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Jay McClelland | Mriganka Sur

Jay McClelland

Jay McClelland picture

Emergence in Cognitive Science: Semantic Cognition

James L. McClelland
Lucie Stern Professor
Chair of Department of Psychology and Director of Center for Mind, Brain, and Computation
Stanford University

Room 145 CAS, 5:15 – 6:45 PM, October 24, 2011
Refreshments will be served outside the lecture hall 5:00 - 5:30 PM

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The study of human intelligence was once dominated by symbolic approaches, but over the last 30 years an alternative approach has arisen. Symbols and processes that operate on them are often seen today as approximate characterizations of the emergent consequences of sub- or nonsymbolic processes, and a wide range of constructs in cognitive science can be understood as emergents.   These include constructs such as concepts, mental hierarchies, rules of language, declarative memory, and putative neurocognitive modules, as well as processes such as decision making and learning -- processes that exhibit non-linear transitions as they occur over different time scales.  The greatest achievements of human cognition may be largely emergent phenomena. It remains a challenge for the future to learn more about how these greatest achievements arise and to emulate them in artificial systems.

In this talk, I will consider a case in point from the study of human semantic cognition -- the process by which we make inferences about objects and their properties.  I will explore the nature of mental representations of semantic knowledge, the development of these representations, their neural basis, and the degradation of these representations in neurological degenerative diseases.

Short bio

Jay McClelland received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. He served on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, before moving to Carnegie Mellon in 1984, where he became a University Professor and held the Walter Van Dyke Bingham Chair in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience. He was a founding Co-Director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint project of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. In 2006 McClelland moved to Stanford University, where he is now Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, Chair of the Department of Psychology, and founding Director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Computation.

Over his career, McClelland has contributed to both the experimental and theoretical literatures in a number of areas, most notably in the application of connectionist/parallel distributed processing models to problems in perception, cognitive development, language learning, and the neurobiology of memory. He was a co-founder with David E. Rumelhart of the Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) research group, and together with Rumelhart he led the effort leading to the publication in 1986 of the two-volume book, Parallel Distributed Processing, in which the parallel distributed processing framework was laid out and applied to a wide range of topics in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. McClelland and Rumelhart jointly received the 1993 Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the 1996 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the 2001 Grawemeyer Prize in Psychology, and the 2002 IEEE Neural Networks Pioneer Award for this work. McClelland has served as Senior Editor of Cognitive Science, as President of the Cognitive Science Society, and as a member of the National Advisory Mental Health Council, and he is currently President of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and he has received the APS William James Fellow Award for lifetime contributions to the basic science of psychology.

McClelland currently teaches on the PDP approach to cognition and its neural basis in the Psychology Department and in the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford and conducts research on learning, memory, conceptual development, decision making, and semantic cognition.