Institut Jean Nicod

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Prix et Conférences Jean-Nicod 2004



Things and Places 
How the mind connects with the world

Biographie :

Après des études de physique puis de psychologie à l’université de McGill et de Saskatchewan (Canada), Zenon W. Pylyshyn a été professeur de psychologie et d’intelligence artificielle à l’université du Western Ontario (Canada). Il a rejoint en 1994 l’université de Rutgers (USA, New Jersey), où il a été directeur du Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science pendant plusieurs années.

Zenon W. Pylyshyn a développé de nombreux programmes de recherche théoriques et expérimentaux visant à fonder et unifier les sciences cognitives, l’intelligence artificielle et la philosophie de l’esprit. Il a contribué durablement à l’édification de la théorie computationnelle et représentationnelle de l’esprit, et au débat critique sur les modèles empiristes et connexionnistes de la cognition et de l’imagerie mentale. Ses derniers travaux sur la vision, l’attention et la cognition située ambitionnent d’expliquer les conditions de possibilité primitives et non conceptuelles de la relation cognitive entre l’esprit et les individus connaissables dans le monde. Ils ont des implications pour la théorie de la perception épistémique, de la référence indexicale et des capacités à raisonner en fonction du contexte.

A l’occasion des Conférences Jean-Nicod 2004, Zenon W. Pylyshyn occupe un poste de directeur d’études associé à l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.


Things and Places
How the mind connects with the world

Abstract :

The problem of how minds connect with the world has been one of those perennial questions in the philosophy of mind that has enjoyed a revival in recent decades, notably in connection with the puzzle of sentience and the question of how concepts and thoughts are grounded in sensory experience. The notions of nonconceptual representation and demonstrative reference have played a central role in this revival. In these lectures I will introduce this issue from a different perspective, based primarily on empirical studies of attentional selection, tracking, perceptual-motor coordination, and certain phenomena in cognitive development. I will describe some of these phenomena to motivate the need for a particular kind of nonconceptual mind-world relation and will introduce a proposal, called the FINST or Visual Index theory, which hypothesizes a limited capacity mechanism within the visual system for realizing such a nonconceptual connection. I begin by focusing on an experimental paradigm we have developed called Multiple Object Tracking (MOT), which provides a concrete illustration of the operation of FINST indexes, and which also demonstrates some surprising properties of this mechanism. I will describe the MOT experiments, together with some recent challenging findings, in order to illustrate how FINSTs provide an account of the visual system’s capacity to keep track of individuals while apparently skirting certain deep philosophical problems of individuation and identity.

Indexes provide a different kind of connection between mind and world than that which characterizes conceptual representations. Conceptual representations are related to the world by the semantic relation of satisfaction, whereas indexes provide a direct, epistemically-unmediated and causally-initiated connection, not unlike that exhibited by demonstrative reference. I will suggest that such a mechanism also has important implications for other problems in the philosophy of mind, most notably the question of how we cognize space. I will provide a brief background to this problem, from the views of Henri Poincaré to those of certain contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists. I will examine the popular view that people easily imagine and think about spatial patterns because they have in some sense internalized space . I will argue that mental representations of spatial layouts do not derive their spatial character by being mapped onto an internal space. On the contrary, representations achieve their spatiality because their contents are projected onto the concurrently-perceived world, thereby allowing them to derive certain critical spatial properties and constraints from real space. Perceptual indexes prove essential to this approach because it is through them that mental representations can be anchored to things that occupy places in real space.



Wednesday May, 19th, 5 - 7pm
CNRS, Salle Frédéric-Joliot (bâtiment H, "Château") 3 rue Michel-Ange, 75016 Paris
The empirical case for a nonconceptual link between things and representations : Indexing and Tracking

Background to the problem to be discussed in these lectures : The distinction between causal, demonstrative and conceptual relations, and an informal discussion of why some primitive nonconceptual relations are essential in perception. An introduction to the Visual Index (FINST) theory, Object Files and experimental investigations using multiple object tracking. Implications of this research program for the thesis of nonconceptual representation and for the nature of the initial causal connection between objects and symbolic representations.

Zenon Pylyshyn will be awarded the Jean-Nicod Prize after the lecture.

Thursday May, 27th, 2 - 4 pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris
The basic ingredients of the mind-world relation : Individuation, selection, reference and predication.

The nature of attentional selection. Why do we need selection and what do we select in the first instance ? FINST Indexes as the mechanism for binding predicate-arguments and motor-command arguments to the objects of predication. Conceptual and nonconceptual content and Object Files . Causes and codes. Austen Clark and Feature Placing as the basis of sentience . The binding problem . What do FINSTs index ; objects or spatiotemporal regions ? More empirical findings concerning FINST Indexes and the role of Object Files and why it matters to philosophy of mind.

Tuesday June, 1st, 2 - 4 pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris
Representing Space I : Nonconceptual content and the experience of space

The role of conscious experience in the study of perception. A survey of some approaches to the problem of how the mind assimilates and represents space and spatial relations. The strategy of internalizing external spatial properties : Natural constraints, psychophysical complementarity and "functional" space. The genesis of our sense of space : Poincaré’s insights and the role of FINSTs. Is there a uniform spatial frame of reference ? The case for multiple perceptual frames of reference and coordinate transformation as the origin of our "sense of space."

Thursday June, 3rd, 2 - 4 pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, Salle des Actes, 45 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris

Representing Space II : Shortcomings of "inner space" proposals and an alternative view
A short summary of the arguments about the spatial nature of mental images and the thesis that perception and imaginal reasoning make use of a spatial medium or internalized spatial constraints. A proposal for turning the problem of spatial cognition around and viewing it as involving the projection of mental contents onto spatial arrangements of objects in the world. FINST indexes (and their extension to other modalities, called Anchors) provide the needed mechanism for anchoring mental representations to perceived objects and their spatial properties, and thus for explaining the apparent spatial character of mental representations. The unsolved problems of representing space in the brain.

Videos :
Things and Places - How the mind connects with the world. (01:30:29)
Things and Places - How the mind connects with the world (2) (01:46:59)

Published lectures

Bibliographie sélective

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1973). What the Mind’s Eye Tells the Mind’s Brain : A Critique of Mental Imagery. Psychological Bulletin, 80 , 1-24.

Pylyshyn, Zenon W. (1984). Computation and Cognition, Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science . Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.

Pylyshyn, Zenon, & Demopoulos, William (Eds.). (1986). Meaning and Cognitive Structure : Issues in the Computational Theory of Mind . Norwood, NJ : Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Pylyshyn, Zenon W. (Ed.). (1987). The Robot’s Dilemma : The Frame Problem in Artificial Intelligence . Norwood, NJ : Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1996). The study of cognitive architecture. In D. Steier & T. Mitchell (Eds.), Mind Matters : Contributions to Cognitive Science in Honor of Allen Newell . Hillsdale, NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2000). Situating vision in the world. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4 (5), 197-207.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2001). Visual indexes, preconceptual objects, and situated vision. Cognition, 80 (1/2), 127-158.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2002). Mental Imagery : In search of a theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25 (2), 157-237.

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2003). Return of the Mental Image : Are there really pictures in the brain ? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7 (3), 113-118.

Pylyshyn, Zenon W. (2003). Seeing and Visualizing : It’s Not What You Think . Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.



Centre national de la recherche scientifique
(département des sciences de l’homme et de la société)

Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
Ecole Normale Supérieure