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Philosophy of Mind/Psychology Workshop

At the Interface between Perception and Cognition

St. Catherine's College, January 24, 2009

Organised by Tim Bayne and Maja Spener

(Schedule and venue information to follow)


Alex Byrne (MIT)
Matthew Nudds (Edinburgh)
Casey O'Callaghan (Rice):  Is Speech Special?
Nicholas Shea (Oxford):  Cognition as Perceptual Simulation

Venue: JCR Lecture Theatre, St Catherine's College, Oxford

Finding St Catherine's:

Finding the JCR:


9:45 Welcome

10:00-11:15 Nick Shea:  Cognition as Perceptual Simulation

Abstract: Although many are sceptical about the possibility or utility of drawing a sharp division between perception and cognition, specific empirical theories of each do make commitments about how the boundary should be drawn. One fruitful approach to questions about the distinction between perception and cognition, then, is to see how the answer turns out with respect to a variety of different theories. That is the tactic of this paper. It takes a difficult case: a theory according to which cognition consists in something perceptual. Lawrence Barsalou argues that cognition is a form of perceptual simulation. (Philosophers have explored similar ideas, e.g. Jesse Prinz.) Surprisingly, a clear distinction between perception and cognition can be discerned within Barsalou's framework. This paper spells out that distinction and says something about the theoretical work it is called upon to perform.

Break 15min

11:30-12:45 Casey O'Callaghan: Is Speech Special?

Abstract: Humans, perhaps uniquely, understand spoken languages. Listening to speech in a language you understand requires both cognition and perception. Philosophers have devoted a great deal of attention to how we understand meaningful speech. However, the perceptual aspects of listening to spoken language have received little attention. The main explanandum for this talk is that the experience of listening to speech in a language you understand differs from listening to speech in a language you do not understand. On a traditional picture, the difference is entirely cognitive, and consists in grasping the meanings conventionally associated with the sounds of spoken language. A more recent account holds that the difference consists in auditorily representing semantic properties, or in hearing speech sounds as meaningful. Some even argue that speech perception has different objects or is an entirely different modality from ordinary audition. I propose, instead, that speech perception is continuous with ordinary audition, and shares its objects. Learning a spoken language, however, involves acquiring a distinctive perceptual skill or capacity. On this account, the perception of speech is categorical and multimodal, and thus illuminates the interface of perception and cognition.

Lunch break 1hr*

13:45-15:00 Matt Nudds: Evidence for the existence of an interface between perception and cognition

Abstract: It is a consequence of the familiar representational view of perceptual experience that there exists an 'interface' between perception and cognition: that what we perceive is determined by what our perceptual experience represents. Although the representational view entails the existence of such an interface, there is no consensus about where it falls, nor about its significance for phenomenology and epistemology. There is an alternative relational view of experience according to which, I argue, there is no interface between perception and cognition. But does the fact that there must be a psychological explanation of how we see mean that there are questions for this view about what we perceive that are analogous to the questions for the representational view about the nature and significance of the interface between perception and cognition?

Break 15min

15:15-16:30 Alex Byrne Seeing is Believing

Abstract: The phenomenon of known illusion (for instance, knowing that the lines one is seeing are parallel, even though they look convergent) is commonly taken to show that perception may occur without belief, and thus is an input to cognition, rather than a variety of it. The paper explores reasons for thinking otherwise.

Break 30min

17:00-18:00 Wrap-up, moderator Tim Bayne

*Lunch is not provided, but there will be a sandwich lunch at the workshop at £5/person. To sign up for this, please email the conference organizers ( or by Thursday, 22. January and indicate vegetarian/non-vegetarian preference.


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