Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other’s minds

Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other’s minds. TED talk. More than 2 million views. 


Rebecca Saxe. Source: PBS

“Above and slightly behind your right ear, exists a part of your brain many scientists believe is specifically dedicated to thinking about other people’s thoughts – to predicting them, reading them, and empathizing with them. It’s called the temporoparietal junction, and this is the area cognitive neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe focuses on in her research.”

Q & A: Rebecca Saxe. From the MIT Technology Review. “To me, the signature of human social cognition is the same thing that makes good old-fashioned AI hard, which is its generativity. We can recognize and think about and reason through a literally infinite set of situations and goals and human minds. And yet we have a very particular and finite machinery to do that. So what are the right ingredients? If we know what those are, then we can try to understand how the combinations of those ingredients generate this massively productive, infinitely generalizable human capacity.”

Odors are expressible in language

Asifa Majid & Niclas Burenhult: Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language. Cognition 130(2), 2014.


Asifa Majid. Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

“From Plato to Pinker there has been the common belief that the experience of a smell is impossible to put into words. Decades of studies have confirmed this observation. But the studies to date have focused on participants from urbanized Western societies. Cross-cultural research suggests that there may be other cultures where odors play a larger role. The Jahai of the Malay Peninsula are one such group. … Our findings show that the long-held assumption that people are bad at naming smells is not universally true. Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language.”

Also: Ewelina Wnuk & Asifa Majid: Revisiting the limits of language: The odor lexicon of Maniq. Cognition 131 (1), 2014.

Individuals with episodic amnesia are not stuck in time

Carl F. Craver, Donna Kwan, Chloe Steindam, R. Shayna Rosenbaum: Individuals with episodic amnesia are not stuck in time. Neuropsychologia 57, May 2014, Pages 191 -195.

“The idea that episodic memory is required for temporal consciousness is common in science, philosophy, fiction, and everyday life. Related ideas follow naturally: that individuals with episodic amnesia are lost mariners, stuck in time, in a “permanent present tense” or “lost in a non-time, a sort of instantaneous present”. Yet recent evidence suggests that people with episodic amnesia are not stuck in time. Episodic memory and future thought are dissociable from semantic knowledge of time, attitudes about time, and consideration of future consequences in decision-making. These findings illustrate how little is known about the sense of time in episodic amnesia and suggest that the human sense of time is likely not one thing, but many things.” 

Is the man who is tall happy?


“My conversations with Professor Chomsky were lively, sometime complex, always very human. Through my illustrations, we follow the winding path of my halting and incomplete understanding. Noam is often patient, sometime less so. The trail always follows unexpected bends. The process and logic of Noam’s stream of ideas have determined the transitions and evolution of my drawings. The concept of ‘animated documentary’ finds a perfect justification here.”

Michel Gondry: Is the man who is tall happy?

A blueprint for how to build a human brain

From a recent press release of the Allen Institute for Brain Science announcing the first major report on the  BrainSpan Atlas of the Developing Human Brain.

“Knowing where a gene is expressed in the brain can provide powerful clues about what its role is,” says Ed Lein, Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science.  “This atlas gives a comprehensive view of which genes are on and off in which specific nuclei and cell types while the brain is developing during pregnancy. This means that we have a blueprint for human development: an understanding of the crucial pieces necessary for the brain to form in a normal, healthy way, and a powerful way to investigate what goes wrong in disease.”

Audio from NPR: Map of the developing brain

The long reach of reason

Steven Pinker & Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The long reach of reason. Video.

Source: Ted Blog

Source: TED Blog

“Here’s a TED first: an animated Socratic dialog! In a time when irrationality seems to rule both politics and culture, has reasoned thinking finally lost its power? Watch as psychologist Steven Pinker is gradually, brilliantly persuaded by philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein that reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold. The dialog was recorded live at TED, and animated, in incredible, often hilarious, detail by Cognitive.”