Imaging the Mind?

Taking Stock a Decade After the "Decade of the Brain"

Giorgione, Three Philosophers; Wilhelm Wundt; Siemens Medical
Giorgione, Three Philosophers, Wikimedia Commons; Wilhelm Wundt and co-workers, Wikimedia Commons; Siemens Medical

April 1-3 2011 in Amsterdam

funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)


Update:Videos of the presentations on Saturday are now online! Please click on the respective talk's title to access the website provided by the University of Amsterdam.


Friday, April 1; Shaffyzaal, FelixMeritis, Keizersgracht 324

15:00 Arrivals with coffee and tea
15:30 Welcome Address (Trudy Dehue, Groningen) and Introduction (Stephan Schleim, Groningen)
Block 1: Lectures (each 45 min talk + short discussion)
To what extent are empirical and conceptual insights concerning cognition and behavior dependent upon each other and capable of informing each other? Is it possible to distinguish an apriori (conceptual) and an empirical component in neuroscience research and if so, what should their interaction amount to?

16:00 Peter Hagoort (Nijmegen): Cognitive neuroscience beyond philosophy
Abstract: There is a school of philosophers who believe that the garden of nature should be cleaned first from the conceptual weeds by qualified philosophers, before empirical researchers should be allowed to enter the scene. I will defend a different position. This is one in which, for the case of cognitive neuroscience, knowledge on brain and cognition is strongly driven by new research tools and methods, which provide new challenges for conceptual analysis.
17:00 Peter Hacker (Oxford): What philosophy can contribute to cognitive neuroscience
Abstract: Conceptual problems are the proper province of philosophy. They cannot be resolved by empirical investigations, for they are problems about the means of representation, not about what is represented. Cognitive neuroscience operates across the boundaries between neurophysiology and psychology, the concepts of which are categorially dissimilar. Unsurprisingly the history of the subject displays a multitude of conceptual difficulties, which continue to this day. Analytic philosophy can contribute to the resolution and clarification of a wide range of conceptual problems in contemporary neuroscience. This can be readily exemplifed in the case of neuroscientific investigations of perception.

18:00 Coffee break
Block 2: Lecture (as before) and General Discussion (max. 60 min)
Given the interest of psychology in person-level investigations, it appears to remain closer to the apriori conceptual analysis defended by Hacker than neuroscience does. However, has neuroscience inspired psychologists to refer to lower levels of explanation, taking more distance from the person-level? And has this resulted in a re-consideration of the distinction between empirical and conceptual analysis for psychologists?

18:30 Bernhard Hommel (Leiden): Psychology between methodological pluralism and theoretical reductionism. Cognitive neuroscience as challenge and opportunity
Abstract: The enormous success of the cognitive neurosciences poses a number of potentially threatening challenges for psychology as a discipline. I will discuss several of these challenges, such as the trend away from a mechanistic, functional understanding of human cognition and towards theoretical reductionism or the potential of expensive neuroscientific research to exhaust the few financial resources that remain for funding behavioral research. However, I will also emphasizes the importance of meeting these challenges – not the least because psychology is arguably the most essential link between the natural sciences and the humanities. A successful survival strategy for psychology should emphasize this bridging potential, which among other things requires that psychologists become more familiar with neuroscientific methodology, including their strengths and limitations, and that they engage more in interdisciplinary research and volatile, temporary research networks.
19:30 Discussion with the speakers and the audience, moderated by Douwe Draaisma (Groningen)

20:30 Reception with snacks and drinks (until approximately 22:00 o’clock)

Saturday, April 2; Doelenzaal, University Library, University of Amsterdam, Singel 425

Background: According to the tri-level distinction proposed by David Marr, cognitive neuroscience research distinguishes between the computational task/competence level, the algorithmic level, and the neural implementation level. During this conference, presentations will consider what neuroimaging research tells us about phenomena at these levels and their (cor)relations. In particular, they will consider to what extent the balance or interaction between levels has been changed with the development of brain imaging techniques.

09:15 Introduction into the second day (Machiel Keestra, Amsterdam)
Session 1: Foundational issues in neuroimaging (each 30 min plus discussion)
From the shared Nobel Prize for Ramón y Cajal and Golgi in 1906 onwards, serious disagreements about neuroanatomy and functional properties of neurons and their implications characterize neuroscience. With the increase of neuroimaging experiments, precise anatomical localization of functional activation has become more important than ever. What are the contemporary disputes on the functioning and the structure of the brain? Given the increasingly complexity of neuroimaging results, are these capable of settling these disputes?

09:30 Katrin Amunts (Aachen): Imaging the human brain – challenges in the identification of structure-function relations
Abstract: Every mental and emotional process is associated with localized activity in certain brain regions – the brain is segregated both structurally and functionally. This is even true for complex human behaviour. Less well understood is the relation between structure and function, particularly in case of the human brain.
We aim to create a human brain model which integrates microstructural/architectonic results with information coming from functional imaging, receptor distribution analysis and high resolution fiber tracking. Hereby, different scales ranging from the microscopical level of neuronal systems to the molecular and systemic level require the development of novel methodologies. I will illustrate the relationship of the mental and the biological domain by research data coming from studies analysing language, empathy and cognition and the underlying microsctuctural segregation of the brain. Examples for different approaches and how they are integrated into a multimodal human brain model will be presented. This mapping effort provides a basis for future clinical studies, and is prerequisite for understanding the spatially organized structure of brain function.
10:15 Michael Anderson (Franklin & Marshall College and University of Maryland): Reuse of neural circuity in the functional architecture of the brain: evidence from neuroimaging
Abstract: A decade after the decade of the brain, we have by now performed tens of thousands of functional neuroimaging studies, which offers a unique opportunity to revisit some fundamental questions about the overall functional architecture of the brain. This brief talk will present some of the evidence coming from an analysis of 2600 neuroimaging studies that (1) local brain circuits are used in many different psychological functions, across multiple traditional cognitive domains (e.g., language, attention, motor control, etc); and (2) differences between the neural underpinnings of these traditional cognitive domains are reflected more in different patterns of cooperation between (the same) neural regions, and less in differences in which neural regions are used to support tasks in each domains. These findings have implications for the overall functional architecture of the brain, and also therefore for what experimental and interpretive best practices we should follow when conducting research in the cognitive neurosciences.

11:00 Coffee break
Session 2: Contributions of neuroimaging to psychology
What has neuroimaging so far contributed to understanding our mind, a project traditionally carried out by philosophy of mind and psychology? Is the relationship between cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy of mind one of co-development, to what extend are they independent of each other, or will cognitive neuroscience even replace other mind-disciplines as has been claimed by some?

11:30 Colin Klein (Chicago): Cognitive, Behavioral, and Neural Ontologies: Co-option or Co-evolution?

Abstract: Cognitive psychology has developed a rough taxonomy of human capacities and subpersonal mental states. Neuroimaging evidence often fails to line up neatly with these taxonomies. Several authors have thus argued that neuroimaging evidence will prompt wholesale revision of these traditional cognitive ontologies. I argue that the situation is likely to be more complicated. Neuroimaging evidence can and should be read in a level-neutral way. Doing so allows for a reciprocal process of co-evolution between distinct scientific ontologies.
12:15 Kirsten Volz (Tübingen): Knowing where = knowing how? Neuroscientific results on decision making under uncertainty
Abstract: Recent neuroimaging evidence apparently contributes to our understanding of decision-making under uncertainty. Based on a selection of influential studies and in the context of psychological inquiry in a broader sense this talk will assess the contribution of neuroscientific results to an understanding of the underlying cognitive processes of decisions under uncertainty.

13:00 Lunch break
Session 3: States of phenomenal experience in neuroimaging – measuring the immeasurable?
It can be argued that the psychological level of explanation is irreplaceable, so can it be argued that phenomenology is still relevant for both experimental design and the development of relevant research questions. Moreover, it can be argued that neuroscientific insights will be judged for their phenomenological plausibility or ecological validity, which is difficult to realize in neuroimaging experiments. This renders phenomenology a status of being complementary to neuroscientific insights  The speakers discuss this with regard to normal (Bayne) and abnormal (Aleman) states of phenomenal experience. In addition, they will discuss whether neuroscience helps in drawing a line between those two classes, or not?

14:30 Timothy Bayne (Oxford): Imaging and the Study of Consciousness
Abstract: This talk considers ways in which neuroimaging might contribute to the study of consciousness. I begin by distinguishing different types of questions raised by the science of consciousness. I then turn to the topic of whether the methods of neuroimaging might be adequate to answering those questions, with a focus on whether there are principled reasons for thinking that neuroimaging might simply be ill-suited to solving certain types of questions regarding the nature of consciousness. I argue that although neuroimaging will not provide us with a full theory of consciousness, it can nonetheless provide us with insight into certain problems that are not easily addressable via other means.
15:15 Andre Aleman (Groningen): Self-reflection, hallucination and subjective emotional states in the brain scanner
Abstract: In this talk I describe neuroimaging findings that give us a glimp of what goes on in the brain during highly private experiences such as self-reflection. Although neuroimaging methods are limited in nature and cannot give us a complete account of subjective phenomena, they can help in elucidating disorders of subjective experience as in the case of verbal hallucinations (or “hearing voices”) in schizophrenia. I will argue that linking phenomenal experience to cognitive processing and to the corresponding neural substrate will open new vistas on the workings of the human mind/brain.

16:00 Coffee break
Session 4 and final discussion: Beyond the individual mind – society and culture in neuroimaging
It has been pointed out that most neuroscientific (and psychological, in general) investigations are for the most part carried out on Western psychology students and are thus not generalizable to the global population. What do we know about transcultural differences and what does that imply for our neuroimaging endeavours, in research design as well as interpretation?

16:30 Clement Levallois (Rotterdam): Reflection on the Increasing Societal Interest in Neuroimaging
Abstract: To capture how intense is the interest for neuroimaging techniques outside of biology, it is useful to contrast it with the immediate past, and recall that more than a disinterest, it was a frank opposition to biological observations which characterized social sciences in the matters of culture and human social behavior. This reminder makes all the more striking the enthusiastic embrace of brain imaging techniques in the recent years – what caused this shift of attitude in social sciences, and the wider society? We will suggest that as series of important methodological changes were at work since the 1970s, which make of the popularity of neuroimaging less as a revolution than an evolution. Ironically, this is probably a more circumstantial aspect which accelerated the process and is responsible for a degree of fascination for neuroimaging by the social scientists, the wider public, and the biologists themselves.
17:15 Final discussion: Imaging the Mind? Taking stock at the end of the conference (max. 60 minutes)

Sunday, April 3; Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Amsterdam, Sarphatistraat 104

Two times two workshops of two hours will be held at 9:30 and 13:00 o’clock to inform interdisciplinary scholars about pertinent issues in neuroscience.

9:30 Michael Anderson (Franklin & Marshall College and University of Maryland): What psychology tells us about the brain, and vice-versa: Two approaches to interpreting neuroimaging data
Abstract: Neuroimaging experiments offer a window through which to examine the brain and the way it supports cognition in its myriad forms. However, individual experiments are typically underpowered and focused on fairly narrow scientific questions. In this workshop we will discuss several methods for extracting information from large collections of neuroimaging results, including cross-domain function-to-structure mapping and functional connectivity analysis. Using these methods allows us to identify and map the overlapping functional networks responsible for cognition, and shed light on the overall functional architecture of the brain. This general approach takes the standard view that what neuroimaging experiments do is shed light on brain organization. But looked at another way, these same experiments allow us to use the brain as a lens through which to view the organization of cognition itself. That is, the brain can be viewed as a machine evolved for differentially responding to features of its environment, including features of psychology experiments. We may think this set of experiments manipulates cognitive load, and that set manipulates spatial attention, but does the brain agree? Using brain activation as our guide, we may be able to shed new light on what various experiments have in common, and what differentiates them from one another. Thus, in this workshop we will also discuss various methods for reinterpreting neuroimaging experiments to help us do such things as (re-)evaluate and improve our cognitive ontology.

Mandatory preparation literature:
Anderson, M.L. (2010). Neural reuse: A fundamental organizational principle of the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(4): 245–313. (PDF)
Yarkoni, T., Poldrack, R. A., Van Essen, D. C., & Wager, T. D. (2010). Cognitive neuroscience 2.0: building a cumulative science of human brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 489-496. (PDF)

9:30 Maureen Sie (Rotterdam): Brainreading and Accountability
Abstract: We tend to treat one another as accountable persons. Part and parcel of this treatment is the exchange of reasons: We constantly explain and justify to ourselves and others why we do what we do, and for what reasons. Yet, some neuroscientists as well as behavioral scientists claim that these justifications and explanations are made up ‘after the fact,’ moreover, that they do not correspond with what actually explains our behavior. What actually explains our actions are brainstates, states we are not necessarily aware of (and that we, in the future, might be able to read out of our brains). Therefore, we have to radically change our views and practices involving the assumption that we possess free (conscious) will and are accountable. In this workshop we discuss the neuroscientists inclination to phrase their findings as a threat to free will and accountability. We propose that discussing these findings in terms of the role that reasons play in our everyday explanations and justifications of our actions is much more interesting.

Mandatory preparation literature:
Sie, M., Wouters, A. (2009), The BCN Challenge to Compatibilist Free Will and Personal Responsibility. in Neuroethics 3: 121-133.
Bor, D. (2010). The Mechanics of Mind Reading. Recent advances in brainscanning allow unprecedented access to our thoughts and mental states. Scientific American Mind, July/August 2010. (link)
Soon, C.S., Brass, M., Heinze, H.-J. & Haynes, J.-D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience 11: 543-545.

11:30 Lunch break

13:00 Lourens Waldorp (Amsterdam): Functional Neuroimaging in a Nutshell – An Introduction for Interdisciplinary Scholars
Abstract: Lourens Waldorp offers an introduction to fMRI experimenting, from its initial phase until the end, shedding light on all steps involved and some important methodological issues. This workshop is meant for academics of all disciplines who are interested to learn more about fMRI research.

There are no reading requirements for this workshop.

A maximum of 20 participants will be allowed to each workshop to guarantee a high teaching quality. More details about the preparation will be made available soon. Please use the facilities of your own institution to access these papers, as they might not be available publicly.


Reservation in advance is required and the number of participants is limited. Participation costs are € 40 for Friday and € 70 for Saturday or € 100 for both days together. Coffee, tea and pastry during the breaks are included. Snacks on Friday evening are included but drinks have to be paid at the bar. Bachelor and master students receive a 25% discount on the conference participation fee. The workshops are € 30 each and the number of participants is strictly limited to a maximum of 20 to guarantee a high quality.


To participate in the conference, please write to Felix Schirmann, email address Felix Schirmann, indicating the days you want to participate in as well as your academic affiliation. Please contact us for last minute possibilities if you still want to join the conference but have not registered so far. You will receive details concerning payment shortly. Reservations will become effective upon reception of payment.


Organization team: Stephan Schleim, email address Stephan Schleim (Groningen) in cooperation with Machiel Keestraemail address Machiel Keestra (Amsterdam)
Assistance: Felix Schirmann (Groningen) and Renée Veldhuis (Amsterdam)

Please contact the organization team if you have questions concerning the program.

Institutions: University of Groningen, Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Theory and History of Psychology in cooperation with University of Amsterdam, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies and Cognitive Science Center

University of Groningen
Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies
Cognitive Science Center