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From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language Jerome A. Feldman (University of California

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We present Embodied Construction Grammar, a formalism for linguistic analysis designed specifi-cally for integration into a simulation-based model of language understanding. As in other construction grammars, linguistic constructions serve to map between phonological forms and conceptual representa-tions. In the model we describe, however, conceptual representations are also constrained to be grounded in the body's perceptual and motor systems, and more precisely to parameterize mental simulations us-ing those systems. Understanding an utterance thus involves at least two distinct processes: analysis to determine which constructions the utterance instantiates, and simulation according to the parameters specified by those constructions. In this report, we outline a construction formalism that is both rep-resentationally adequate for these purposes and specified precisely enough for use in a computational architecture.
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Perceptual symbol systems assume an analogue relationship between a symbol and its referent, whereas amodal symbol systems assume an arbitrary relationship between a symbol and its referent. According to perceptual symbol theories, the complete representation of an object, called a simulation, should reflect physical characteristics of the object. Amodal theories, in contrast, do not make this prediction. We tested the hypothesis, derived from perceptual symbol theories, that people mentally represent the orientation of an object implied by a verbal description. Orientation (vertical-horizontal) was manipulated by having participants read a sentence that implicitly suggested a particular orientation for an object. Then recognition latencies to pictures of the object in each of the two orientations were measured. Pictures matching the orientation of the object implied by the sentence were responded to faster than pictures that did not match the orientation. This finding is interpreted as offering support for theories positing perceptual symbol systems.
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Artificial intelligence research has foundered on the issue of representation. When intelligence is approached in an incremental manner, with strict reliance on interfacing to the real world through perception and action, reliance on representation disappears. In this paper we outline our approach to incrementally building complete intelligent Creatures. The fundamental decomposition of the intelligent system is not into independent information processing units which must interface with each other via representations. Instead, the intelligent system is decomposed into independent and parallel activity producers which all interface directly to the world through perception and action, rather than interface to each other particularly much. The notions of central and peripheral systems evaporate—everything is both central and peripheral. Based on these principles we have built a very successful series of mobile robots which operate without supervision as Creatures in standard office environments.
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Thesis (Ph. D. in Computer Science)--University of California, Berkeley, Dec. 1997. Includes bibliographical references (p. 278-290).
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Prior to the twentieth century, theories of knowledge were inherently perceptual. Since then, developments in logic, statistics, and programming languages have inspired amodal theories that rest on principles fundamentally different from those underlying perception. In addition, perceptual approaches have become widely viewed as untenable because they are assumed to implement recording systems, not conceptual systems. A perceptual theory of knowledge is developed here in the context of current cognitive science and neuroscience. During perceptual experience, association areas in the brain capture bottom-up patterns of activation in sensory-motor areas. Later, in a top-down manner, association areas partially reactivate sensory-motor areas to implement perceptual symbols. The storage and reactivation of perceptual symbols operates at the level of perceptual components--not at the level of holistic perceptual experiences. Through the use of selective attention, schematic representations of perceptual components are extracted from experience and stored in memory (e.g., individual memories of green, purr, hot). As memories of the same component become organized around a common frame, they implement a simulator that produces limitless simulations of the component (e.g., simulations of purr). Not only do such simulators develop for aspects of sensory experience, they also develop for aspects of proprioception (e.g., lift, run) and introspection (e.g., compare, memory, happy, hungry). Once established, these simulators implement a basic conceptual system that represents types, supports categorization, and produces categorical inferences. These simulators further support productivity, propositions, and abstract concepts, thereby implementing a fully functional conceptual system. Productivity results from integrating simulators combinatorially and recursively to produce complex simulations. Propositions result from binding simulators to perceived individuals to represent type-token relations. Abstract concepts are grounded in complex simulations of combined physical and introspective events. Thus, a perceptual theory of knowledge can implement a fully functional conceptual system while avoiding problems associated with amodal symbol systems. Implications for cognition, neuroscience, evolution, development, and artificial intelligence are explored.
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We examined the prediction that people activate perceptual symbols during language comprehension. Subjects read sentences describing an animal or object in a certain location. The shape of the object or animal changed as a function of its location (e.g., eagle in the sky, eagle in a nest). However, this change was only implied by the sentences. After reading a sentence, subjects were presented with a line drawing of the object in question. They judged whether the object had been mentioned in the sentence (Experiment 1) or simply named the object (Experiment 2). In both cases, responses were faster when the pictured object's shape matched the shape implied by the sentence than when there was a mismatch. These results support the hypothesis that perceptual symbols are routinely activated in language comprehension.
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Children learn a variety of verbs for hand actions starting in their second year of life. The semantic distinctions can be subtle, and they vary across languages, yet they are learned quickly. How is this possible? This dissertation explores the hypothesis that to explain the acquisition and use of action verbs, motor control must be taken into account. It presents a model of embodied semantics---based on the principles of neural computation in general and on the human motor system in particular---which takes a set of labelled actions and learns both to label novel actions and to obey verbal commands. Akey feature of the model is the executing schema, an active controller mechanism which, by actually driving behavior, allows the model to c...
The Psychology of Learning and Motivation
  • Editor Ross
Ross, editor, The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, volume 43. Elsevier Science, pages 93–126.