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Institute of Advanced Study

Evidence and Interdisciplinarity


The Evidence of Animal Minds: an interdisciplinary symposium

This symposium will examine the problem of evidence in accounting for the existence and character of (broadly conceived) mental phenomena in non-human animals. This controversial question offers a particularly rich case for exploring the meanings of ‘evidence’ from a range of disciplinary perspectives. The core aim is to bring together a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives, as well as research and representational practices, focused on the multifaceted problem of ‘mentality’ in non-human animals. Evidence will be discussed covering the diversity of ways in which ‘minds’ may be framed and conceptualized, studied or represented – be this in terms of ‘behaviour’ or ‘cognition’, ‘instinct’ or ‘learning’, ‘neural networks’ or ‘consciousness’, ‘reflex’ or ‘the soul’. The focus will be on identifying, understanding and inter-relating the different strategies deployed in ‘making evident’, or ‘producing evidence for’, the elusive phenomenon of ‘the mind’ in non-human animals.

The symposium will assemble philosophers of mind and of science, experimental psychologists and ethologists, evolutionary biologists and biological anthropologists, neuroscientists and specialists in artificial intelligence, social anthropologists and historians of science, humanities scholars with expertise in visual culture and literature, as well as those working on relevant aspects of religious history and theology. Participants will include also artists and performers working on the topic of animal mentality and ethics. The interdisciplinary character of the workshop will ensure that the question of ‘evidence’ is not reduced to methodological problems specific to particular disciplines. Instead, the issue will be framed more broadly and situated at the complex intersection of ontology, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics. Moreover, we are alert not only to the variety of disciplinary perspectives, but also to the long history of the problem of ‘animal minds’ and to the way in which different cultures and traditions – scientific and non-scientific, past and present – have approached this question.

The symposium will take place over three days (18-20 April 2016), assembling around twenty to twenty-five invited speakers, drawn from a pool of local and international scholars, who will present and discuss the above issues in multidisciplinary panels and round tables. The organisers are Dr Andy Byford (Modern Languages and Cultures); Dr Rachel Kendal (Anthropology); and Dr Anthony McGregor (Psychology).

To register and access full details about the symposium please follow this link to the Event's own website.

For further information contact: andy.byford@durham.ac.uk.

2015/16 Annual Programme: Evidence