March 7th, 5pm: Dale Purves, How vision succeeds in an unknown world

vision unknownCenses Forum seminar
17.00 on 7 March Room ST243, Senate House, Malet Street


Dale Purves
Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore

Photo-sensors cannot measure the parameters that define reality, thus excluding information about the physical world from the mechanisms of biological vision. Nonetheless, the behavior of humans and other visual animals is routinely successful. The purpose of the talk is to consider how this feat is accomplished, and what the apparent strategy implies about vision and other brain functions.

Dale Purves is Professor of Neurobiology, Psychology and Brain Sciences, and Philosophy at Duke University, and is presently the Director of the Neuroscience and Behavioral Disorders Program at the Duke-NUS Graduate School in Singapore. He came to Duke in 1990 as the founding chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Duke Medical Center and was subsequently Director of Duke’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. He earned his B.A. from Yale and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. Purves was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1989 for his work on neural development and synaptic plasticity; however, his research over the last 15 years years has sought to explain why we see and hear what we do, focusing on the visual perception of brightness, color, form, and motion, and the auditory perception of music and speech. His books include Principles of Neural Development (with Jeff Lichtman; Sinaur,1985) Body and Brain (Harvard,1988); Neural Activity and the Growth of the Brain (Cambridge, 1992); Why We See What we Do (with Beau Lotto; Sinauer, 2003); Perceiving Geometry (with Catherine Howe; Springer 2005); Why We See What we Do Redux (Sinauer, 2011) and Brains: How they Seem to Work (Financial Times Press, 2011). He is also lead author on the textbooks Neuroscience, Fifth Edition (Sinauer, 2011) and Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience, Second Edition (Sinauer, 2012). More information, access to publications and a complete CV are available at

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Feb 17th: Salvador Soto-Faraco on Multisensory integration under the yoke of attention

divided_attentionSalvador Soto Faraco (ICREA, Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
Thursday Feb 14th, Room 243, Senate House second floor 5-7pm

Abstract: The beneficial consequences of perceiving and integrating information across different sensory systems have been profusely described in recent literature. For example, we often find it easier to hear someone at a noisy party when we can see their face or, can react more accurately to the blare of a siren if we can also see the ambulance. Multisensory phenomena like these have been extensively studied in the laboratory, but often under conditions where attention can be easily focused on the critical stimuli. However, these focused attention conditions are very different from most everyday life environments, where many relevant and irrelevant sensory events can co-occur within a short time window and perhaps at close locations in space. What is more, multisensory coincidences may occur at completely unexpected moments and places. In these cases, segregation, selection and, the detection of true inter-sensory coincidences from spurious correlations are essential to be able to benefit from multisensory integration. But, is multisensory integration robust to attentionally demanding situations? I will present the results of recent studies from our laboratory that address precisely this issue by looking at the interplay between attention and multisensory integration. These studies span across various domains of perception where multisensory integration plays a paramount role. In the domain of audio-visual integration of speech, I will show examples of how selective attention can modulate behavioural and physiological expressions of multisensory integration. In the domain of temporal processing, I will illustrate how expectation to different points in time can alter the way information is bound across sensory modalities. Finally, in the domain of body representation, I will present some studies that attempt to track how the perception (and perhaps awareness) of touch in space unfolds as information from different modalities is orchestrated through integration. Altogether, the (modest) conclusion of this talk is that multisensory integration cannot be understood without its interplay with attention systems, and that this interplay may lead to have radically different perceptions of otherwise similar sensory combinations.

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A World of Tactile illusions And What We Can Do With Them

Censes Forum, Thursday Jan 17th, 5-7pm
Room 243, Senate House (2nd floor), Malet Street London WC1

Vincent Hayward (ISIR, Paris)
A World of Tactile illusions And What We Can Do With Them

During mechanical interaction with our environment, we have a perceptual experience that can be compare to audition or vision. The sense of touch is based on mechanics and on its infinite complexities. Feeling objects, like in vision and audition, relies on the solution of a vast inverse problem, which is at the root of many ambiguities. To make matters more interesting, there is mounting evidence that many percepts, such as shape, texture, rigidity, speed, size, and on on, can be elicited through multiple sensing modes that blur the boundaries traditionally erected between touch and kinesthesia. From these ambiguities many illusions can arise when provoked by staging the proper conditions. In our group, we strive to build equipment to study them and take advantage of them for practical purpose. Sometimes, we can come up with informative, or even predictive explanations.

Vincent Hayward (Dr.-Ing., 1981 Univ. de Paris XI) was Postoctoral Fellow then Visiting Assistant Professor (1982) at Purdue University, and joined CNRS, France, as Chargé de Recherches in 1983. In 1987, he joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University as assistant, associate and then full professor (2006). He was the Director of the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines from 2001 to 2004. Hayward is interested in haptic device design and in perception. He is on editorial board of the ACM Transactions on Applied Perception and just completed a term as associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Haptics, and is a Fellow of the IEEE. Hayward has published in Nature, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, Current Biology, as well as in numerous engineering journals.

Click here for the list of forthcoming seminars

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CenSes forum this fall

Thursday Oct 25th (4-6pm): Victoria Williamson (Goldsmith) on Amusia.

Thursday Nov 1st (4-6pm):Georges Rey (Maryland) on Concept Nativism.

Wednesday Nov 7th (SPECIAL SCHEDULE: 4.30-6.30pm): Roi Cohen-Kadosh (Oxford) on Synaesthesia

Thursday Nov 22nd (4-6pm): Matt Nudds (Warwick), title to be confirmed

Thursday Dec 7th (4-6pm): Joelle Proust (Jean Nicod, Paris) on Noetic feelings

Thursday Dec 13th (LUNCHTIME 12.30pm-2.30pm): Josef Pavizi (Stanford)

Thursday Dec 13th (4p. – 5.30pm) Richard Samuels (Ohio) Scientific Inference and Ordinary Cognition: Fodor on Holism and Cognitive Architecture.

All the seminars will take place in R 243, Senate House, 2nd floor, Malet Street. Entrance via Senate House (exceptionally via Stewart House on Russell Square, on nov 1st)
Please email to receive our announcements.

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Prof Colin Blakemore appointed as director of the CenSes

The Institute of Philosophy, a member institute of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, is delighted to welcome Professor Colin Blakemore as Director of the Institute’s Centre for the Study of the Senses.
Professor Blakemore, a renowned vision scientist, is one of Britain’s leading scientists, who speaks and advises on a number of public issues, including chairing the Royal Society’s recent Brain Waves project, reviewing the policy implications of developments in neuroscience, including a report on Neuroscience and the Law. Colin Blakemore is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was a previous head of the Medical Research Council. He has been a Reith Lecturer and given the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. He has been honoured by many countries, including India and China, and has ten honorary degrees.
Colin‘s research on the neuronal plasticity of the brain has wide implications for learning and memory. He has shown how the visual cortex adapts shortly after birth, helping the brain to match itself to the sensory environment, and this process of reorganisation helps to explain how some parts of the brain can take over the function of others after damage. Professor Blakemore will direct the work of the Centre for the Study of the Senses, which pioneers collaborative sensory research between philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists, looking at the way our senses cooperate to create perceptions of the world around us.
Colin Blakemore commented: “For many years I have thought that philosophy has much to contribute to the exploding field of neuroscience – and vice versa. I am very excited about the challenge of facilitating new interactions and collaborations across the traditional boundaries between the humanities and neuroscience.”
Professor Barry Smith, Director of the Institute of Philosophy, said: “We are delighted to have Colin Blakemore joining us. He will play a vital role in leading a new generation of philosophically-minded neuroscientists and scientifically-minded philosophers. ”

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Additional seminar: D. Aagten-Murphy on numerosity

5pm on Thursday 30th August, Room 305, 26 Bedford Way.

Investigating numerosity perception and its applications for studying development and clinical populations
David Aagten-Murphy
University of Florence, Italy

A common challenge, particularly in developmental or clinical testing, is ensuring subjects’ best performance throughout the experiment. Here we present several game-like paradigms, used for examining numerosity perception with typically-developing children and children with autism, designed to keep subjects attentive and motivated throughout testing. While these game-like interfaces can boost subject compliance, techniques such as adaptation still require monotonous repetition, a prohibitively large number of trials and prolonged fixation. Through a series of studies with adults, examining the psychophysical properties of number adaptation, we developed a rapid-adaptation paradigm whereby substantial adaptation can occur with adaptation periods as short as 1 s (compared with the typical 30–60s adaptation). This brief adaptation produces large effects in perceived numerosity that last over extended delays (10–20s) between adaptation and test, with measurable effects persisting for hours after initial adaptation. These results implicate a highly plastic mechanism for numerosity perception and suggest a quick and efficient paradigm for use in clinical testing of numerosity. Finally, in a preliminary fMRI study in adults we used this novel paradigm to investigate the impact that adaptation has on brain regions associated with numerosity.
Alan Johnston
Research Strategy Director, CoMPLEX
Professor of Psychology
Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences
University College London

Tel +44 (0)20 7679 5310 (x25310)

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CenSes Forum June14th: E. Fridland (Berlin) on skill acquisition

Room G37, Senate House, 4-6pm

Imitation, skill learning, and conceptual thought: an embodied, developmental approach

It will be the goal of my talk to offer a strategy for moving from imitation to conceptual thought. After accepting that imitation plays a vital role in accounting for the facility with which human beings acquire abilities, I argue that successful task performance is notidentical to intelligent action. To move beyond first-order behavioral success, I suggest that the orientation that humans have toward the means of intentional actions, i.e., the orientation required for imitation, also drives us to perfect our skills in a way that produces fertile ground for florid thought. Specifically, I argue that the meanscentric orientation, when inverted onto itself, motivates skill refinement and, as such, allows us to reach the intermediate level of cognitive development. It is at this level, through the individuation and recombination of action elements, that we see a basic syntax of action arise and, with it, the characteristic features of intelligence emerge.

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June 1st: Scent & Sensibility : The neuroscience of fragance

Senate House, University of London Room G22/26

Recent scientific studies have shown that olfaction is not as secondary a sense as people believe. Olfaction has specific and privileged connections to emotion and memory and its importance in terms of attachment and recognition shows already in utero and, on the flip side, in the aging population and specific brain pathologies. Finally, the natural and cultural use of fragrances and olfactory cues in human communication is emerging as a new topic for scientific investigation.

Read more….

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CenSes Forum: B. Keeley (Pitzer College)’Making sense of the senses’

CenSes Seminar

4-6pm Room G35 (Senate House, Ground Floor)

A decade ago, I argued for what I called a “neuroethological approach” to understanding how to individuate the senses. This approach takes the biological science that seeks to explore the neural basis of natural behaviors as its starting point, for example, in the almost 150 year path from the first proposal that animals might use electricity to perceive their environment to the mid-20th century arrival at the consensus that a number of fish, sharks, skates and rays possess this nonhuman sensory modality. I now argue that this biological understanding of the senses is but _one_ of many related, but different, explanations of the senses that we find in scientific and lay accounts of the sensory modalities. Embracing such a pluralism raises the problem of what unifies them; that is, what is it that makes all of these different accounts accounts _of the senses_? I argue that most, if not all, of them share a basic schematic structure reflected by the generic use of the term “modality” in these contexts. I will present that schema and show how it applies to a couple of different approaches to the senses.

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CenSes Forum: K. Allen (York) on color

May 24th
4-6pm Room SB9 (Stewart House, Basement)
Keith Allen (York) Color as a superficial kind

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