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Network for Sensory Research Workshop on Non-Human Cognition

Friday May 18, 2018 - Saturday May 19, 2018

This 2-day workshop is hosted by Prof. Mohan Matthen and Dr. Amber Ross (for information, please email amber.ross@utoronto.ca).

The Network for Sensory Research is an international philosophy-led group of institutions conducting interdisciplinary research on perception. Our aim is to build a theoretical model of the senses that matches the complexity of sensory phenomena, as revealed by recent scientific work.


View the conference’s abstracts at the bottom of this page.

Friday, May 18th

9:30-10:00        Coffee/breakfast snacks available at JHB

10:00-12:45      Morning Presentations: Machine Cognition

  • 10:00: Catherine Stinson (Mowat Centre, University of Toronto): “What Artificial Neurons Tell us about Cognition”
  • 11:30: Susan Schneider (University of Connecticut, Yale): “Designing the Mind: Machine Consciousness and the Nature of the Self”

12:45-2:30        Lunch

2:30-5:15          Afternoon Presentations: Cognition in Non-human Animals

  • 2:45: Michael Rescorla (UCLA): “Spatial Representation in Mammals”
  • 4:15: Kristen Andrews (York University): “Naïve Normativity: The social foundation of moral cognition”


Saturday, May 19th

9:30-10:00        Coffee/breakfast snacks available at JHB

10:00-12:45      Morning Presentations: Plant Cognition

  • 10:00: Chauncey Maher (Dickinson College) & Zed Adams (The New School): “What Are We Talking about When We Talk about Plant Minds?”
  • 11:30: Mohan Matthen (University of Toronto): “Do Plants Sense External Space?”

12:45-2:00        Lunch

2:45-3:30          Round Table Discussion


Catherine Stinson (University of Western Ontario): “What Artificial Neurons Tell us about Cognition”

The neural plausibility of connectionist models is supposed to be their selling point, yet they are notorious for being neurally implausible. Despite several decades of debate about the merits of connectionism, this central puzzle remains unresolved. The solution offered here is to understand connectionist models as idealized, generic models of cognitive/neural mechanisms, through the lens of recent work on models and mechanisms. This move makes sense of statements by the Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) Research Group that have been long misinterpreted. It clears up questions about levels, what a unit represents, why implausible processes like backpropagation are sometimes allowable, and why research strategies seem so variable. These quirks of connectionist methodology turn out to be explanatory virtues, not drawbacks.

Kristen Andrews (York University) “Naïve Normativity: The social foundation of moral cognition”

Developmental and comparative research suggest that normative thinking may begin early in human development and be widespread among species. Recent philosophical theories describe social cognition as regulative and normative (Andrews 2012, 2015; McGeer 2007, 2015; Zawidzki 2008, 2013). Drawing on both literatures, here I argue that social cognition and moral cognition encompass the same cognitive capacities, and that it is a mistake to treat them as two different sets of processes. I argue that there are four early-developing cognitive capacities implicated in normative thinking (identification of agents; sensitivity to in-group/out-group differences, social learning of group traditions, and the conscious awareness of appropriateness), and that these capacities are part of typical human social cognitive practices; I call the set of these capacities naïve normativity, argue that they are necessary for moral cognition on standard philosophical ethical theories, and that they are seen in human infants and in great apes.



Mohan Matthen
Amber Ross


Jackman Humanities Building, Room 418
170 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2M8 Canada
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