For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!

Programme SMART Conference

Keynote Lectures

Frans de Waal (Emory University and Utrecht University): Cognitive Continuity: A Kingdom Full of Special Mental Capacities

Despite the mechanistic view of animals that prevailed during last century, an undercurrent of scientists nourished a more cognitive approach. Initially, their research was ridiculed and suppressed, while a firm taboo was placed on anthropomorphism. They were told to favor simple explanations of behavior. From a Darwinian perspective, however, the simplest assumption about related species (such as humans and apes) is that behavioral similarity is based on psychological and mental similarity. Cognitive continuity ought to be the default assumption. Neuroscience increasingly supports homologies, and human uniqueness claims have fallen one by one. Other primates are now being depicted as political, cultural, even moral beings. The wall between human and animal cognition has begun to resemble a Swiss cheese. This cognitive revolution is not limited to the primates, however. It is rippling across the entire animal kingdom, from tool-using crows to cooperating fish. Many unexpected new capacities have come to light, such as that animals monitor their own knowledge (metacognition) or reflect on past and future (time travel). Many cognitive capacities are the product of convergent evolution, which means they do not fit a one-dimensional scale from “lower” to “higher” forms. Instead of universal learning mechanisms that apply to all animals equally, we see highly variable cognitions connected to the ecological context of each species. Frans de Waal provided an overview of the methods and findings of this new science, called evolutionary cognition, with an accent on primates and elephants and his own specialization in cooperation and empathy. The central message is one of cognition on demand.

            Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social cognition of primates. His scientific work has been published in journals such as ScienceNatureScientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior. His popular books - translated into over twenty languages - have made him one of the world's most visible primatologists. His latest book is Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (Norton, 2016). De Waal is C. H. Candler Professor in Psychology, Director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, and Distinguished Professor at Utrecht University. He has been elected to the (US) National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was selected by Time as one of The Worlds’ 100 Most Influential People Today.


Elizabeth Spelke: (Harvard University): Core knowledge in human and animal minds

For forty years, Elizabeth Spelke searched for the sources of our uniquely human cognitive accomplishments by studying the cognitive capacities of human infants.  The search came up empty:  none of the cognitive capacities that she studied—capacities for representing and reasoning about objects and their mechanical interactions, animals and their goal-directed actions, social beings and their engagements, numerical cognition, or spatial cognition—turned out to be unique to our species.  These negative findings support a rich picture of the origins of intelligence in animals, and a different hypothesis concerning the sources of our species’ unique cognitive achievements. 

            Elizabeth Spelke is a cognitive and developmental psychologist.  She studied with Eleanor J. Gibson and Ulric Neisser at Cornell University and then taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, and MIT, prior to becoming the Marshall L. Berkman Professor of Psychology at Harvard.  Her laboratory focuses on the sources of uniquely human cognitive capacities, including the capacity for formal mathematics, the capacity for constructing and using symbolic representations such as maps, the capacity for developing comprehensive taxonomies of objects, and the capacity for reasoning about other humans and their social groups. By collaborating with investigators of animal cognition, with cognitive neuroscientists, with computational cognitive scientists, and more recently with economists, she seeks to understand how children are able to learn both so fast and so flexibly.


Kristin Andrews (York University): Normative Practice in Other Animals

Many discussions about morality in other species focus on sentimentalist or deontological moral theories, and whether animals have what is needed to count as moral participants according to these theories.  For example, Mark Rowlands thinks animals engage in moral behavior because they are capable of empathy and Philip Kitcher thinks animals don’t have a capacity for morality because they cannot consider principles for action. If our concern is to investigate the evolution of morality, this way of understanding the issue leads to a stalemate, since there is little agreement on what counts as “moral” in the first place. Kristin Andrews argued that it is more productive to examine the evolution of morality in terms of the existence of normative practice--a necessary component of morality on any moral theory. She argued that normative practice is a cultural technology found in many animal species.  Normative practice involves sensitivity to the way we do things around here, the appropriateness of different kinds of actions, and a drive toward conformity to in-group behavior.

            Kristin Andrews is York Research Chair in Animal Minds, Associate Professor of Philosophy at York University. She works on issues in the normativity of folk psychology and social understanding, the evolution of morality, and methodology in animal cognition research.  Andrews’s books include Do Apes Read Minds? Toward a New Folk Psychology (MIT 2012) – a defense of her normative and pluralistic theory of folk psychology, The Animal Mind (Routledge 2015) – a survey of how empirical work on animal minds can help to inform debates in the philosophy of mind, and The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds (co-edited with Jacob Beck) – an anthology of current philosophical research. Andrews has published her theoretical work in journals including Mind and LanguageSynthesePhilosophical PsychologyJournal of Consciousness StudiesBiology and PhilosophyInquiryReview of Philosophy and PsychologyPhilosophical Explorations, and Southern Journal of Philosophy.  Her scientific research on orangutan pantomime communication is published in Biology Letters and Communicative and Integrative Biology. In addition to her academic duties, she serves as a member of the Executive Board for The Borneo Orangutan Society Canada, which has the mission to promote conservation of orangutans and their habitat and to educate the public.


Animal Minds between Narrative and Cognition

Psychologists working in the wake of Jerome Bruner (1991) have argued that narrative is a key tool for constructing human selves and identities. This workshop confronted the challenges involved in engaging with nonhuman animals’ selves in narrative form. Through what stylistic and formal strategies can narrative encapsulate the lived experience of animal bodies and minds? What are the differences between fictional narratives (in literature and film) that feature animal protagonists and accounts of animal experience and behavior in scientific writing or nonfiction (such as Charles Foster’s Being a Beast)? What interpretive strategies are readers likely to adopt when engaging with these animal narratives? How, and to what extent, can narrative shape people’s beliefs and ethical views about animal life? Finally, what is the epistemological value of animal-centered narratives? How, if at all, can they contribute to the scientific understanding of animal minds?  These are questions that have been raised, more or less explicitly, in multiple areas of the humanities and the social and natural sciences: from David Herman’s (2014) “narratology beyond the human” to Bernaerts et al.’s (2014) account of “nonhuman narrators” to work on the phenomenology of human animal-interactions (Warkentin 2012). But these remain scattered and fragmentary approaches; no head-on attempt has been made so far to interrogate the potential and the limitations of animal narratives from a perspective informed by the mind sciences. 



  • Alexa Weik von Mossner (University of Klagenfurt), “Feeling Animals? Narrative, Anthropomorphism, and the Intricacies of Trans-Species Empathy”
  • Jon Hegglund (Washington State University), “Transmedial Anthropomorphism, Canine Minds, and the Limits of Experientiality”
  • Hans-Johann Glock (University of Zurich), “Toads, Dogs, and Apes: Intelligence and Reasoning in Non-Human Animals”
  • Simone Pollo (Sapienza University of Rome), “The Clock and the Patient: Philosophical Animals as Fictional Characters”
  • Eva Meijer (University of Amsterdam), “Speaking with Animals”  
  • Tirza Brüggeman (Free University of Amsterdam), “The Poetry of a Horse’s Mind”
  • Marco Caracciolo (Ghent University), “Flocking Together: Fictional Engagements with Collective Animal Minds”


Grammars, Computation & Cognition: A workshop honouring the scientific legacy of Remko Scha

The field of computational linguistics has made much progress in developing models of syntactic and semantic parsing. With current models we can compute with great accuracy and speed the constituency and dependency structure of sentences, predict semantic roles and sentiment, or derive representations that allow us to retrieve and infer facts, summarize text and translate into other languages. However, do these technological advances also yield a better understanding of how language is learned and processed by humans? In this workshop we discussed recent developments in using parsing models for analyzing empirical data from psycholinguistics and brain imaging, developments in rich parsing models that do justice to intricate structural properties of natural languages and unsolved challenges from these domains.



Reut Tsarfaty (The Open University of Israel) ・Afra Alishahi (University of Tilburg) ・Andreas van Cranenburgh (Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf) ・Raquel Alhama (BCBL San Sebastian) ・Stefan Frank (Radboud University Nijmegen) ・Khalil Sima'an (University of Amsterdam) ・Daniel Wiechmann (University of Amsterdam)


Are we musical animals? Developing a Roadmap for Using Intrinsically Motivating Games for Identifying the Musicality Phenotype

While there is still quite some debate on the cultural and biological origins of music, there is a growing consensus that musicality has deep biological foundations, based on an accumulation of evidence for the involvement of genetic variation (Gingras, Honing, Peretz, Trainor & Fisher, 2015; Liu et al., 2016; Oikkonen, Onkamo, Järvelä & Kanduri, 2016; Peretz, 2016). Recent advances in molecular technologies provide an effective way of exploring these biological foundations. Next to examining clustering in families and co-occurrence in twins of extreme levels of musical ability, genome-wide genotyping offers a promising route to capture the polymorphic content of a large phenotyped population sample. The success of genetic studies of musical ability is, however, critically dependent on a robust, objective, and reliable measure of the musicality phenotype.

            This workshop evaluated existing measures of musicality, such as the Goldsmiths Music Sophistication index (GOLD-MSI), AMMA, MET, Karma, Seashore, etc., and discussed the opportunities to administer these standardized aptitude tests online, especially using web-based and engaging gaming techniques. The latter will provide an important step towards high-powered genome-wide screens to be able to effectively analyze musical phenotypes (Gingras et al., 2015).


Grammars Everywhere: Language, music, art, perception & the legacy of Remko Scha

Remko Scha (1945-2015) was professor of computational linguistics at the UvA’s Institute for Logic, Language and Computation. During his career, he made significant scientific and artistic contributions to areas as diverse as question answering, discourse analysis, the semantics of plurals, Data-Oriented Parsing, aleatoric music, algorithmic art, and theories and models of visual perception and creativity. In this workshop we celebrated these contributions with talks on current developments in many of the areas he was interested in.



Henk Zeevat (University of Amsterdam & Heinrich-Heine-Universität) ・
Livia Polanyi (Stanford University)・Yoad Winter (Utrecht University)・Mehdi Dastani (Utrecht University)・Jochem van der Spek (・Dieuwke Hupkes (University of Amsterdam)・Willem Zuidema (University of Amsterdam)


Reading like a Human: Historical natural language processing and philosophical concept drift

Consider this passage of text:

Wir können nunmehro urtheilen, ob die Thiere eigentliche Begriffe haben. Wenn wir nämlich nicht mit Worten spielen wollen, so ist ein Begriff (man mag darunter notiones oder ideas verstehen,) eine solche Vorstellung eines Dinges, dabey wir uns sowohl unserer eigenen Vorstellung, als des vorgestellten, deutlich bewusst sind. (“We can now judge whether animals have proper concepts. If we do not want to play with words, then a concept (one may take concepts to comprise notiones or ideas) is such a representation of a thing, in which we are distinctly aware of both our own representation and of what is represented”) (H. S. Reimarus, Allgemeine Betrachtungen über die Triebe der Thiere, 1762, p. 35).


Can a machine extract the knowledge required to understand properly this passage of text? If so, how exactly? The passage comes from a treatise of the 18th century philosopher Hermann Samuel Reimarus, “General observations on the drives of animals”. The passage is in fact a transcript from a picture from Reimarus’ book written in an old script, Blackletter Gothic; it’s in German, and it uses words that, although they seem rather common German words, such as ‘Begriffe’ (concepts), ‘urtheilen’ (judging), and ‘Vorstellung’ (representation), they are instead highly technical terms in the history of philosophy. Reimarus supposes here a particular model of animal cognition, that is, he supposes that human perceptual experience is conceptually structured whereas animal experience is not, because animals lack concepts; he also presupposes that awareness can be clear and distinct. This model of animal cognition was typical of 18th century (animal) psychology and was later rejected by philosophers who did attribute concepts to animals, and who adopted a different notion of what a concept is. Hence, the notion of concept was drifting during the 18th century.

            Only highly trained and multiply skilled philosophers can extract this kind of knowledge properly from a text like this one: machines won’t. What would be needed for machines to approximate how we read and comprehend conceptually difficult historical texts? Reading like a human was devoted to this question, and to the state of the art of technologies in historical natural language processing and philosophical concept drift.


Speakers & attendees

Astrid van Aggelen (CWI Amsterdam) ・Hein van den Berg & Arianna Betti (ILLC, UvA Amsterdam)・Antske Fokkens (VU Amsterdam)・Aurélie Herbelot (Trento/Barcelona・Laura Hollink (CWI Amsterdam)・Michael Piotrowski (Lausanne)・Martin Reynaert (Tilburg) Stefan Schlobach (VU Amsterdam)・Caroline Sporleder (Göttingen)・Nina Tahmasebi (Gothenburg) ・Kalliopi Zervanou (Utrecht)


Awareness in animal cognition

This workshop was dedicated to the role of awareness in cognition in different types of animals. Awareness is often thought to be a uniquely human characteristic, but is probably present in other animals as well, just like many other types of cognitive processes are. In this workshop, the boundaries of the concept of awareness were investigated and a couple of issues that are vital in humanities and cognitive science were addressed. It adopted an interdisciplinary approach to the concept of awareness, drawing on researchers from the fields of cognitive science, animal studies, philosophy, and linguistics, and as such, this workshop addressed the main themes of the SMART conference.



Joëlle Proust (Institut Jean-Nicod) ・Victor Lamme (UvA)・Sible Andringa (UvA) ・Judith Rispens (UvA) ・Olli Loukola (Queen Mary University London) ・ Anne Marijke Schel (Utrecht University)