Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cognitio 2011: Nonhuman Minds: Animal, Artificial or Other Minds

Cognitio 2011

Young researchers conference in cognitive science

Montréal, July 3rd, 4th and 5th 2011

Nonhuman Minds: Animal, Artificial or Other Minds

Cognitio is a young researcher’s conference now held every two years at the Université du Québec à Montréal, under the auspices of its Cognitive Science Institute.

Over the past several years, Cognitio has been a colloquium where many facets of the human mind were explored. We looked at the relationship between mind and its material substrate (2004), at human decision making (2005), at situated minds (2006), at social cognition (2007) and at the evolution of minds and cultures (2009).

The time has come to turn our attention to “nonhuman minds”: to reflect on other minds, on minds that could have been and on minds that could be. Do our primate cousins have minds? And what about other animals? Does it make sense to think of “robot minds” and “artificial minds” in general?

Knowing about the varieties of minds, both actual and possible (technologically or conceptually), may help us to better understand the design space of minds: what are its dimensions, what is its internal structure, and what design principle(s) govern the passage from one point in the space to another. Perhaps we will find that the human mind is an anomaly. Perhaps H. sapiens is the only mindful creature that has ever existed and will ever exist. Or perhaps, in the tradition of pedestal smashing (as Stephen Jay Gould called the successive epoch changing scientific discoveries that dethroned humans from their self-declared status as the “center of creation”), we will find that human minds are but a tiny speck in a vast space of possible minds.

Knowing about the varieties of minds can also help us understand how all actual minds (current and past), including our own, came to be. Assuming that minds result from the gradual evolution of brains and bodies, knowing about the minds of other animal species may help us understand how the variety of minds connects with the evolution of brains. If we discover general principles governing those mappings, we may the able to predict what minds extinct hominins or related primate species are likely to have (or have had).

Finally, learning about robots and artificial minds might help us to prepare the future, to adapt our laws and institutions to new citizens in the community of the mindful. Or perhaps not: we may indeed decide that having a mind is not so special after all. Maybe it does not deserve special ethical treatment or institutional change, and maybe we should reserve our ethical concern for minds possessing some special features (consciousness is the obvious choice) or for some other features of beings (life, regardless of the possession of a mind).

Among the questions we welcome:

* What are the actual cognitive properties of primates and other animals?
* What of the mind of Aplysia californica? Does it have mind? And what of C. elegans?
* What evolutionary principle governs the evolution of minds? And how is it relevant to understanding cognitive change across species?
* What is the relation between the evolution of the mind and the evolution of the brain?
* What is the relation between the evolution of the mind and the evolution of the body?
* Does the advent of silicon chips, or someday perhaps quantum computing, foreshadow a new discontinuity in the evolution of minds?
* Are there universal properties of minds?
* Are there minimal conditions for possessing a mind?
* Can we compare minds? How does a toddler’s mind and a chimp one compare with a grown up’s?
* Does having a mind require rationality?
* Can an organism have a mind without being part of a community?
* Is a mind possible without language? How is its thinking done?
* Is a disembodied mind possible? What are its peculiarities?

This year, Cognitio will be held at the Université du Québec à Montréal on July 3rd, 4th and 5th 2011, just prior to the joint meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) and the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP).

Submission of proposals for the conference is done through the EasyChair system. We are only asking for 600 words abstracts. EasyChair will allow you to upload a PDF paper if you want to, but only your abstract will be evaluated.

The deadline for submissions is March 15th, 2011.

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