraduates with interests in semantics. They might also be useful for incoming graduate students who want to be prepared for their first graduate semantics class. The instructors mention linguists as one target group. As far as I know, this is the only online logic class that has models for predicate logic on the syllabus. Applications to linguistics and philosophy that will be discussed include Implicatures, quantifier scope, definite descriptions, and borderline cases and vagueness.

Logic: Language & Information 1.

Logic: Language & Information 2.

MOOC: Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy

This MOOC could be useful as a foundational course for semanticists. It comes from the Munich Center of Mathematical Philosophy.

Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy

Week One: Infinity (Zeno’s Paradox, Galileo’s Paradox, very basic set theory, infinite sets).

Week Two: Truth (Tarski’s theory of truth, recursive definitions, complete induction over sentences, Liar Paradox).

Week Three: Rational Belief (propositions as sets of possible worlds, rational all-or-nothing belief, rational degrees of belief, bets, Lottery Paradox).

Week Four: If-then (indicative vs subjunctive conditionals, conditionals in mathematics, conditional rational degrees of belief, beliefs in conditionals vs conditional beliefs).

Week Five: Confirmation (the underdetermination thesis, the Monty Hall Problem, Bayesian confirmation theory).

Week Six: Decision (decision making under risk, maximizing xpected utility, von Neumann Morgenstern axioms and representation theorem, Allais Paradox, Ellsberg Paradox).

Week Seven: Voting (Condorcet Paradox, Arrows Theorem, Condorcet Jury Theorem, Judgment Aggregation).

Week Eight: Quantum Logic and Probability (statistical correlations, the CHSH inequality, Boolean and non-Boolean algebras, violation of distributivity)

Proceedings | Amsterdam Colloquium 2013

 Amsterdam Colloquium 2013.

I didn’t submit a paper for the proceedings, but here are my slides: Modality and the semantics of embedding.

Kratzer: Semantics of Embedding

My talk was the last talk in a workshop on modality. I started out with an overview of some major changes in our understanding of the semantics of modality before moving on to my special topic, the semantics of embedding.