AI Seminar

AI Journal Club: Inaugural Meeting

John Laird

Tuesday, December 06, 2011
4:00pm - 5:30pm
3725 Beyster Bldg.

On Dec. 6, we are going to try something different: have all AI students and faculty read a paper of broad AI interest and then discuss it. The paper is "Darwin’s mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds" by Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli. This is a paper from Behavioral and Brian Sciences, and includes commentary at the end. The combination of paper and commentary is quite long (69 pages), so I recommend focusing on the paper. At the seminar, I will give an overview the paper, define terminology and concepts that might be foreign to AI students, and try to provide some structure for the discussion. Access the paper here (

Paper abstract: "Over the last quarter century, the dominant tendency in comparative cognitive psychology has been to emphasize the similarities between human and nonhuman minds and to downplay the differences as “one of degree and not of kind” (Darwin 1871). In the present target article, we argue that Darwin was mistaken: the profound biological continuity between human and nonhuman animals masks an equally profound discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. To wit, there is a significant discontinuity in the degree to which human and nonhuman animals are able to approximate the higher-order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system (PSS) (Newell 1980). We show that this symbolic-relational discontinuity pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain. We propose a representational-level specification as to where human and nonhuman animals’ abilities to approximate a PSS are similar and where they differ. We conclude by suggesting that recent symbolic-connectionist models of cognition shed new light on the mechanisms that underlie the gap between human and nonhuman minds."

Additional Information

Sponsor: Toyota

Open to: Public