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IMC Tuesday Seminars 2023

IMC seminar 2023-03-21

Past Fictions for the Posthuman Future: the Value of Literature for Consciousness Research

Mette Leonard Høeg, Hosted Research Fellow, The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

Abstract: In this presentation, I argue for the value of integrating literary studies in consciousness research and ethics to develop a strong ethical and existential dimension in the field. More specifically, I consider the potential of fictional narrative for developing concepts of selfhood and personal identity that cohere with the reductionist explanations of human consciousness and self in modern empirical consciousness research and are sustainable in a posthuman future. My central claim is that looking to the literary representations of human consciousness and existence that reject or are free from conventional essentialist ideas of self, agency and anthropocentrism can help 'normalise' the reductionist scientific descriptions of humans and reduce their psychologically and socio-culturally disruptive impact. I use Virginia Woolf’s The Waves as an example and show how the novel’s non-anthropocentric and nonessentialist conceptions of self and consciousness overlap with materialist theories in neuroscience and -philosophy, but present these in a distinctive narrative framework and poetic terms that bring out the inherent emancipatory potential of the materialist explanation of human existence and offer the reader the possibility of relating to these experientially and emotionally.

IMC seminar 2023-03-14

Empathy maps: what are they and how could they contribute to medical education?

Patrick Cairns, PhD student, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus University

Abstract: Most people want their doctor to be empathetic, but to what degree should it be a part of a doctor’s education? Should doctors be expected to rely on their innate person skills when faced with finite time and resources, as well as a curriculum depicting a predominately biomedical view of people? In this talk, PhD student Patrick Cairns will explore the topic of empathy in healthcare in general, as well as the use of a novel and simple communication tool in medical education: an empathy map. He will do this through the lens of his own PhD journey.

Seed Funded projects 2022 - March session

Presentation of studies and results from projects that received an IMC Seed Funding grant in 2022

IMC seminar 2023-03-07

Educational institutions and voter turnout during the long nineteenth century

Jonathan Stavnskær Doucette, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University

Abstract: Danish democracy became consolidated during the long nineteenth century. Subsequently, political engagement has been consistently high and anti-democratic parties have received very little electoral support. However, this unique democratic experience has not been subject to quantitative examination due to a lack of data. Our project makes this possible by coding new data on turnout and electoral results for all elections between 1849 and 1915 at a geographically fine-grained level. 

In addition, we propose that Folk High Schools, which sought to teach civic skills to students, increased political engagement and democratic support. The project advances our understanding of Democratic consolidation in new democracies.

IMC seminar 2023-03-07

Adding Danish to the Semantic Priming Across Many Languages project

Yngwie Asbjørn Nielsen, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus University

Abstract: Semantic priming - the facilitation of linguistic processing observed when a word follows a semantically related word - is a cornerstone within cognitive science, linguistics, and natural language processing. Large-scale databases on semantic priming have provided researchers with invaluable resources for designing experiments and developing computational models of language processing. However, the existing databases have insufficient sample sizes and are often restricted to a single language: English. In an extensive collaboration organized by the Psychological Science Accelerator, researchers from across the world will explore cross-linguistic differences in the semantic priming effect and build a new, highly-powered database spanning multiple languages. In this project, we will add Danish to a state-of-the-art resource openly available to linguists, cognitive scientists, and anyone interested in improving our understanding of language in general and Danish in particular.

IMC seminar 2023-03-07

Understanding learning through documentation – an implementation pilot

Ella Paldam, Head of Learning, The Science Museums, Aarhus University

Abstract: Several projects at the IMC collaborate with external partners such as museums, libraries and schools to develop creative and constructionist learning environments. Educators are invaluable collaborators because they know the learners and the cultures at partner institutions. Yet, external partners also represent a challenge: when we collect data from children, we commit to a complicated set of ethical and legal data regulations. For some partner institutions, the work load of setting up secure data handling infrastructure and negotiating data agreements through state and municipal offices render this type of research unfeasible. This puts at risk opportunities to strengthen the learning potential at these institutions through collaborative research and development projects. 

When we implement creative learning environments, a key component is professional development of educators at partner institutions. Taking inspiration from international collaborators from Fondazione Reggio Children (Reggio Emilia, Italy), the Tinkering Studio (San Francisco Exploratorium), and Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education), we invite educators to document learning using established practices and thinking routines. The documentation is designed to make learning visible in order to deepen learning. Yet, the potential of documentation as a research tool is still underdeveloped. 

This seed explores whether we can develop the educators’ documentation practices into a reliable source to deepen our understanding of children’s learning. Through systematic repeated interviews with educators that explore their documentation, we trace pedagogical changes caused by the implementation of new approaches to learning. By asking educators to point to and reflect on visible traces of learning from their own practice, we explore an aspect of documentation that holds potential for future IMC-based projects. 

IMC seminar 2023-02-28

Polysemiotic kinship systems as instruments of cumulative cultural evolution

Simon Devylder, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, Norway

Abstract: When people talk about kinship systems, they often use co-speech gestures and other representations to elaborate (Enfield 2005, Gaby 2016). This paper investigates such polysemiotic (spoken, gestured, and drawn) descriptions of kinship relations, to see if they display recurring patterns of conventionalization that capture specific social structures. I present a case study from Paamese, a Melanesian ethnolinguistic community from Vanuatu, where 40 Paamese speakers were asked to talk about their family in semi-guided kinship interviews (Enfield & Levinson 2003). Analyses of the speech, gesture, and drawings produced during these interviews revealed that lineality (i.e. mother’s side vs. father’s side) is lateralized in the speaker’s gesture space. In other words, kinship members of the speaker’s matriline are placed on the left side of the speaker’s body and those of the patriline are placed on their right side, when they are mentioned in speech. Moreover, when Paamese speakers describe marital relations, they make a distinctive sagittal gesture on the left-diagonal axis or on the right-diagonal axis depending on the gender of the referred relative. Anecdotal evidence from the drawings performed on the ground during the interviews also appear to mark this contrast with crossed diagonals.

We interpret these results as evidence for the existence of a Paamese ‘polysemiotic kinship system’ and make the broader claim that they are instruments of cumulative cultural evolution, used to conceptualize, capture, and transmit knowledge about the structure and practices of a society. 

IMC seminar 2023-02-21

Culture and folk Theory of Mind

Renatas Berniūnas, MSCA Postdoctoral Fellow, Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University

Abstract: In this talk, before going to my fieldwork to study “Minds in the wild: conceptualising and attributing the mental among Mongolians” (MSCA project), I want to address some conceptual issues pertaining to the notion of “mind” and to the Theory of Mind at large. As a cognitive anthropologist, I will evaluate the role of culture in understanding the folk concept and theory of mind. Often, culture has been dismissed or neglected in theorising and empirically studying ToM (or social cognition at large) in cognitive sciences and philosophy. Moreover, the English term “mind” has been employed to represent a universal category of human thought. However, there is little systematic non-English cross-cultural data about the very concept of the “mind” or how the mental sphere is categorised and organised. To illustrate some points, I will provide an example from Mongolia – the indigenous mental term “setgel” and its connection to the wider cultural context. 


IMC seminar 2023-01-31

Models and Mechanisms of Turn-Taking in Human & Non-Human Animals

Christopher Cox, PhD student, Department of Linguistics, Cognitive Science & Semiotics and Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University; Department of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York

Abstract: What can we learn about human language from communicative exchanges in bush crickets and whales? Communicative sound exchanges play a crucial role in the lives of many biological organisms and take a mind-blowing variety of forms - bush crickets communicate with mates over short distances by producing sound pulses during the closing stage of their wing cycle, and elephants produce low-frequency vocalisations at such high amplitudes that they vibrate through the surface of the ground to be detected by other elephants up to 10 kilometres away. No matter the form, all of these types of exchanges need to take timing into account. Interacting animals have to account for when the others are communicating, in some cases to avoid overlap (e.g., cetacean and avian species) and in other cases to produce synchronous vocalisations (e.g., anuran and katydid species).

In human communicative exchanges, timing is also key. A lot of research tries to disentangle how we learn to speak effortlessly to each other, shift rapidly between being talker and listener, and display a surprisingly low number of overlaps. In this talk, I will first systematically review the studies on how the ability to take turns develops in young human infants and identify crucial issues in the current way of investigating this capability. To provide alternative perspectives, I will then systematically review how turn-taking has been investigated and mathematically modeled in non-human animals - where researchers cannot rely as strongly on personal intuitions as to how turn-taking takes place. Finally, I will present a first exploratory analysis of child-caregiver turn-taking dynamics using models inspired by the non-human animal literature.