Tenth International School on Mind, Brain and Education

2015 September 8-12


Directors of the School: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Directors of the Course: Sidney Strauss and Elena Pasquinelli
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Manuela Piazza
Centro Interdipartimentale Mente/Cervello, Cimec. Italy

Symbol grounding: Biological determinism and neural plasticity in learning symbols
In this talk I will discuss how the human brain resolves the “symbol grounding” problem, of attributing meaning to otherwise meaningless signs, and how this process entails profound modifications of the brain itself.
In the first part of the talk I will focus on the domain of numerical cognition, where I review the evidence and present novel data showing that numerical symbols acquire their meaning by mapping their shapes onto an early biologically determined “sense of numerical quantities” which has a long evolutionary history and a specific brain substrate in primates (the intraparietal cortex).
In the second part of the talk I re-instantiate the notion that symbol grounding occurs via recycling of lower-level perceptual brain regions by presenting novel neuroimaging results on the neural basis of semantic representations of words during reading.