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Public Lectures

Language in the brain: What to know so you can win friends and influence people

Presented by Professor David Poeppel

Department of Psychology, New York University, USA and Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Germany

10.30-12.00 pm, Friday 21 November 2014, Macquarie University, Sydney


Language is complicated. The brain is complicated. Is there any hope in developing a satisfying understanding of how nervous tissue forms the basis for the linguistic computational system? The challenge is formidable, but there are a few fundamental ideas that help us construct linking hypotheses. These ideas can be described at a level that is easy to grasp and fun to contemplate. I discuss several foundational concepts that underpin the study of brain and language - even passing knowledge of which provides an appreciation of cognitive neuroscience with which one can impress friends and colleagues. These ideas include some surprising features of the memory mechanisms that enable our knowledge of words; and some unexpected insights into the rules that govern the combination of basic elements ("The atoms of language"). Neuroscience teaches us, moreover, that there are parallel processing streams that segregate the ‘what' and ‘how' of language processing. Remarkably, processing also happens on different parallel scales, implementing multi-time resolution. Finally, the brain mechanisms for language are masterful at predicting the future, locally and globally. These five ideas go a long way in characterizing the linguistic computational system of the human mind/brain.


David Poeppel is a Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University as well as the Director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Max-Planck-Institute in Frankfurt. The research in Poeppel's groups focuses on the brain basis of language, speech, music, and auditory cognition. Trained at MIT in cognitive science, linguistics, and neuroscience, Poeppel did his post-doctoral training at the University of California San Francisco. Until 2008, he was a professor at the University of Maryland College Park, where he ran the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language laboratory. He has been a fellow and guest professor at many institutions. He is a believer in what he calls 'tithing' to cognitive science (and an obligation for scientists to explain to general audiences what their work is about) and co-authors a blog (with Greg Hickok, Director of the Center for Language Sciences at UC Irvine) called Talking Brains.

What the computational neuroanatomy of speech reveals about language, motor control, mirror neurons, embodied cognition, and the architecture of the mind/brain

Presented by Professor Greg Hickok
School of Social Science, University of California, Irvine, USA

2.30-4.00 pm, Friday 21 November 2014, Macquarie University, Sydney


Language has served as a test bed for some of the biggest questions in neuroscience and psychology. The nineteenth century debates over cortical specialization, the cognitive revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the 1980s dispute regarding whether mental computations involved symbolic versus connectionist-distributed processes, the mirror neuron power-grab of the human mind and brain over the last decade, and the growing influence of embodied approaches to cognition have all featured language as a center piece of their arguments. In this talk I will outline progress in understanding the cortical organization and neurocomputational operations of a fairly low-level aspect of language processing, the processing of speech sounds during perception and production. I'll then show how this progress can be used a model to understand the organization of language systems (linguistics may be studying only half the system), motor systems (there's more overlap with language than you might think), mirror neurons (they don't support action understanding, language, empathy, or theory of mind), embodied cognition (it's not a post-cognitive revolution), and the organization of mind and brain itself.


Professor Hickok is co-director of the Auditory and Cognitive Neuroscience Labs at the University of California, Irvine. His work seeks to understand the neural basis of auditory perception and language processing in both typical and atypical populations. This work encompasses a broad range of theoretical issues including spatial hearing, auditory scene segregation, music and tone perception, speech perception and production, auditory-motor integration, sentence comprehension, and verbal working memory. Professor Hickok's methodological approach is equally broad, and includes psychophysics, electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalograpy (MEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation TMS, neuropsychology, and behavioural genetics. His work involves a number of populations such as healthy adults and children, autism, stroke-induced chronic and acute aphasia, primary progressive aphasia, and stuttering among others.


The conference will be held in Room 1.200 (Lecture Theatre) at the Australian Hearing Hub at Macquarie University, Sydney NSW, Australia.

Macquarie University Campus Map (may take a while to load)


2.00-4.00 pm with light refreshments from 4.00 pm


Robin Blumfield
Tel: +612 9850 4127

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