Whitehead Lectures in Cognition, Computation and Culture

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Goldsmiths' Departments of Computing and Psychology organise regular lectures by guest speakers throughout the academic year encompassing diverse aspects of cognition, computation and culture. All are welcome to attend.

Check our map for directions to Goldsmiths. For enquiries related to the lectures, please contact Karina Linnell or Frederic Leymarie.

The Mind of the Bee

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 16 January 2019
Venue: Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Lars Chiitka http://www.sbcs.qmul.ac.uk/staff/larschittka.html 

Bees have a diverse instinctual repertoire that exceeds in complexity that of most vertebrates. This repertoire allows the social organisation of such feats as the construction of precisely hexagonal honeycombs, an exact climate control system inside their home, the provision of the hive with commodities that must be harvested over a large territory (nectar, pollen, resin, and water), as well as a symbolic communication system that allows them to inform hive members about the location of these commodities.  However, the richness of bees’ instincts has traditionally been contrasted with the notion that bees’ small brains allow little behavioural flexibility and learning behaviour. This view has been entirely overturned in recent years, when it was discovered that bees display abilities such as counting, attention, simple tool use, learning by observation and metacognition (knowing their own knowledge). Thus, some scholars now discuss the possibility of consciousness-like phenomena in the bees. These observations raise the obvious question of how such capacities may be implemented at a neuronal level in the miniature brains of insects. We need to understand the neural circuits, not just the size of brain regions, which underlie these feats. Neural network analyses show that cognitive features found in insects, such as numerosity, attention and categorisation-like processes, may require only very limited neuron numbers. Using computational models of the bees' visual system, we explore whether seemingly advanced cognitive capacities might 'pop out' of the properties of relatively basic neural processes in the insect brain’s visual processing area, and their connection with the mushroom bodies, higher order learning centres in the brains of insects.

Lars Chittka is distinguished for his work on the evolutionary ecology of sensory systems and cognition, using insect-flower interactions as a model. He developed perceptual models of bee colour vision, allowing the derivation of optimal receiver systems as well as a quantification of the evolutionary pressures shaping flower signals. He also made fundamental contributions to the understanding of animal cognition and its fitness benefits in the economy of nature. He explored phenomena such as numerosity, speed-accuracy tradeoffs, false memories and social learning in bees. His discoveries have made a substantial impact on the understanding of animal intelligence and its neural-computational underpinnings. 

Lars is a recipient of the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award and an Advanced Fellowship from the European Research Council (ERC). He is also an elected Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS), the Royal Entomological Society (FRES) as well as the Royal Society of Biology (FSB). He is also the founder of the Psychology Department at Queen Mary University of London, where he is a Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology.



The Psychology of Magic, or Why the Mind is Tricked 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 13 February 2019
Venue: Council Chamber, Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths University of London 
Speaker: Nicky Clayton & Clive Wilkins https://www.psychol.cam.ac.uk/people/nicola-clayton https://www.psychol.cam.ac.uk/people/clive-wilkins 

What do cognitive illusions demonstrate about the psychology of the human mind? We argue that magic effects reveal critical cognitive constraints on our ability to engage in mental time travel and theory of mind, as well as on perception and attention. 

Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins have a science-arts collaboration The Captured Thought.

Clive Wilkins is a writer and an artist. He is also a Member of the Magic Circle and Artist in Residence in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.  

Nicky Clayton is Professor of Comparative Cognition in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Society. She is also Scientist in Residence at Rambert Dance Company.


Can the contents of Consciousness be studied quantitatively? 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 27 February 2019
Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Tristan Bekinschtein https://www.neuroscience.cam.ac.uk/directory/profile.php?trisbke 

We talk phenomenology and experiences and then we measure reaction times and errors. Can we study the contents of our mind? I would argue that we are always studying content in psychology but not caring or not willing to engage in the question. Two main methods to capture what we think - direct and indirect - may allow us to formalize the questions about content, and two methods in cognitive neuroscience to map underpinnings of the contents, neural decoding and intensity tracking. I will illustrate them with EEG and fMRI experiments during pharmacologically induced states, sleep transitions and meditative techniques. 

Tristan is a biologist, Master in Neurophysiology and PhD in Neuroscience, Buenos Aires University. He has been an EU Marie Curie Fellow and senior researcher at the MRC-Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, and a Fyssen fellow at ICM, Paris. In 2011 he founded the Consciousness and Cognition Lab, now at the Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. He is Wellcome Trust Fellow and Turing Institute Fellow.


Painting Machine and Creative Practice 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 6 March 2019
Venue: RHB 137a, Ground floor, Richard Hoggart Building
Speaker: Liat Grayver & Marvin Gülzow

Artist Liat Grayver & Computer Scientist Marvin Gülzow will discuss the current state of robotic painting, its possibilities and limitations as well as future plans.

The painting robot E- David (Electronic Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Image Display, developed since 2008) is the focal point of the collaboration between the artist Liat Grayver and the research team headed by Prof. Oliver Deussen at the University of Konstanz. Since 2016 they investigate the creation of an autonomous painting machine as a tool to reflect on the human and computational models in the act of creating a painting. By using visual feedback the machine is capable of creating unique works through the application of series of paint strokes which are non-deterministic in terms of their colour blend and the materiality of their layering. This unique platform allowed Grayver to reconceptualize the very foundations of the painting practice, starting with the bodily movement of the single brushstroke all the way to questions concerning control and loss thereof in the creative process. The project is a meeting point between the fields of robotics, software and painting, aspiring to constitute a novel venue for the establishment of new and innovative ground in the act of both painting and human-machine interaction. Works created during this collaboration have been acknowledged and exhibited in a wide range of international arts institutions and museums.

Liat Grayver graduated with a Meisterschueler degree (post-graduate ) from the Meistersklasse of Prof. Joachim Blank (Media Art 2018) following her studies as post-graduated and MFA in the class of Prof. Heribert. C. Ottersbach (painting and printmaking 2015) at the Art Academy of Leipzig (HGB). Since January 2016, Grayver has been collaborating with the University of Konstanz on the e-David Project, exploring various approaches to integrate robotic and computer languages in the processes of painting and creative image-making. Her works have been exhibited in galleries, art fairs, and museums throughout Europe, Israel, and South Korea. Since 2014, she is based in Berlin and working in Berlin, Leipzig, Konstanz and Tel-Aviv.

Marvin Gülzow completed his Master of Computer Science at the University of Konstanz in 2018 and is now a PhD candidate there. For his thesis, he continues development on both software and hardware for e-David. His primary research interests are developing methods which allow the painting machine to autonomously experiment with its tools and extending the automatic painting process to include more advanced brush handling techniques.

Conscious agency and the preconscious/unconscious self

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 20 March 2019
Venue: Council Chambers, Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Professor Max Velmans

We habitually think of our Self as a conscious agent operating largely in terms of how we consciously experience those operations. However, psychological and neuroscientific findings suggest that mental operations that seem to be initiated by the conscious Self are largely preconscious or unconscious.  In this talk I examine how these aspects of the Self and its operations combine in the exercise of free will—and suggest that the conscious wishes, choices and decisions that we normally associate with “conscious free will” result from preconscious processes that provide a form of “preconscious free will”.  The conscious experiences associated with other so-called “conscious processing” in complex tasks such as speech perception and production, reading and thinking, also result from preconscious processing, which requires a more nuanced analysis of how conscious experiences relate to the processes with which they are most closely associated. We need to distinguish processes that are conscious a) in the sense that we are conscious of them, b) in the sense that they result in a conscious experience, and c) in the sense that consciousness plays a causal role in those processes.  We also examine how consciousness enables real-ization: it is only when one experiences something for oneself that it becomes subjectively real. Together, these findings suggest that Self has a deeper architecture.  Although the real-ized aspects of the Self are the consciously experienced aspects, these are just the visible “tip” of a far more complex, embedding preconscious/unconscious ground. 


Max Velmans is Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology of consciousness, and, more recently, on East-West integrative approaches. He has over 100 publications on these topics including his books Understanding Consciousness (2000, 2009), The Science of Consciousness (1996), Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness (2000), The (co-edited) Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007, 2017), Towards a Deeper Understanding of Consciousness (2017) and the four-volume collection Consciousness (Critical Concepts in Psychology) (2018). He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and an Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011


Autonomic control, interoception, and experience 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 27 March 2019
Venue: Council Chamber, Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths University of London   
Speaker: Hugo Critchley https://www.bsms.ac.uk/about/contact-us/staff/professor-hugo-d-critchley.aspx 

The internal state of our bodies influence how we experience ourselves and the external environment. With a focus on the phasic signals that accompany individual heartbeats, I will discuss evidence implicating the predictive (autonomic) control and interoceptive representation of physiological state as the correlate of mental effort, the basis for affective feelings, and the substrate of self-representation. 

Such embodiment of mental processes underpins the experience of perceiving and acting on the world. Knowledge about the brain mechanisms supporting interoception informs our understanding of normative conscious processes and of how psychiatric symptoms arise through their disorder. 

Hugo Critchley is Professor of Psychiatry at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and co-Director with Anil Seth of the Sackler Centre of Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex. Hugo’s clinical interest in neuropsychiatry and training in brain imaging and autonomic medicine has allowed him to pursue an interdisciplinary research programme that combines cognitive psychology and neuroimaging with detailed physiological measurements and studies of patients.



Literature and art as a cognitive object: towards a novel mentalistic theory of literature and art

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 29 May 2019
Venue: Cinema, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London   
Speaker: Dr Patricia Kolaiti https://www.cambridge.org/gr/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/semantics-and-pragmatics/limits-expression-language-literature-mind?format=HB

This talk will outline the key theoretical hypothesis of ‘Literature and Art as a Cognitive Object’ (CogLit), a two-year research project based in the School of Humanities, University of Brighton and funded by a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship, European Commission. Shifting the focus from the properties of the artwork/ literary text itself to literature/ art as a case of human agency, ‘CogLit’ will set out a radically new view of the interplay between literature, art and mind and make one of the first systematic and empirically tractable proposals in the 21st century on the essence of literature and art.

In this talk, Dr Patricia Kolaiti will try to give the audience a taste of some of the fascinating questions about the nature of literature and art that ‘CogLit’ will be focusing on and hint on the challenges raised for traditional perceptions of literature and art by adopting a novel cognitive perspective. This talk will move beyond the existing binary oppositions of artifact-oriented and receiver-oriented approaches to literature and art, put the artist/producer at the centre of attention and gesture towards a new producer-oriented theoretical model of literature and art as a cognitive concept standing in a causal relation to a specialized type of creative mental states and processes. These specialized mental states and processes are metaphysically- and psychologically-real entities. Investigating them may help provide answers to persistent ontological questions in literary and art theory and delineate new and exciting potential for research in the linguistic and cognitive study of literature and art by enabling us shift the focus from the artifactual properties of artworks as objects out there in the world to their complex retroactive relationship with the micro-mechanisms of the mind that creates them.

Dr Patricia Kolaiti is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow in the School of Humanities, University of Brighton, working on the 2-year interdisciplinary project ‘Literature and Art as a Cognitive Object’ (‘CogLit’) funded by the European Commission. ‘CogLit’ aims to develop a novel theoretical account of literature and art as a cognitive object and build two-way interactions between literary and art study, linguistics and the cognitive sciences. Patricia holds a PhD from UCL and was Associate Researcher with the Balzan project on ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’ (based at St John’s College Research Centre, Oxford and led by Prof. Terence Cave). Her first monograph The Limits of Expression: Language, Literature, Mind has recently been published by Cambridge University Press. She is a member of the Cognitive Futures in the Humanities Network, and a co-founder of the Beyond Meaning Network and the Poetry as an Action Research Group. Patricia is also a published poet and performer with a strong presence in the contemporary Greek literary scene: her collection Celesteia was nominated for the 2008 First Book Diavazo Award in Greece.

For an overview of the CogLit project’s main theoretical hypotheses, please have a look at the CogLit webpage: https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/coglit/

A link to Dr Kolaiti's monograph “The Limits of Expression: Language, Literature, Mind” that has just come out by CUP: https://www.cambridge.org/gr/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/semantics-and-pragmatics/limits-expression-language-literature-mind?format=HB