How to read … a mind

A short (2-week) MOOC from the University of Nottingham: How to read … a mind

Source: Future Learn

“This is a short course that tries to explain what happens when you read a novel or a short story – or in fact any sort of narrative – and you meet the people who live within those pages. How can it be that sometimes we are drawn into the world of the fiction almost as if it’s real? How can we be so immersed in that imaginary world that we can be emotionally affected by what goes on in there? How can we sometimes be so absorbed in the fictional world that we can’t hear when people back in the real world talk to us while we are distracted?

These are questions for anyone who has ever picked up a book and enjoyed it. For the answers, we must look to our best current understanding of how mind and language works – and that means entering into the field of cognitive poetics. Simply, this is a discipline that draws on linguistics and cognitive science to provide explanations for literary reading. The beauty of cognitive poetics is that it addresses questions that are interesting and familiar to all readers, not just professional academics, literary critics and theorists. And it is based on some simple principles so that the journey from introduction to complex understanding is actually very short.”

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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.

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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)

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My undergraduate introduction to semantics

Undergraduate Introduction to Semantics


Humans build and understand sentences they have never heard before. They talk about mere possibilities. They describe situations that could never exist in reality. How do they do it? What makes them so smart? Humans use symbols, but they do not just use symbols to pick out things in the world. They have symbols that can interact with each other to produce complex descriptions of real or merely possible people, things, events, and situations. The most powerful symbols of human languages are “function symbols”, little words like notif, andorevery, and some, or pieces of inflection, like plural or tense morphology. Function symbols are the glue that allows humans to create complex meanings from strings of words that they perceive as arranged into hierarchical tree structures. Function symbols occupy distinguished positions (“head positions”) in those structures, from where they control the process of meaning composition. Function symbols are the kind of symbols scholars of human languages are most interested in. They are the key players in connecting language with creative thought.

In addition to a tight mechanism for meaning composition, humans use particles and intonation to mark given, new, or contrastive information, and to indicate what they are wondering about, what they put up for discussion, and what they take to be established facts. They also use perfectly synchronized gestures to accompany their speech. Most mysteriously, humans seem to systematically exploit each other’s mind reading capabilities to convey much more than what they literally say.

This course introduces you to the craft of doing semantics. Semantics is a thriving subdiscipline of linguistics with close ties to philosophy of language, logic, and cognitive psychology. This class is for you if you are interested in linguistic meaning, have an analytic mind, enjoy theory building, and are curious about how highly abstract theories connect with everyday situations. The class comes with a lab that functions as a scientific initiation component. You will acquire hands-on experience with semantic fieldwork and mini-experiments.

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