Center for Cognitive Science

The Puzzle of the Mind

Terrence Deacon, Ph.D., Boston University
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2003 P. Johnson-Laird

2002: R. Jackendoff

2001: T. Deacon

2000: S. Palmer

1999: M. Posner

1998: M. Bowerman

1997: R. Schank

1996: J. Bruner

1995: D. Dennett

1994: N. Chomski


The Center for Cognitive Science presents:


Tuesday, April 10, 2001
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Screening Room
North Campus

Terrence Deacon, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology, Boston University

Human Brains: The Difference
That MakesThe Difference

Within the divergent structures of human brains lie the clues to our most unique human abilities: from language to esthetic appreciation. By exploring how human brains structurally diverge from patterns common to other primate and mammal brains we can find hints about which brain differences make the difference. But there are many differences. How do we know which ones matter most? In this presentation I will review some of the evidence concerning these differences, the mechanisms underlying them, and their implications for language functions. By investigating the ways that neurodevelopmental processes have been modified in humans, I will show that our unique abilities have not been produced by the addition of new structures, but rather from subtle modifications of existing primate brain systems. Looking more closely at some of these modifications to the "standard primate brain plan" we find that they correspond closely with some of the most unusual neural demands that are imposed by language processing. Three of these neural adaptations to language are explored: the neural bases for symbolic, vocal, and syntactic abilities. Using these insights I will suggest ways to clear up some confusions about what must be innate and why (or why not), and suggest some unexpected new ways to think about how languages and brains have co-evolved in our prehistory.


With the Co-Sponsorship of:

Department of English

Department of Anthropology

Department of Psychology

Department of Computer Science and Engineering

English Language Institute

Department of Linguistics

Department of Philosophy

Cognitive Science Graduate Student Association


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Last updated on January 8, 2004 by H. Jones

The Center for Cognitive Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 652 Baldy Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260
Phone: (716) 645-2177 ext. 717, Fax: (716) 645-3825

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