CFP: Synthese Topical Collection: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Locating Representations in the Brain

Submission deadline: March 15, 2020

Topic areas


We’re pleased to announce a call for papers for a Synthese Topical Collection* on Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Locating Representations in the Brain

Guest Editors: Sarah Robins (University of Kansas) and Jessey Wright (Stanford University).

The concept of ‘representation’ has become ubiquitous in neuroscience, especially in light of recent advances in measurement technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and interventions such as optogenetics. This is in part because new tools have been promoted as capable of providing evidence for claims about the content of representational states (Haxby 2010; Kriegeskorte and Kievit 2013), cognitive neuroscientists have become concerned with, and confident that they can use imaging technology to investigate the manner in which information is encoded in, and decodable from, neural signals (e.g, Haynes and Rees 2006; Naselaris et al 2011). Even though it appears to be a central theoretical target for cognitive neuroscience, ‘representation’ is invoked in a variety of ways with varying theoretical weight. As a result of this ambiguity, the empirical significance of interpreting findings in terms of representations is unclear.

While conceptual ambiguity is normal in science, philosophical work examining practices in neuroscience strongly suggests that becoming clear about what representations are will be empirically productive. In particular, philosophers have argued that taking the concept of representation seriously could be fruitful for human-animal translation in neurobiology (Sullivan 2010), and they have demonstrated that clarity about what is and isn’t a representation can help to empirically distinguish between theories of perceptual processing (Orlandi 2014). Inspired by this work, we anticipate that determining what ‘representation’ means will be valuable for evaluating if, and how, new tools and technologies can provide evidence for claims about the content of patterns of brain activity. 

The aim of this special topics collection is to gather papers that address questions about the significance, meaning and concept of ‘representation’ in a manner that has both philosophical and empirical import. We also encourage papers who focus is primarily on these issues in philosophy or neuroscience, so long as some effort at the connection is made. Also, We list fMRI and optogenetics only as examples; we welcome papers exploring on a wide range of tools, technologies, and statistical/analytic methods in neuroscience. 

Invited Contributors: 

Dan Burnston (Tulane University)

Rosa Cao (Stanford University)

Felipe De Brigard (Duke University)

Corey Maley (University of Kansas)

Russell Poldrack (Stanford University)

Robyn Repko Waller (Iona College)

Adina Roskies (Dartmouth College)

Jacqueline Sullivan (Western Ontario)

Submission: The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2020.

Note: the guest editors have limited funds available for Open Access publishing for accepted submissions to this TC.

*Synthese has changed their 'Special Issues' to 'Topical Collections', which have the advantage that papers can be published when they are ready, and not only when the whole collection is completed.  

Manuscripts should be submitted online at after logging in to the system, please select the option “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Locating Representations in Brain” from the Article Type scroll-down menu.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere. All manuscripts will be refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available at

For further information, please contact Sarah Robins (, Department of Philosophy, University of Kansas) 

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