LEC talk 3rd March: Kenny Smith

By Kevin | February 25, 2015

Tues 3rd March 11-12.30, Room G32, 7 George Square

Kenny Smith

Dendrophilia versus simplicity in sequence learning

Fitch (2014) presents the Dendrophilia Hypothesis, namely that “Humans have a multi-domain capacity and proclivity to infer tree structures from strings, to a degree that is difficult or impossible for most non-human animal species”. I think this is a really interesting idea, but I have the vague idea (to be fleshed out a little more in this talk) that it’s not really consistent with the existing experimental evidence from artificial language learning, which suggests that humans have real difficulties learning miniature languages which one might expect to be easy were Dendrophilia Hypothesis true as stated. I’ll try to present some of that evidence, together with some experimental work with artificial grammar learning in non-humans which suggests a slightly different hypothesis: all species prefer to infer simple patterns from strings, and humans are simply slightly less constrained than other primates in this regard. I think this accounts for the same observations as the Dendrophilia Hypothesis, but differs slightly in emphasis (emphasising reduced constraints on learning in humans, rather than a species-unique capacity) and highlights cognitive continuity between humans and other primates (maybe humans are only quantitatively different from other primates, rather than qualitatively different).