Workshop in Foundations of Animal Minds

April 22, 2021 - April 23, 2021
Foundations of Mind Group, Johns Hopkins University

United States

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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Johns Hopkins University
Northeastern University

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The Johns Hopkins Foundations of Mind Group will bring together researchers from philosophy and comparative psychology to discuss the foundations of animal minds in a two-day online workshop. We will discuss both foundational methodological issues in the study of animal minds  — How should we study non-linguistic creatures?  What is the appropriate balance between observation in the wild and experimentation, neural and computational evidence? What role can or should thinking about evolution play in psychology and neuroscience? — and issues concerning the foundations of the mind — What are the most important differences between the minds of different species? What forms do or could the most foundational mental capacities take in different creatures?

Zoom details: to access the zoom link, you must register at:

All sessions will be recorded; access to the recordings can be requested by emailing the conference organizers.  All times Eastern US (EDT). 

Thursday April 22nd

13:00-14:00 Chris Krupenye - Social Knowledge and Decision-Making in Chimpanzees and Bonobos

Like humans, other apes inhabit demanding social worlds, structured by status hierarchies and nuanced relationships. How do our closest relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), navigate the complexities of this environment? In this talk, I will examine several varieties of social information that apes track in order to make adaptive social decisions. These investigations shed light on what it means to be ape and what it means to be human.

14:00-15:00 Hayley Clatterbuck - Language and Abstract Concepts

Language and abstract concepts are two of the most commonly cited candidates for uniquely human capacities that might explain many of the cognitive differences between humans and non-human animals. However, difficult questions about the relationship between the two abilities remain. First, there's a chicken-and-egg problem; on the one hand, language seems to assist in abstract concept learning, but on the other, language seems to require abstract concepts. Second, it's unclear whether either of these mark genuine discontinuities with other animals. I will outline an approach to answering these questions, drawing on insights from machine learning and animal psychology.

15:00-16:00 Break: details of event for informal discussion to be shared during the workshop.

16:00-17:00 Colin Allen - Can there be a Cognitive Paleoethology? The Case of Working Memory

In this talk I will present work in progress attempting to extend a framework for paleoethology offered by Hone & Faulke (2014) to inferences in a field I denote as "cognitive paleoethology". I will attempt to apply the framework to the case of estimating working memory of early hominins at the Plio-Pleistocene boundary two or so million years ago. The case is interesting not just because involves making inferences about our animal ancestors at a time they had brains not much bigger than modern chimpanzees, but also because it raises numerous questions about the choice of constructs to deploy in a taxonomy of cognition, the epistemic value of comparing extinct species to extant species, and the strength of holistic inferences in a situation where there are large gaps in the evidence and each piece of evidence taken alone has multiple alternative explanations.

Friday April 23rd

13:00-14:00 Stephen Ferrigno - The Evolutionary, Developmental, and Cultural Origins of Human Cognitive Capacities

Humans are the only species that build skyscrapers, calculate the mass of subatomic particles, and create masterworks of art. Understanding how we build these capacities has been at the core of debates in cognitive science and requires understanding their evolutionary, developmental, and cultural origins. The goal of my research program is to determine what aspects of our cognition are unique to humans or not, how human capacities develop, and how they interact with our human culture. I focus on four domains in which humans have remarkable abilities: numerical cognition, representation of recursive structure, metacognition, and logical reasoning. Throughout these case studies, I show that many of the foundations for these capacities are present in non-human animals and are likely evolutionarily ancient. However, both human development and our cultural environment continue to shape these primitive foundations into our uniquely human abilities

14:00-15:00 Sam Clarke - The Number Sense Represents Numbers

On a now orthodox view, humans and many other animals possess a “number sense,” or approximate number system (ANS), that represents number. Recently, this orthodox view has been subject to numerous critiques that question whether the ANS genuinely represents number. We distinguish three lines of critique—the arguments from congruency, confounds, and imprecision—and show that none succeed. We then provide positive reasons to think that the ANS genuinely represents numbers, of a banal sort, familiar from the math class, and not just non-numerical confounds or exotic substitutes for number, such as “numerosities” or “quanticals,” as critics propose. Strange as it is to have to say: the number sense represents number. 

15:00-16:00 Break: details of event for informal discussion to be shared during the workshop.

16:00-17:00 Alexandra Rosati - The primate origins of human thought

Many domains of human thought—from social cognition to logical reasoning—may draw on language. Given that, how do non-linguistic animals think? Comparative research examining the minds of our closest primate relatives is uniquely positioned to provide new insights into the origins of human cognition. I will examine evidence from different primate species to try to understand how other animals see the world, as well as why their minds work the way that they do.

More Information on the Contributors:

Colin Allen  - History and Philosophy of Science, Pittsburgh -

Sam Clarke - Philosophy & Centre for Vision Research, York University, Toronto -

Hayley Clatterbuck - Philosophy, UW Madison -

Stephen Ferrigno - Lab for Developmental Studies, Harvard -

Chris Krupenye - Psychology, Durham / Psychological & Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins -

Alexandra Rosati - Psychology & Anthropology, University of Michigan -

More Information on the Organizers:

Simon Brown - Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University 

Jorge Morales - Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University - 

Foundations of Mind Group, Johns Hopkins University -

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16 people are attending:

University of Johannesburg
University of Western Australia
and 14 more.

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Silesian University

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