Center for Neurophilosophy and Ethics of Neurosciences

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Semantic Memory and Episodic Memory: What’s the Difference, Again? (Cameron Buckner)

In this talk, I will re-examine the distinction between semantic memory and episodic memory in light of recent empirical evidence, especially coming from human cognitive neuroscience over the last ten years. In light of this evidence, it is increasingly difficult to see what the distinction amounts to—which is of special interest to research on animal episodic memory, since comparative researchers have been accused of doing violence to a clear distinction borrowed from human psychology. First, I diagnose the central problem: semantic and episodic memories are so difficult to distinguish because they can be about the very same events. Second, I consider and reject some standard ways of drawing the distinction: conscious phenomenology (e.g. the feeling of autonoiesis), egocentricity, revisability, and voluntary recall. The criterion I recommend is etiological and contextual: the difference between a semantic memory and an episodic memory of the same event is determined by the historical origins of the memories and their default relations in the subject’s memory network. Consciousness may be said to play a crucial role in determining these default relations, but only if we focus on what it does rather than how it feels, on the way that conscious attention by default binds the semantic components of episodes in a holistic, temporally-ordered sequence. I will then discuss some empirical implications of this view: namely, a shift in emphasis away from behavioral measures applied to retrieval alone, to paradigms that assess a memory’s entire trajectory from storage to retrieval, focusing on the default processing characteristics of closely intertwined memory systems.



The Spoon Lecture: Relativity and Anchors in Time (Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins)

Einstein supposedly said~ Time only exists to prevent everything from happening at once. Although physical time proceeds forever forwards, mental time can travel backwards as well, indeed in every direction. Mental time travel allows us to re-visit our memories and imagine future scenarios. We make use of this process to define multiple realities; ones that define our sense of self in space and time. Our cognitive mechanisms for making sense of the world around us are aided and abetted by the patterns and ideas we use in our thinking, the way we choose to see the world around us and, importantly, the objects with which we choose to associate. We explore these ideas in the Spoon lecture.

Episodic thinking and theory of mind: a connection reconsidered (Christoph Hoerl)

One of the arguments sometimes put forward in support of the idea that episodic thinking (or 'mental time travel') is a uniquely human achievement is that episodic thinking requires theory of mind abilities, and that the latter are only found amongst humans. In this talk, I want to take a fresh look at where exactly the connection between episodic thinking and theory of mind might lie. I first criticize the dominant way in which this connection has been construed, which - perhaps influenced by other aspects of theory of mind research - has sought to connect episodic thinking primarily with a grasp of the idea of representation, or the idea of informational access. I then argue for a novel, alternative, way of connecting episodic thinking and theory of mind, which focuses on the category of an experience, and on the role grasp of that category might be seen to play in episodic thinking.



Causality and time: a fundamental connection (Ivo Jacobs)

Understanding something usually entails having a notion of its causal structure. Although in metaphysics causes and effects are typically regarded as occurring simultaneously, temporal priority (causes precede effects) is a major attribute for causal perception in humans and non-human animals. Planning for the future thus involves knowing that a current event affects the likelihood of another event occurring later in time. People perceive causation more strongly if they can intervene on events rather than just observe them, which might make planning easier when involving one’s own actions rather than uncontrolled events. Choosing among candidate causes is more difficult when the temporal gap between cause and effect is large. The inherent connection between certain stimuli and events (biological belongingness) in combination with memory allows agents to learn about causal relationships quicker and more effectively. A distinction can be made between accounts on how causes make a general difference on the probability of their effects occurring, and notions that involve a deeper understanding of the physical mechanisms involved in each cause-effect relationship. The latter presumably plays a less significant role in everyday prospective cognition. The study of cognition concerning time therefore seems to benefit from causal analysis.



Prospective cognition in corvids in a non-caching context: ravens can plan for a token exchange (Can Kabadayi)

Research on cognitive foresight and future-oriented cognition in animals has gained considerable attention in the recent years. Although much of the evidence comes from the studies on great apes, crow birds (corvids) represent another group on which the ability of foresight has been documented. Separated from the great apes approximately 300 million years ago, corvids represent a group which the ability of foresight evolved independently and thus the investigation of this ability in this group can shed light into the universal building blocks of complex cognition in general and cognitive foresight in particular. One criticism to the documented planning skills in corvids questioned the flexible nature of the corvid foresight as those studies utilized caching context and it was argued that innate predispositions might have played a role rather than the flexible foresight as corvids are habitual food-cachers. Thus there is a need to broaden the range of the foresight studies to investigate the flexible nature of this ability in corvids. Current study addressed this idea and we used a token-exchange task to investigate if ravens (Corvus corax) can prepare for an exchange event with a human experimenter that takes place in the future. Using the same paradigm, we also tested if ravens can exert self-control in the context of letting go of a smaller and immediate reward for the sake of a larger reward that will be available in the future. The results indicate that ravens are capable of a future token exchange with a human experimenter and they exert self-control in order to gain a larger reward in the future instead of getting an immediate but smaller reward. These results reveal that the foresight ability in corvids is not limited to the caching context and it emphasizes the presence of flexible future-oriented cognitive skills in the corvid family.



With the future in mind: towards a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of future-oriented cognition (Gema Martin-Ordas)

The human mind often wanders forward in time to imagine what the future might be like (future-oriented cognition) and backwards in time to remember personal events (episodic memory). Despite recent evidence, whether other animals— besides humans—can mentally travel in time is still object of an arduous debate. In this talk, I will critically review the theoretical and empirical assumptions behind this debate and question that the capacity for future-oriented cognition is uniquely human. I will conclude by arguing that the current view on the comparative research is based on general theoretical constructs that are problematic as well as on assumptions that have yet to be proved across different human populations. I call for a broader theoretical and empirical approach in which not only cross-species studies but also cross-cultural studies are needed if we are to understand future-oriented cognition.



Temporal Concepts and Three Ways of Thinking About the Future (Teresa McCormack)

In this talk I will distinguish between three types of future-directed cognition that can be considered to differ in terms of their sophistication: anticipation, planning, and episodic future thinking. I will discuss how each of these should be defined, how they might relate to other mental abilities such as metarepresentation, and the type of demands each of them places on temporal thought. Relevant data from developmental psychology regarding each of these types of future thinking will be described. I will argue that planning is more cognitively demanding than anticipation in part because it requires event-independent thought about time. Because of this, the ability to plan is closely linked to a grasp of the idea that there are multiple possible ways that events can unfold. I will consider whether or not such a grasp might be related to metarepresentational abilities. I will then talk about the sense in which episodic future thinking might be thought to require temporal perspective-taking abilities, by considering the concept of time that is involved in episodic future thinking. I will argue that there are important differences between spatial and temporal perspective-taking that impact on whether we should consider temporal perspective-taking to involve full-blown metarepresentational understanding.



Putting flexible animal prospection into context: escaping the theoretical box (Mathias Osvath)

Research into non-human prospection has long been mired in ideological-like convictions over the supposed uniqueness of human cognition. Closer inspection reveals just how much cognition in general – down to its simplest forms – is geared toward predicting the future in a bid to maintain homeostasis and fend off entropy. Over the course of life's existence on Earth, evolution has, through a series of arms races, gotten increasingly good at achieving this. Prospection reaches its current pinnacle partly based on a system for episodic cognition that – as research increasingly is showing –is not principally limited to human beings. Nevertheless, and despite some notable recent defections, many researchers remain convinced of the merits of the Bischof-Köhler hypothesis, with its claim that no species other than human beings is able to anticipate future needs or otherwise live in anything other than the immediately present moment. What might at first appear to be empirical disputes, turn out to reveal largely unquestioned theoretical divides. Without due care, one risks setting out conditions for “true” future orientation that are not even relevant for describing human cognition. In sorting out some of the theoretical and terminological muddle that frames contemporary debate, this talk makes a plea for moving beyond past dogmas, and instead putting animal prospection research into the context of evolution and contemporary cognitive science.



The Moral Significance of Animal Time and Memory (Valerie Soon)

Are all persons humans? On some theories of personhood, memory and self-identity are key criteria, and these are thought to be uniquely human capacities. Beings with these features can be made better or worse off over time, and as such, they deserve special forms of ethical regard. Recent studies in ethology have shown that some animals may possess certain forms of memory relevant to self-identity, specifically, conscious recollection of past experiences. But because we cannot communicate with animals, it is difficult to verify that they consciously recollect their past. Consequently, skeptics shy away from making ethical assertions about animal personhood based on these studies. I provide an alternative analysis of these studies and argue that the capacity forsubjective timekeeping is a sufficient, though not necessary, condition for some degree of personhood. Animals with this capacity can be minimally considered near-persons.