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Regular version of the site

Series of lectures ' Brain Bases for Semantics: Neurological and Clinical Issues '

Event ended

HSE Centre for Language and Brain will hold a series of lectures 'Brain bases for semantics: Neurological and clinical issues' by Prof. Yosef Grodzinsky (Department of Cognitive Science & ELSC, The Hebrew University, Israel).

Abstract:

We use language for communication; we also use it for reasoning: when I (truthfully) tell you that my dogs are big and brown, you are in a position to infer that (i) there exists a plurality of dogs; (ii) I own (at least some of) these dogs; (iii) all the dogs that I own are big; (iv) all of them are brown. The information you can extract from this sentence goes way beyond the lexical meaning of the 6 words it contains. But you can only extract it if you are in possession of grammatical and logical tools – knowledge sources stored in your brain. What is the nature of this knowledge and the mechanisms that put it to use? Can we separate knowledge of language and knowledge of logic? Are we the only fortunate species to have these resources at our disposal? These questions have long intrigued logicians, linguists, and evolutionists.

I will address some of these questions by providing arguments for the neural separability of logical and linguistic operations. I will begin with a review of the current evidence (and positions) on how language is represented in the brain and motivate a semantic composition approach, on which I will elaborate a bit. I will show that it is relevant if we wish to understand not only how we construct meaningful sentences and interpret them, but also, how we reason when we make plans and evaluate the truth or falsity of other people’s claims. 

I will argue that the study of negation (“no”, “not” etc.) is a good start, since negation is central to the determination of meaning and to reasoning, as it reverses the direction of logical entailments: from the sentence there are children in the room you can infer that there are humans in the room (but not vice versa); when negated, entailment direction is reversed: there are no humans in the room entails there are no children in the room. Yet isolating negation experimentally is not easy. I will review a series of behavioral and neuroimaging experiments (conducted at HUJI, McGill, and FZ Jülich), in which we used linguistic and logical tools to isolate effects of negation behaviorally. We then localized the neural basis of negation in the anterior part of the left insula, distinct from, but adjacent to, the language areas. A corresponding well-delineated cytoarchitectonic region was subsequently identified, and its properties were studied. We have further conducted parallel investigations in individuals with aphasia subsequent to focal brain-damage. I will discuss potential clinical implications of these results.

I will review not just the experiments and their results, but also, provide the details of the psycholinguistic, neuropsychological (aphasia), imaging, and anatomical methods that we use. As this research requires a multi-disciplinary approach, I will explain the various methodologies we use.

I will then discuss what our results tell us about the boundary between language and logic and argue that they mark the line at which language stops and logic begins. I do so in the context of other relevant results and conclude by offering some speculations on why logical operations are located where they are, and not elsewhere. I will, in short, use an emerging picture from neurolinguistics to reflect on what it is to be human, and on how studies of language and logic may help us to understand ourselves a bit better.

Schedule:

Lecture 1: Views on language representation in the brain

Lecture 2: Components of compositional semantics: the central role of negation 

Lecture 3: Psycholinguistic experiments with explicit and implicit negation

Lecture 4: Neuroimaging experiments with explicit and implicit negation

Lecture 5: The anatomical bases of compositional semantics

Lecture 6: Neuropsychological implications: experiments with aphasic patients

Venue: Center for Language and Brain HSE (21/4 Staraya Basmannaya St., room A-510)

Dates and Time: November 13-14, from 10.00 till 13.00

If you need a pass to HSE, please contact Natalia Borisova via email borisova.n.u@gmail.com.