The conference procedings are now available!

Check out the new book Understanding Representation in the Cognitive Sciences which based on the proceedings of this conference, with contributions from Ernst von Glasersfeld, Wolf Singer, Erich Harth, and Sverre Sjölander, and others. Here is the overview of all contributions in html and the introduction paper in PDF. 

New Trends in Cognitive Science NTCS-97: Does Representation Need Reality? Vienna, Austria, May 14-16, 1997

Perspectives from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Epistemology, and Artificial Life

with plenary talks by: Larry Cauller, Georg Dorffner, Ernst von Glasersfeld, Stevan Harnad, Wolf Singer, and Sverre Sjölander

organized by the Austrian Society of Cognitive Science (ASoCS)

Last update: Jan 2000

| Purpose and Topics | Conference Schedule | Posters | Organizing Committee | Scientific Committee | Sponsoring Organizations | Conference Site | Additional Information

Conference Proceedings

The official proceedings appeared end of 1999 under the title "Understanding Representation in the Cognitive Sciences" with Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers, New York.

Purpose and Topics

The goal of this single-track conference was to investigate and discuss new approaches and movements in cognitive science in a workshop-like atmosphere. Among the topics which seem to have emerged in the last years are: embodiment of knowledge, system theoretic and computational neuroscience approaches to cognition, dynamics in recurrent neural architectures, evolutionary and artificial life approaches to cognition, and (epistemological) implications for perception and representation, constructivist concepts and the problem of knowledge representation, autopoiesis, implications for epistemology and philosophy (of science).

    Evidence for a failure of the traditional understanding of neural representation converges from several fields. Neuroscientific results in the last decade have shown that single cell representations with hierarchical processing towards representing units seems not the way the cortex represents environmental entities. Instead, distributed cell ensemble coding has become a popular concept for representation, both in computational and in empirical neuroscience. However, new problems arise from the new concepts. The problem of binding the distributed parts into a uniform percept can be "solved" by introducing synchronization of the member neurons. A deeper (epistemological) problem, however, is created by recurrent architectures within ensembles generating an internal dynamics in the network. The cortical response to an environmental stimulus is no longer dominated by stimulus properties themselves, but to a considerable degree by the internal state of the network. Thus, a clear and stable reference between a representational state (e.g. in a neuron, a Hebbian ensemble, an activation state, etc.) and the environmental state becomes questionable. Already learned experiences and expectancies might have an impact on the neural activity which is as strong as the stimulus itself. Since these internally stored experiences are constantly changing, the notion of (fixed) representations is challenged. At this point, system theory and constructivism, both investigating the interaction between environment and organism at an abstract level, come into the scene and turn out to provide helpful epistemological concepts. The goal of this conference is to discuss these phenomena and their implications for the understanding of representation, semantics, language, cognitive science, and artificial life.

    Contrary to many conferences in this field, the focus is on interdisciplinary cooperation and on conceptual and epistemological questions, rather than on technical details. We are trying to achieve this by giving more room to discussion and interaction between the participants (e.g., invited comments on papers, distribution of papers to the participants before the conference, etc.). According to the interdisciplinary character of cognitive science, we welcome papers/talks from the fields of artificial life, empirical, cognitive, and computational neuroscience, philosophy (of science), epistemology, anthropology, computer science, psychology, and linguistics.

    The conference is centered around but not restricted to the following topics:

  1. Representation - epistemological concepts and findings from (computational) neuroscience, cognitive science (recurrent neural architectures, top-down processing, etc.), and philosophy;
  2. Alternatives to representation - applying constructivism to cognitive systems;
  3. Modeling language, communication, and semantics as a dynamical, evolutionary and/or adaptive process;
  4. Representation and cognition in artificial life;
  5. What is the role of simulation in understanding cognition?

This was the conference schedule

Wednesday, May 14
8:15 registration
9:00- 9:30 opening and prelude (Alex Riegler and Markus Peschl)
Session chair: Markus Peschl
9:30-10:20 invited lecture
Sverre Sjölander
How animals handle reality: the adaptive aspect of representation
10:20-11:00 Annika Wallin Is there a way for constructivism to distinguish what we experience from what we represent?
coffee break
11:20-12:00 Tom Routen Habitus and animats
12:00-12:50 invited lecture
Ernst v. Glasersfeld
Piaget's legacy: Cognition as adaptive activity
12:50-13:10 plenary discussion
lunch organizational meeting--only for speakers giving a talk in the "Neuroscience" session
Session chair: Wolf Singer
14:40-15:30 invited lecture
Larry Cauller
NeuroInteractivism: Explaining emergence without representation
15:30-16:10 Astrid v. Stein In which respect does our brain represent the world?
coffee break
16:30-17:10 Marius Usher Active neural representations: neurophysiological data and its implications
17:10-17:50 Steven Bressler The dynamic manifestation of cognitive structures in the cerebral cortex
17:50-18:30 plenary discussion
evening event
Thursday, May 15
Session chair: Ernst v. Glasersfeld
9:00- 9:50 invited lecture
Wolf Singer
The observer in the brain
9:50-10:50 Interlude (chair: Astrid v. Stein, Alex Riegler, and Markus Peschl)
coffee break
11:10-11:50 Anthony Chemero Two types of anti-representationism: a taxonomy
11:50-12:30 H. Hendriks-Jansen Does natural cognition need internal knowledge structures? (Unfortunately, this talk didn't take place)
lunch organizational meeting--only for speakers giving a talk in the "Epistemology-Methodology" session
14:00-14:50 invited lecture
Georg Dorffner
The connectionist route to embodiment and dynamicism
14:50-15:30 Michael Pauen Reality and representation
15:30-16:10 Georg Schwarz Can representation get reality?
coffee break
16:30-17:10 William Robinson Representation and cognitive explanation
17:10-17:50 Pim Haselager Is cognitive science advancing towards behaviorism?
17:50-18:30 plenary discussion
18:30-19:30 poster session
Friday, May 16
Symbol Grounding-Communication
Session chair: Stevan Harnad
9:00- 9:40 Matthias Scheutz The ontological status of representations
9:40-10:20 Tom Ziemke Rethinking grounding
coffee break
10:50-11:30 Mark Wexler Must mental representation be internal?
11:30-12:10 Peter Gärdenfors Does semantics need reality?
lunch organizational meeting--only for speakers giving a talk in the "Symbol Grounding-Communication" session
14:00-14:40 Nathan Chandler On the importance of reality in representations
14:40-15:20 Christian Balkenius Explorations in synthetic pragmatics
coffee break
15:40-16:30 invited lecture
Stevan Harnad
Keeping a grip on the real/virtual distinction in this representationalist age
16:30-18:00 plenary discussion & postlude: "Does representation need reality?"
(chair: Astrid v. Stein, Markus Peschl, and Alex Riegler)
farewell with wine & sandwiches


Plenary Discussion

The focus of a plenary discussion was not be on details, but rather on conceptual, interdisciplinary and integrative issues!

Interlude & Postlude

The purpose of interlude and postlude (Thursday morning and Friday evening) was to sum up, discuss, and integrate the trends of the talks in a larger picture and to develop some kind of vision for cognitive science. The focus was on the questions below and "fruitful" interdisciplinary interaction.


Chris Browne & Shan Parfitt Iconic Learning and Epistemology
Mark Claessen RabbitWorld: the concept of space can be learned
Valentin Constantinescu Interaction between perception & expectancy...
Andrew Coward Unguided categorization, direct and symbolic representation, and evolution of cognition...
Karl Diller Representation and reality: where are the rules of grammar
Richard Eiser Representation and the social reality
Robert French When coffe cups are like old elephants
Daniel Hutto Cognition without representation?
Amy Ione Symbolic creation and re-presentation of reality
Ralf Möller Perception through anticipation
Ken Mogi Response selectivity, neuron doctrine, and Mach's principle in perception
Alfredo Pereira The term "representation" in cognitive neuroscience
Hanna Risku Constructivist Consequences: does tramslation need reality?
Sabine Weiss, H. M. Müller & P. Rappelsberger Processing concepts and scenarios: electrophysiological findings on language representation
Armagan Yavuz and David Davenport PAL: A constructivist model of cognitive activity

Organizing Committee

M. Peschl Univ. of Vienna (A)
A. Riegler Univ. of Zurich (CH)

Scientific Committee

R. Born Univ. of Linz (A)
G. Dorffner Univ. of Vienna (A)
E. v. Glasersfeld Univ. of Amherst, MA (USA)
S. Harnad Univ. of Southampton (GB)
M. Peschl Univ. of Vienna (A)
A. Riegler Univ. of Zurich (CH)
H. Risku Univ. of Skovde (S)
M. Scheutz University of Indiana (USA)
W. Singer Max Planck Institut für Hirnforschung, Frankfurt (D)
S. Sjölander Linköping University (S)
A. v. Stein Neuroscience Institute, La Jolla (USA)

Sponsoring Organizations

Conference Site

SCHLOSS NEUWADEGG The conference took place in a small beautiful baroque castle, Schloss Neuwaldegg, in the suburbs of Vienna.

It is surrounded by a beautiful forest and a good (international and Viennese gastronomic) infrastructure. On the tram it takes only 20 minutes to the center of Vienna.

Additional Information

For further information on the conference or general information about the Austrian Society for Cognitive Science please contact
Alexander Riegler
Free University Brussels
Rue de la Strategie 33
B-1160 Brussels


or on the Society Webpage.

Maintained by Alex Riegler