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UTism 2022:TIME

Conference Abstract

Today turns into yesterday in the blink of an eye, and we anxiously wait for our plans to become the present. The concept of time is embedded into our daily lives. Yet, the question of what it is and how it connects to our minds is poorly understood.

UofT’s Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence Students Association (CASA) invites you to a breathtaking adventure of Time and the Mind at our 10th iteration of the University of Toronto Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Mind (UTism). This year, UTism aims to address: how do our minds experience time and change through it? By bringing together a lineup of stellar scholars, the conference will present an interdisciplinary perspective based on contemporary research in philosophy, psychology, computer science, neuroscience, and linguistics.

About UTism

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind, integrating knowledge in psychology, philosophy, computer science, neuroscience, and linguistics. UTism aims to explore contemporary issues in cognitive science via interdisciplinary dialogue from leading minds in cognitive science research. The goal is to converge different academic disciplines related to cognitive science to provide a holistic, multifaceted understanding of issues through an accessible platform.

The main learning outcome from this conference is the novel exposure to interdisciplinary research that will hopefully stimulate your intellectual and personal interests in the study of the mind.


Keynote Speakers

Julia Mossbridge

(Affiliate Professor at the Department of Physics and Biophysics at The University of San Diego)

Talk: Is experience equivalent to time?
Abstract: We think we have experiences of events, over time. But each of those events is created from temporal structures of order, duration, and synchrony. Given the embodied and context-dependent nature of temporal experience, it is arguable that subjective time is equivalent to subjective experience. It is at least difficult to understand what experience is if we imagine all aspects of subjective time (order, duration, synchrony) are removed from experience, and equally difficult to think that subjective time could exist without experience, however briefly had. But what about physical time? Many subjective entities (like color, loudness, and visual causation) do not always match perfectly to physical entities. So the question about whether physical time follows the same rules as subjective time is a reasonable one to explore. If order, duration and/or synchrony are purely perceptual consciousness-based phenomena, embedded in subjective experience but correlated to physical entities, what exactly is the mapping? This talk will address the kinds of experiments that can address this question, and explore how variations in the subjective-physical mapping of time may relate to improving cognition and wellbeing.

John Russon

(Presidential Distinguished Professor at the University of Guelph)

Title: Adulthood and the Experience of Time 
Abstract: Adulthood is a matter of biological maturation but it is also a matter of perspective.  I will first explore the distinctive meaning of “adulthood.” I will then argue in particular that adulthood involves a distinctive experience of time.  I will pay special attention to the significance of the lived experience of aging for an authentic experience of time.


Yang Xu

(Assistant Professor in Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto)

Title: Word meaning extension in humans and machines
Abstract: Natural language relies on a finite lexicon to express a potentially infinite array of emerging ideas. This tension is often manifested in the extension of word meanings over time. Existing theories from cognitive linguistics suggest that word meanings extend through a process of chaining, whereby novel meanings link to existing ones that are close in semantic space. I present recent development that formalizes chaining as probabilistic models of categorization to account for the historical growth of linguistic categories and its implications for shared structures of word meaning across languages. I show that similar models may be applied to generating novel language use in machines.

Myrto Grigoroglou

(Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, Linguistics)

Talk: Communicative pressures in spatial language acquisition and use
Abstract: Research on the language of space has uncovered a complex set of conceptual and linguistic factors affecting how speakers use and learn spatial vocabularies across languages. In this talk, I will argue that communicative factors, even though much less discussed, also influence spatial language acquisition and use. In a first set of studies, I will discuss the asymmetric pattern of acquisition of the locatives front and back. Although this and other asymmetric patterns of lexical emergence are thought to reflect children’s immature underlying conceptual/semantic structure, experiments with child and adult speakers of different languages demonstrate that they are due to pragmatic inferences typically associated with the use of these locatives. In a second set of studies, I will present data on a previously unnoticed asymmetry in the use of containment (in/out) and support (on/off) prepositions in English. Experiments with child and adult speakers of English demonstrate that the distribution of these prepositions is heavily affected by pragmatic factors. Together, these data provide evidence that pragmatic pressures can produce strikingly stable and potentially universal patterns of spatial language acquisition and use.

John Vervaeke

(Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Program Director of the Cognitive Science program at the University of Toronto,)

Title: Imaginal time, aspiration, and the leap of reason
Abstract: This talk will examine the intersection of work that I have done in three recent papers with Dan Chiappe about NASA scientists using the rovers on Mars for planetary exploration with work by Callard and D. C. Schindler. One theme in the work on the rovers was the use of what I will call imaginary time to carry out the scientific practice. I will then argue that this imaginary time practice is also central to what Callard has called aspiration. This aspiration is rational and exemplifies what Callard calls proleptic rationality. The talk will then argue, following work by D. C. Schindler, that reason is inherently aspirational, i.e., it is not just that aspiration is rational, but that reason is aspirational.  This entails that imaginal time plays a central role in reason.  Imaginal time is the time we take when we navigate through conceptual space.  This conceptual space is itself imaginary given the argument by Tversky that it has been exempted from the navigation of physical space. Along the way we will see how imaginal time, aspiration, and identity formation are bound up together in an embodied fashion. Imaginal time is the time of embodied rational personhood. 

Michael Barnett-Cowan

( Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo )

Talk: It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Abstract: The central nervous system is constantly challenged to resolve differences in the relative timing of sensory events to maintain perceptual and postural stability. Multisensory stimuli originating from the same event can be perceived asynchronously not only due to differential physical and neural delays in signal propagation and transduction, but also in the time required to attempt to computationally resolve these temporal discrepancies. The inability to accurately identify simultaneity and temporality of multisensory events can lead to errors in judgment, affect tasks of daily living, and lead to dangerous behaviors such as falls. In this talk I will highlight a number of approaches we use in the Multisensory Brain and Cognition lab to better understand the neural systems and processes that underlie multisensory time perception in real and virtual environments among users with normal, aged, and damaged brains. I will argue that the ability to estimate the passage of time with precision is fundamental to our ability to interact with the world, but that for some individuals this “internal clock” is maladjusted, causing timing deficiencies that affect perception and action. With a bit of a mind flip, you’re there in the time slip. And nothing can ever be the same. I will conclude that our work using virtual reality, which has the capacity to manipulate sensorimotor contingencies related to how we expect events to unfold in time as a result of our actions, not only provides evidence that the perception of time is flexible, but also that technology such as virtual reality offers a potentially valuable tool for recalibrating time in the brain.