Gerry Altmann · [CogsciColloq] Representing objects across time: language-mediated event representation
Language is often used to describe the changes that occur around us – changes in either state (“I cracked the glass…”) or location (“I moved the glass onto the table…”). To fully comprehend such events requires that we represent the ‘before’ and ‘after’ states of the object. But how do we represent these mutually exclusive states of a single object at the same time? I shall summarise a series of studies, primarily from fMRI, which show that we do represent such alternative states, and that these alternative states compete with one another in much the same way as alternative interpretations of an ambiguous word might compete. These studies also show that whereas the representations of distinct but similar objects (e.g. a glass and a cup) interfere with one another in proportion to their similarity, representations of the distinct states of the same object interfere in proportion to their dissimilarity. This interference, or competition, manifests in a part of the brain that has been implicated in resolving competition. Furthermore, activity in this area is predicted by the dissimilarity, elsewhere in the brain, between sensorimotor instantiations of the described object’s distinct states. I shall end with new data (still too hot to touch) whose interpretation is a first step towards a brain mechanism for distinguishing between object types, tokens, and token-states. [Prior knowledge of the brain is neither presumed, required, nor advantageous].