Seminar in Language, mind, and consciousness:ontogeny and phylogeny (version 1.1)

The seminar would take up the topics below.  The first goal will be to establish a succinct working knowledge of current cognitive psychology on these topics – say at the level of a quality intro text like Gleitman or cognition text like Reisberg (2001).   The specific topics I have in mind are, of course, human language, memory, thinking, and consciousness.  Some significant issues of perception and action are also relevant (e.g. speech perception and production, will). Then we would move on to the issues sketched below.

Note that I consider this description a work in progress – I will update this online as it grows.  Participants are expected to read, discuss, and present their ideas and interpretations to the seminar – verbally and in writing.


Current state of these topics

What is language? How does it work?  (See Pinker, 1994).  Ditto for consciousness and mind – thought and memory?

How do these develop? (Ontogeny)

Classically, Piaget and Vygotsky sought to understand the mix of these topics in the development of mind.  To what extent is the modern mind a function of a hundred thousand year old brain?  Is there anything new on the development of mind that is relevant?  Has recent brain imaging technology revealed something totally out the realm of these classical theories?  What does it support?  What about recent discoveries on “theory of mind” or “primate cognition?”

More specific to my own interests, what role does language play in human development?  When and how does it fit in?

What do we know about the evolution of the human mind? (phylogeny)

While multi-celled life on earth is roughly 500 million years old, bipedal ape-like creatures with chimp sized brains – apparently our ancestors – inhabited east Africa some three or four million years ago.  Yet the oldest human fossils of modern humans are only about 100,000 years old.  Agriculture is less than 15,000 years old and writing was invented less than five thousand years ago – probably in Iraq!  Somehow over the past million years, brain size and complexity increased and we became capable of "programming" ourselves with increasingly sophisticated "mind tools" – language, mathematics, theories of other minds.  These inventions, coevolving with the rapidly changing brain, extended the representational/computational powers of minds -- just as material tools – axes, spears, and wheels – became part of our heritage extending the physical powers of our hands and feet.


How do they interact?—the main focus

 What aspects of mind rely on language? Is consciousness dependent on language?  What about will, thought and episodic memory --  are these part of consciousness?  Do we think 'in' language?  What does that mean?  Can an organism think without language?  What do you mean by “thinking?  Can language interfere with cognition?  What drives confabulation?


Some references

(These are just to give you an idea of my past and current thinking; the actual readings may vary depending my current sabbatical research and specific class interests.  The Pinker, Dennett,  and Wegner references are books I've used in my 712 and 713 classes this past year. )


Armin, S. (2001). "Spontaneous confabulation, reality monitoring, and the limbic system -- a review." Brain research reviews 36: 150-160.

Coqueugniot, H., J. J. Hublin, et al. (2004). "Early brain growth in Homo erectus and implications for cognitive ability." Nature 431: 299-302.


Cook, A. E., J. E. Limber, & E. O'Brien (2001). "Situation-Based context and the availability of predictive inferences." Journal of Memory and Language 44: 1-16.


Dennett, D. (1996). Kinds of minds. New York, Basic Books.


Dominowksi, R. (1998). Verbalization and problem solving. Metacognition in educational theory and practice. D. J. Hacker, J. Dunloski and A. C. Graesser. Mahwah, NJ, LEA: 25-46.


Fivush, R. and R. Nelson (2004). "Culture and language in the emergence of autobiographical memory." Psychological Science 15(9): 573-577.


Gazzaniga, M. (1997). Why can't I control my brain? In M. Ito, Y. Miyashita, & E. T. Rolls (Eds.), Cognition, computation, and consciousness (pp. 69-79). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Haden, C. A. (2003). Joint encoding and joint reminiscing:  Implications for young children's understanding and remembering of personal experiences. Autobiographical memory and the construction of the narrative self. R. Fivush and C. A. Haden. Mawah, NJ, Erlbaum: 49-69.


Jaynes, J. (1990). The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. (Second edition ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Limber, J. (1977). "Language in child and chimp?" American Psychologist 32: 280-295 (Reprinted in Sebeok, T.  & Sebeok, J. (Eds.) (1980).  Speaking of Apes (pp.197-218).  New York: Plenum Press.).


Limber, J. (1978). "Goodbye Behaviorism!" The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 4: 535-536.


Linde, C. (1993). Life stories: The creation of coherence. New York, Oxford University Press.


Nisbett, R. E. and T. D. Wilson (1977). "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes." Psychological Review 84: 231-259.


Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct. New York, William Morrow and Company.


Resiberg, D. (2001). Cognition. New York, Norton.


Ruffman, T., L. Slade, et al. (2002). "The relation between children's and mother's mental state language and theory-of-mind understanding." Child Development 73: 734-751.


Sacks, O. (1987). The man who mistook his wife for a hat. New York, Harper & Row.


(ch. 12 a matter of identity: "Deprived of continuity, of a quiet, continuous, inner narrative, he is driven to a sort of narrational frenzy -- hence his ceaseless tales, his confabulations, his mythomania..he comes across as an ebullient comic.")


Schaller, S. (1991). A man without words. New York, Summit Books.


Schooler, J. W. and T. Y. Engstler-Schooler (1990). "Verbal overshadowing of visual memoires: Some things are better left unsaid." Cognitive Psychology 22: 36-71.


Simcock, G. and H. Hayne (2002). "Breaking the barrier?  Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language." Psychological Science 13: 225-231.


Tomasello, M. and J. Call (1997). Primate cognition. New York, Oxford.  (This is my Psychology of Primates text; it has a fair account of Piaget’s basic cognitive theory of “genetic epistemology.”


Vygotsky, L. (1934/1986). Language and thought. Cambridge, MIT Press.


Wegner, D. M. (2002). The illusion of conscious will. Cambridge, MIT Press.