Core Knowledge, Language and Culture


29 May 1 June, 2012


Description and aims


The workshop addressed the relation between core knowledge, language, music, and culture, with a view to assessing the current understanding of these questions for a theory of the mind/brain. The participants included scholars from fields as diverse as psychology, linguistics, neurobiology, neurolinguistics, music cognition, and cognitive anthropology. The goal of the workshop was to bring together researchers from these various domains in order to further sharpen a research program that addresses both new and as yet unresolved research questions.

The recorded presentations and discussions at the workshop will be made available on a website. Another tangible outcome of the workshop was the NWO-funded Horizon program Knowledge and culture, that was awarded on 30 June 2012, and whose aims and scope closely correspond to those of the workshop. We believe that the successful funding of this program was greatly facilitated by the organization and visibility of the (nearly eponymous) Lorentz Center workshop.

We believe the workshop was instrumental in bringing together researchers from various fields who were not necessarily aware that they shared an internalist point of view on matters of core knowledge, language, music and culture. This fostered and unusually intense and fruitful exchange between the disciplines involved.

To give one example, it is puzzling that a notion such as recursion (and the cognate notions of Merge or successor function) seems to play a role in apparently unrelated domains such as number/arithmetics, language, and music. Both linguistic and nonlinguistic quantification seem to be built on shared primitives. Such issues are often related  to the (dis)similarity or (dis)continuity between the animal and the human domain. The question arises whether core knowledge of number constitutes an intriguing exception to the discontinuity thesis, with potential ramifications for the representation of time and space in the spirit of Kant.


Organization and format


Both organizers and participants were very pleased with format of the presentations and the discussions. There were about 5 lectures each day, with as much time for the presentations as for the discussions. This arrangement made for an open and relaxed atmosphere that was enhanced by the excellent facilities provided by the Lorentz Center in terms of the offices and the common room. The two video-conferences, by Noam Chomsky and Tom Bever, were also very well integrated in the program and allowed for useful discussion between the participants and these speakers. The presence of a relatively small group (40-50 people) definitely enhanced the quality of the discussions. The unfailing dedication and availability of the Lorentz Center staff was much appreciated by the organizers and the participants. Nevertheless, better recording equipment for presentations and discussions would further add to the already impressive capabilities of the center.


Pierre Pica (Paris, France)
Johan Rooryck (Leiden, Netherlands)