#THOTT (The Higher Order Thought Tools, January 07, 2018):

What’s a thought? Could that chair have been water? Does perception precede production? What does it mean to know a language? How & why did humans end up acquiring the very complex (& ‘discontinuous’) linguistic capacity? How do we carry meaning detached from the real physical world? Do we reason axiomatically or algorithmically? Is semantics logical? Do non-human animals care about reasons? How different is our brain from the primates ‘right behind us’? Do the ‘number’ of brain areas matter; why? Does language have a tendency to structure itself? What is one innate with when one is born? Is the linguistic faculty inferential? Do languages, thoughts, artefacts and organisms co-evolve? How can’t language be? Do birdsongs carry information without grammatical structures? Can culture cause genetic changes? Is artificial language reflexive? How does a language talk about itself? Are non-human animals very serious? Can all languages express all thoughts? Are there thoughts that language cannot express? Can crows (say) evolve a ‘language’ in the distant future, or do we have an unassailable lead? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from linguistics (Prof. Veneeta Dayal, Rutgers University, New Brunswick), logic & philosophy (Dr. Nirmalya Guha, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal), & cognitive neuroscience (Prof. Atsushi Iriki, RIKEN, Wakō, Japan).

Listen in…

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #THOTT show.

Prof. Veneeta Dayal (linguistics) is Professor of Linguistics at Rutgers University (USA), where she has taught semantics since 1990. In the past, she has also held teaching position at Harvard University & Jamia Millia Islamia. At Rutgers, she is currently serving as the Undergraduate Program Director at the Department of Linguistics. Earlier, she was the founding Director of the South Asian Studies Program, the Acting Dean of Humanities, and also the Dean of Online Programs in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University. She obtained a B.A. from University of Delhi (DU, 1976), a M.A. & an M.Phil. in English Literature from DU (1978, & 1981). She got her Ph.D. in Linguistics with a minor in Cognitive Science from Cornell University (USA, 1991). Prof. Dayal’s primary research interests are in the semantics of natural language and its interface with syntax and pragmatics. She studies these typically from a cross-linguistic perspective. She has published on a wide variety of topics in these areas, such as, questions and relative clauses, bare nominals, (in)definiteness, genericity, word order, and free choice items. Her work has appeared in Linguistic Inquiry, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, and Natural Language Semantics. She is the author of ‘Locality in Wh-Quantification’ (Kluwer, 1996), and ‘Questions’ (OUP, 2016) and co-editor of ‘Clause Structure in South Asian Languages’ (Kluwer 2004). She is currently working on two book length manuscripts, on Bare Noun Phrases, Genericity and (In)definiteness: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective (Wiley-Blackwell) and Scope-taking in Questions (proposal under review by Linguistic Inquiry Monographs). Prof. Dayal regularly teaches semantics at summer/winter schools in Africa, Asia and Europe, in addition to her regular teaching appointment at Rutgers. She has been the recipient of a Fulbright Senior Research Award and of a Fellowship from the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study (JNU), New Delhi.

Dr. Nirmalya Guha (philosophy) is an Associate Professor at Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal. Prior to joining Manipal, he taught at IIT Kanpur for over three years. As a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, he taught at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, in 2014-2015. His key research areas are Indian logic and epistemology, western logic, formal (Montague) semantics, ontology, philosophy of language and cognitive science. He did his B.A. from Calcutta University (Kolkata), and M.A. from The Central University, Hyderabad (linguistics) & University of Madras (philosophy). He received his Ph.D. from Lancaster University (UK), & his thesis was titled ‘Postulation in Indian Epistemology’. He has been working on a semantic system based on the principles of classical Indian logic. This system has a set of constraints and a database, which is a description of the (relevant) universe. The statement-like units of the database are yielded through and licensed by the cognitive windows such as perception or inference. One can infer anything by using this system. But only the logically correct inferences will go out of the inferential womb and enter the database. Inside the inferential womb, the intuitively defined constraints create filters that block defective inferences. The main concern of this system is not the set of facts, but the interaction between the statements of the database. Thus it tries to minimize ontology and focus on epistemology. Nirmalya has been publishing his research in several reputed national and international journals, such as, ‘Journal of Indian Philosophy’, & ‘Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research’. He is also a Distinguished member of the International Editorial Board of ‘Reformare’, Journal of Educational Research published by Department of Public Education, Mexico.

Prof. Atsushi Iriki (cognitive neuroscience) is now Head of Laboratory for Symbolic Cognitive Development at RIKEN Brain Science Institute (Wakō, Japan), since 2004. He is also a Visiting Professor at University College London (UK) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU, Singapore), an Adjunct Professor at Keio University (Japan), a Research Professor at Kyoto University (Japan), a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (Canada), Founding Co-Director of RIKEN-NTU Research Centres (Singapore & Japan), and the President and CEO of RIKÆNALYSIS Corporation (RIKEN Venture, Tokyo, Japan). His research focuses on uncovering evolutionary precursors of human higher cognitive functions that are grounded on physical morphologies and patterns of structured bodily actions. He studies the behavior and neurophysiology of macaque monkeys that are trained to use tools and other high-tech apparatus. He is also working to uncover neurobiological mechanisms of evolutionary and developmental  processes that give rise to symbolic cognitive functions using experimental Marmoset models. Prof. Iriki completed his D.D.S. in Dentistry & Ph.D. from Tokyo Medical and Dental University, where he also held research associate positions. He is currently a Directors Board Member of Japan Neuroscience Society, & in the past he has been committee/council member of Society of Neuroscience (Washington DC), &  International Brain Research Organization (Paris). He has held editorial positions in numerous journals, such as, ‘Philosophical Transaction B of The Royal Society’ (London), & Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. Prof. Iriki has won numerous awards & honours; some notable ones are: The Golden Brain Award (The Minerva Foundation, Berkeley, 2004), The Otto-Creutzfeldt-Lecture (German Neuroscience Society, Berlin, 2009), & The Lee Wee Nam Lecture (NTU, Singapore, 2013).

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.

#THOTT mentions: Jayanta Bhatta, Prakashatman, J. S. Sachs, Charles F. Hockett, & Noam Chomsky, among others.