New College Oxford
26-28 September 2011
The embodiment of language (as well as cognitive embodiment) is a much-debated topic. It offers a different approach to language function in the brain from the hitherto
widely accepted account in terms of words as symbols, parts of an essentially psychologically researched conceptual system. Progress in neuroscience, notably with the discovery
of mirror neurons but also with refined neuroimaging techniques, has opened up the possibility that words in the brain are not simply labels for concepts but integral parts of
perceptual and motor organisation (embodied semantics). The meeting, whilst giving due weight to the neural approach to language embodiment, aims to bring together those whose
work in relation to the current functioning, origin and evolution of language, in psychology as well as in philosophy (cf. Merleau-Ponty), directly or indirectly bears on the case for or
against the concept of embodiment. Without seeking to restrict what may be discussed, as some background reference is made to Neurophilosophy by Patricia Churchland and to t
he neurophysiological and other aspects of language evolution considered at the multidisciplinary conference organised by the Language Origins Society (with others) as part of a
NATO/ASI series. The meeting will be under the auspices of the Language Origins Society and the European Society for the Study of Cognitive Systems.
Tatiana Chernigovskaya - St Petersburg State University Laboratory for Cognitive Studies
Leonardo Fogassi - Universita Degli Studi Parma Dept of Neuroscience
Shaun Gallagher University of Central Florida Philosophy and Cognitive Sciences
Harry Jerison - University of California Los Angeles Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Bryan Magee - Keble College Oxford
David McNeill - University of Chicago Center for Gesture and Speech Research
Jean-Luc Petit - University of Strasbourg and Laboratory of Physiology of Perception and Action College de France
Friedemann Pulvermuller - Medical Research Council Cambridge Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
Kate Watkins - Department of Experimental Psychology Oxford
Roel Willems - Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior Nijmegen
Patricia Churchland Neurophilosophy [450-458] MIT 1986
Giacomo Rizzolatti Mirrors in the Brain OUP 2008
Ludwig Wittgenstein The Blue and The Brown Books [p. 170] Blackwell 1960
Friedemann Pulvermuller The Neuroscience of Language CUP 2002
Alain Berthoz The Brain’s Sense of Movement Harvard 2000
Jan Wind, Bernard Bichakjian et al. eds. Language Origin:A Multidisciplinary Approach.
NATO/ASI Series Kluwer 1992
Vittorio Gallese ("embodied simulation" in) 2003. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci.(1431):517-28.
Contact email: rmallottATrma.eclipse.co.uk
Three ways to bridge the gap between perception and action, and language
Université de Strasbourg
& Laboratoire de la Perception et de l’Action (Collège de France)
For the first time in history of the knowledge of man we see on the basis of data of empirical research a possibility to trace the uninterrupted course of events inside the organism that goes from perception and action to communication through language. However the narrative of mental or brain events involved is far from answering all questions. It remains a sequence of facts that keep the contingency of what is factual despite their derivation from the history of phylogenetic evolution and ontogenetic development. The question "quid juris?" can still be asked about them. What legitimates a priori the possibility that forms emerge from the background of fields of sensory reception or that purposes take place in a world of mechanical causality? What legitimates a priori the possibility that these shapes and purposes are relieved of their sensory or motor modality so as to be expressible in the forms of language syntax and semantics? Looming on the horizon of these issues is an issue of subjective intentionality: How is it possible that the entire chain of events do not unfold in me without me (in us without us), but that of at least some of them I am conscious and that for a subpart of the same I am directly responsible? How is it that visual forms have for me the value of individual entities in the world or that movements of my body carry my plans? How is it that expressions heard or produced do not simply obey rules of syntax and semantics, but that they might be also endowed with sense for speaking subjects who communicate with each other their expressive intentions? Faced with such mass of issues unresolved by the mere narrative of events in a brain, that which presented itself first as a univocal ontological genesis of the effort of the organism toward meaning unavoidably breaks out in three directions: 1) neurophysiologic study of the organic bases of the continuous linkage: perception, action and language; 2) geometric morphodynamics as eidetic norm regulating the transition from perceptive forms and motor affordances to syntactic and semantic schemes; 3) transcendental constitution of the Lebenswelt of a community that is not made of brains, but rather of personal subjects that perceive, act and communicate through speech drawing on their own resources and mobilizing their own capabilities of giving meaning. Of these three lines of approach only the first unquestionably ranks in the ideological framework of a naturalistic science, while the traditional psychophysical dualism is inadequate to make room for the other two. Therefore we will plead for an epistemology that is neither monistic nor dualistic, but rather trinitarian, as an alternative to the physicalist monism of current cognitive science.