From Core Concepts to New Systems of Knowledge

Friday, November 1, 2019 - 11:35am

Talk Abstract: “Young children rapidly develop a basic, commonsense understanding of how the world works. Research on infants suggests that this understanding rests on early emerging cognitive systems for representing bodies and their motions, agents and their actions, people and their social engagements, places and their relations of geocentric distance and direction, forms and their scale-invariant geometry, and number: six systems of core knowledge. These systems each are unitary, distinct from one another, innate, abstract, strikingly limited, shared by diverse animals, and present and functional throughout human life. Infants’ knowledge then grows both through gradual learning processes that people share with other animals, and through a fast and flexible learning process that is unique to our species and emerges with the onset of language. The latter process composes new systems of concepts productively by combining concepts from distinct systems of core knowledge. The compositional process is poorly understood but amenable to study, through coordinated behavioral testing, functional brain imaging, and computational modeling of infants’ learning. To illustrate, this talk will focus on core knowledge of agents and number, and on two new systems of concepts that emerge at the end of the first year and support uniquely human achievements: the artifact concepts underlying prolific tool use and the social agent concepts underlying conceptions of mental states as propositional attitudes and of actions as morally evaluable.”