Optimality Theory as a General Cognitive Architecture

( News: preliminary program is available on the website: http://www.birot.hu/events/OTGCA/ )

( If you can’t make it to Boston, but you are interested in the topic: please read the last paragraph )

2nd Call for Participation and Call for Posters:

Optimality Theory as a General Cognitive Architecture
Workshop held at the 33rd annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
July 20, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts

Short Summary:

Optimality Theory has been a very popular approach to linguistic phenomena, but how does it relate to (higher) cognition in general? Twenty-five years after the publication of Harmony Theory (Smolensky, 1986), and five years after The Harmonic Mind (Smolensky and Legendre, 2006), this half-day workshop at the 33rd annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society offers an opportunity to discuss the place of OT (and HG, and the ICS Architecture) within the cognitive sciences at large, as well as applications of OT to domains beyond linguistics.

Longer description and Call for Posters:

Organizers: Tamas Biro and Judit Gervain
Website: http://www.birot.hu/events/OTGCA/.

Harmony Theory (Smolensky, 1986), introduced exactly 25 years ago, became one of the most popular current approaches to linguistics in the form of Optimality Theory (OT, Prince and Smolensky 1993). While most people in the OT camp focus on particular linguistic problems, the underlying motivations of the theory warrant a constant connection between OT and the (computational) cognitive sciences. The aim of this workshop is to discuss the place of Optimality Theory (and related approaches: Harmony Grammar and the ICS Architecture) within the cognitive sciences at large.

In The Harmonic Mind (2006), Smolensky and Legendre repeatedly allude to the possibility of applying their ICS Architecture to a broad spectrum of domains in (higher) cognition, while maintaining the connection between higher (abstract) level description and lower (neural) level processing. At the same time, some scholars have already adopted Optimality Theory to specific, non-linguistic phenomena, including culture and ethical decision making. Thirdly, experimental and computational OT research often tackle issues that fit nicely into the cognitive psychological tradition, thereby building new
bridges between linguistics and other cognitive domains.

Yet, it is sad to see the lack of opportunities for scholars working on OT as a general cognitive architecture to share their ideas. Even less collaboration is going on between the OT-camp and those employing utility function-based models in computational biology, psychology or economics. Therefore, the workshop offers a meeting point to those applying OT to non-linguistic domains, as well as an opportunity to discuss the place of OT, HG and ICS within the cognitive sciences.

The half-day-long workshop consists of a key-note address by Paul Smolensky, as well as by papers delivered by Petra Hendriks, Lotte Hogeweg, Doug Jones, Geraldine Legendre and Giorgio Magri. Additionally, the workshop will also feature a poster session.

We thus seek posters describing new results and addressing, primarily, though not exclusively, the following issues:

  • Optimality Theory and Harmony Grammar as general frameworks of (higher) cognition.
  • OT/HG-style analyses of phenomena belonging to (primarily, non-linguistic) domains that have not yet employed OT.
  • The connection of linguistic OT/HG to the study of other (higher) cognitive functions.
  • OT compared to HG, from theoretical-mathematical and cognitive-neuroscientific perspectives.
  • OT/HG-style formalisms compared to utility function-based approaches from a mathematical-computational perspective; their place in explaining the brain/mind.
  • Relating connectionist and symbolic approaches: the ICS Architecture and its eventual alternatives.
  • Ontogenetic aspects of OT/HG approaches (learnability).
  • Phylogenetic aspects of OT/HG approaches (including historical change, evolutionary models, etc.).

1-page-long abstracts are solicited by May 20, to be sent to Tamas Biro (t.s.biro@uva.nl). Notification of acceptance is due by May 31.

Further information, including a longer description of the workshop is getting gradually available on the website of the workshop: http://www.birot.hu/events/OTGCA/.

And a final note:

One of the aims of the workshop is to gauge ongoing work and eventual interest in using OT beyond linguistics, either in other domains, or as a general cognitive architecture. Therefore, if you cannot join us in Boston for whatever reason, but you are nevertheless interested in contributing to the theme of the workshop, for instance in the form of a paper in an eventual volume coming out of the meeting, then you are still extremely welcome to contact us.

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