Leda Berio M.A. und Annika Schuster M.A. (HHU Düsseldorf): Mentalised Prototypes

Datum / Uhrzeit:
24.10.17   /  18:30 - 20:00

Institut für Theoretische Philosophie

24.53.01 Raum 81



The assumption that concepts have any stable meaning has been attacked from different directions. Relevant data and arguments for this position are summarized in Casasanto, Lupyan (2015): referring to evidence related to the so-called “experiential relativity” of representations between subjects (linguistic and cultural) and within-subjects (bodily), they argue for mental representations being (a) completely variant and (b) massively idiosyncratic. Contra Casasanto and Lupyan, we will argue that the high variability and the idiosyncratic elements of mental representations prevent neither their shareability and communication nor moderate invariance, making the case for various kinds of constraints operating on variability and on idiosyncratic fluctuations. Our argument is based on a toolkit comprising mentalising skills, evolutionary prototypes, and attribute-value structures (frames).

According to the theory of evolution, properties contributing to reproductive success are selected with a high statistical probability. This guarantees that our minds, shaped similarly in the course of evolution, also employ similar conceptual structures. For many common-sense concepts which lack cognitively plausible definitions, our conceptual structures incorporate probabilities of the conceptualised entities having certain properties. These probabilities result from the observation and processing of objective probabilities brought about in the evolutionary history of entities in the world. The resulting probabilistic representations will be called Evolutionary Prototypes (EPs). 

Furthermore, humans are skilled in explaining the behaviour of others by attributing them mental states – an ability which is named mentalising. The conceptual structures we use in communication make arguably use of this ability: “Mentalised Evolutionary Prototypes” (MEPs) contain the parts of our conceptual structure which are judged to be shared, arguably adjusting and (online) updating the probability distributions of EPs. As a fitting representation format, we use frames as proposed in Barsalou (1992, 1999), enabling a flexible and fine-grained conceptual decomposition. In our talk we will present the theoretical basis of our approach, along with proposals for its formal treatment and for its empirical investigation


Leda Berio (M.A.) is a PhD student in the SFB 991 project D02 at the University of Düsseldorf under the supervision of Gottfried Vosgerau. Her research is concerned with the relation between conceptual and linguistic abilities, communication and concept acquisition. She graduated for her MA in Milan on Embodied Semantics.

Annika Schuster (M.A.) studied philosophy and linguistics at the University of Düsseldorf, where she is now a research fellow at the institute of theoretical philosophy. Since 2016, she is working on her PhD on prototype frames in the research group CRC991 “The structure of representations in language, cognition and science” under supervision of Gerhard Schurz, in project D01.


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