Recent Articles & Abstracts

Keven, N., & Akins, K. A. (2016). Neonatal Imitation in Context: Sensory-Motor Development in the Perinatal Period. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1–107.

Abstract. Over 35 years ago, Meltzoff and Moore (1977) published their famous article 'Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates'. Their central conclusion, that neonates can imitate, was and continues to be controversial. Here we focus on an often neglected aspect of this debate, namely on neonatal spontaneous behaviors themselves. We present a case study of a paradigmatic orofacial 'gesture', namely tongue protrusion and retraction (TP/R). Against the background of new research on mammalian aerodigestive development, we ask: How does the human aerodigestive system develop and what role does TP/R play in the neonate's emerging system of aerodigestion? We show that mammalian aerodigestion develops in two phases: (1) from the onset of isolated orofacial movements in utero to the post-natal mastery of suckling at 4 months after birth, and; (2) thereafter, from preparation to the mastery of mastication and deglutition of solid foods. Like other orofacial stereotypies, TP/R emerges in the first phase and vanishes prior to the second. Based upon recent advances in activity-driven early neural development, we suggest a sequence of three developmental events in which TP/R might participate: the acquisition of tongue control, the integration of the central pattern generator for TP/R with other aerodigestive CPGs, and the formation of connections within the cortical maps of S1 and M1. If correct, orofacial stereotypies are crucial to the maturation of aerodigestion in the neonatal period but also unlikely to co-occur with imitative behavior.


Akins, K and Hahn, M. (2015). Colour Perception. In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception, Mohan Matthen, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 422-440.

In this entry, we approach the topic of colour perception via a historical circle. We begin with a common view about colour perception, held today, that casts it as unique among our perceptual capacities. We then turn to the origins of our current view via a brief over- view of the history of the philosophy of colour and colour science. Two philosophical theses, remnants of Artistole’s views, have driven the evolution of our understanding of colour perception. To a rough approximation, these are the views that (a) colour experi- ences are (the result of) sensory responses to the world, and; (b) that if we did not see col- ours (including the achromatic greyscale), we would not see anything at all. We hope to show how these two assumptions have shaped our views of colour perception but also how and why they meet with questions about the metaphysics of colour, of colour ontology. At the end of this entry, we take the liberty of presenting an alternative way of seeing colour perception, one that denies both assumptions and separates questions of colour ontology from questions of colour perception.

Norman, L. J., Akins, K., Heywood, C. A., & Kentridge, R. W. (2014). Color constancy for an unseen surface. Current Biology : CB, 24(23), 2822–2826.

Abstract. The illumination of a scene strongly affects our perception of objects in that scene, e.g., the pages of a book illuminated by candlelight will appear quite yellow relative to other types of artificial illuminants. Yet at the same time, the reader still judges the pages as white, their surface color unaffected by the interplay of paper and illuminant. It has been shown empirically that we can indeed report two quite different interpretations of "color": one is dependent on the constant surface spectral reflectance of an object (surface color) and the other on the power of light of different wavelengths reflected from that object (reflected color). How then are these two representations related? The common view, dating from Aristotle, is that our experience of surface color is derived from reflected color or, in more familiar terms, that color perception follows from color sensation. By definition, color constancy requires that vision "discounts the illuminant"; thus, it seems reasonable that vision begins with the color of objects as they naively appear and that we infer from their appearances their surface color. Here, we question this classic view. We use metacontrast-masked priming and, by presenting the unseen prime and the visible mask under different illuminants, dissociate two ways in which the prime matched the mask: in surface color or in reflected color. We find that priming of the mask occurs when it matches the prime in surface color, not reflected color. It follows that color perception can arise without prior color sensation.

Watson, M. R., Akins, K. A., Spiker, C., Crawford, L., & Enns, J. T. (2014). Synesthesia and learning: a critical review and novel theory. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8(98), 1–15. Reprinted in Developing Synaesthesia, Nicolas Rothen, Julia Simner, Beat Meier editors. Frontiers Media SA, Jul 24, 2015.

Abstract. Learning and synesthesia are profoundly interconnected. On the one hand, the development of synesthesia is clearly influenced by learning. Synesthetic inducers - the stimuli that evoke these unusual experiences - often involve the perception of complex properties learned in early childhood, e.g., letters, musical notes, numbers, months of the year, and even swimming strokes. Further, recent research has shown that the associations individual synesthetes make with these learned inducers are not arbitrary, but are strongly influenced by the structure of the learned domain. For instance, the synesthetic colors of letters are partially determined by letter frequency and the relative positions of letters in the alphabet. On the other hand, there is also a small, but growing, body of literature which shows that synesthesia can influence or be helpful in learning. For instance, synesthetes appear to be able to use their unusual experiences as mnemonic devices and can even exploit them while learning novel abstract categories. Here we review these two directions of influence and argue that they are interconnected. We propose that synesthesia arises, at least in part, because of the cognitive demands of learning in childhood, and that it is used to aid perception and understanding of a variety of learned categories. Our thesis is that the structural similarities between synesthetic triggering stimuli and synesthetic experiences are the remnants, the fossilized traces, of past learning challenges for which synsethesia was helpful.


Akins, K. "Black and White and Colour" (2014). Consciousness Inside and Out: Phenomenology, Neuroscience and the Nature of Experience. Richard Brown, editor. Studies in Brain and Mind. Springer Verlag. 2014 This paper is available in draft form HERE. The FIGURES for this paper are available HERE.

ABSTRACT. The distinction between ‘black and white’ and ‘colour’ comes from the realm of public objects: a black and white photograph represents only the intensity information reflected from the scene whereas a colour photograph contains wavelength information as well. The difference between a black and white and a colour photograph is just the addition of hue and saturation, or wavelength information, to the intensity image. It is often assumed, on this basis, that visual systems follow a similar divide: a luminance system encodes intensity information and a chromatic system brings wavelength information to the table. It therefore seems natural to conclude that a rod achromat, who has only one type of photoreceptor and hence only luminance vision, must see the world ‘in black and white’. And hence what the rod achromat lacks, and what the trichromat has, are just ‘the colours’. In this paper, I try to untangle the various assumptions that are made above, starting with the difference between a luminance and a chromatic system. Strangely, given only a luminance system, the rod achromatic’s visual experience is also tied to wavelength differences in the world even if the achromat’s does not differentiate between intensity and wavelength differences in the world. Nor can the achromat make objective assessments about the darkness or lightness of objects, despite seeing, as has been said, ‘in black and white’. In the end, the distinction between ‘black and white’ and ‘colour’ does not map smoothly onto the distinction between luminance and chromatic systems—and, as a result, we must rethink the differences in visual phenomenology between a rod achromat and a trichromat, as well as our understanding of what a system for object colour or object lightness and darkness adds to any visual system.

Akins, K. A., & Hahn, M. (2014). More than Mere Colouring: The Role of Spectral Information in Human Vision. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 65(1), 125–171.

ABSTRACT. A common view in both philosophy and the vision sciences is that, in human vision, wavelength information is primarily ‘for’ colouring, for seeing surfaces and various media as having colours. In this article we examine this assumption of ‘colour-for-colouring’. To motivate the need for an alternative theory, we begin with three major puzzles from neurophysiology, puzzles that are not explained by the standard theory. We then ask about the role of wavelength information in vision writ large. How might wavelength information be used by any monochromat or dichromat and, finally, by a trichromatic primate with object vision? We suggest that there is no single ‘advantage’ to trichromaticity but a multiplicity, only one of which is the ability to see surfaces, etc. as having categorical colours. Instead, the human trichromatic retina exemplifies a scheme for a general encoding of wavelength information given the constraints imposed by high spatial-resolution object vision. Chromatic vision, like its’ partner, luminance vision, is primarily for seeing. Viewed this way, the ‘puzzles’ presented at the outset make perfect sense.

"Grapheme-color synaesthesia benefits rule-based category learning". Watson, M., Blair, M., Kozik, P., Akins, K. & Enns, J.T. Consciousness and Cognition. In Press. Available online July 2, 2012. Watson, Blair et al.pdf

ABSTRACT. Researchers have long suspected that grapheme-color synaesthesia is useful, but research on its utility has so far focused primarily on episodic memory and perceptual discrimination. Here we ask whether it can be harnessed during rule-based Category learning. Participants learned through trial and error to classify grapheme pairs that were organized into categories on the basis of their associated synaesthetic colors. The performance of synaesthetes was similar to non-synaesthetes viewing graphemes that were physically colored in the same way. Specifically, synaesthetes learned to categorize stimuli effectively, they were able to transfer this learning to novel stimuli, and they falsely recognized grapheme-pair foils, all like non-synaesthetes viewing colored graphemes. These findings demonstrate that synaesthesia can be exploited when learning the kind of material taught in many classroom settings.

"Second-order mappings in grapheme-color synesthesia". Watson, M., Akins,K. & Enns, J. Psychonomics Bulletin and Review 19(2), 211-217, 2012. Watson, Akins et al.pdf

ABSTRACT. Typically, the search for order in grapheme–color synesthesia has been conducted by looking at the frequency of certain letter–color associations. Here, we report stronger associations when second-order similarity mappings are examined—specifically, mappings between the synesthetic colors of letters and letter shape, frequency, and position in the alphabet. The analyses demonstrate that these relations are independent of one other. More strikingly, our analyses show that each of the letter–color mappings is restricted to one dimension of color, with letter shape and ordinality linked to hue, and letter frequency linked to luminance. These results imply that synesthetic associations are acquired as the alphabet is learned, with associations involving letter shape, ordinality, and frequency being made independently and idiosyncratically. Because these mappings of similarity structure between domains (letters and colors) are similar to those found in numerous other cognitive and perceptual domains, they imply that synesthetic associations operate on principles common to many aspects of human cognition.

"The Developmental Learning Hypothesis of Synaesthesia". Watson, M., Akins,K. & Crawford,L. Studie z aplikovane lingvistiky/Studies in Applied LInguistics. Vol 1, No. 1, 2010. The DLH.pdf



Older Articles

"The Multiple Drafts Theory of Consciousness". Co-authored with Daniel Dennett.  Article Curator (in the event of death of the theory's inventor, the curator is charged with making any changes or amendments) For Scholarpedia, the on-line peer reviewed encyclopedia. 2007.

"A Question of Content: Parts I & II", in Daniel Dennett, Andrew Brook and Don Ross, editors. Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 206-248. A Question of Content

"More Than Mere Coloring: A Dialog Between Philosophy and Neuroscience on the Nature of Spectral Vision", in Carving our Destiny, S. Fitzpatrick and J. T. Breur, editors. Joseph Henry Press: Washington, D.C. 2001. McDonnell Paper.pdf

"The Peculiarity of Colour", with Martin Hahn, in  Color Perception: Philosophical, Psychological, Artistic and Computational Perspectives. Steven Davis, Editor, Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science, Volume IX, 2000. Peculiarity

"Ships in the Night: Churchland and Ramachandran on Dennett's Theory of Consciousness", (co-authored with Steven J. Winger) in Vancouver Series in Cognitive Science: Problems in Perception, vol. 5. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1996. Ships in The Night

"Of Sensory Systems and the 'Aboutness' of Mental States", The Journal of Philosophy, vol XCIII, no. 7, pp. 337-372, July 1996.
"Lost the Plot? Reconstructing Daniel Dennett's Multiple Drafts Theory of Consciousness", Mind and Language, Vol. II, No. 1, pp.1-43, 1996. Of Sensory Systems.pdf

"Lost the Plot? Reconstructing Daniel Dennett's Multiple Drafts Theory of Consciousness", Mind and Language, Vol II, No. 1, pp. 1-43. 1996. Lost the Plot.pdf

"A Bat Without Qualities", in Consciousness, M. Davies and G. Humphreys eds. (Oxford: Blackwells), pp. 258-73, 1993.A Bat Without Qualities

ABSTRACT. Thomas Nagel has claimed, famously, that we could never understand the point of view, the perceptual experience, of the bat, even if we knew all there was to know about the neurophysiology and behaviour of the bat. Nagel offers a number of reasons why this should be but here I look at the intuitive pull that Nagel’s argument exerts upon us. Intuitively, it is hard to see how any description—of neurophysiological states, behaviors or even one’s own first person recounting of perceptual event—could convey the very feel of a event described, at least not without having experienced the same event oneself. Yet if we cannot convey to others even very simple qualitative states There is a difference between the qualitative and the representational/neurophysiological aspects of experience, and science can describe only the latter. This paper tries to up-end the assumption that we have a grasp of the difference between the representational and qualitative aspects of experience. Given very simple perceptual situations, e.g. hearing middle C or seeing a red patch of light on a white wall, such a distinction seems imaginable. Given a more complex perceptual scene, however, we can neither ‘gesture towards’ nor explain what it would be to have a perceptual experience as non-intentional or ‘purely qualitative’. Our intuition that we can so separate our perceptual experience into two aspects is illusory—and hence there is little reason to think that we know what would and would not be explained if we had extensive neurophysiological/behavioural/functional knowledge.

"What is it LIke to Be Boring and Myopic?" in Daniel Dennett and His Critics, ef. B. Dahlbom (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 124-60.1993. Boring & Myopic

"Science and Our Inner Lives: Birds of Prey, Bats and the (Common) Featherless Bi-ped", in Interpretation and Explanation in Behavior, vol. I, edited by M. Beckoff and D. Jamieson, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990. Birds, Bats....

Reprinted Articles

"Of Sensory Systems and the 'Aboutness' of Mental States".  Reprinted in The Neurophilosophy Reader, W. Bechtel, R. Stufflebeam, J. Mundale, and P. Mandick, eds. MIT Press, 2001.

"A Bat Without Qualities". Reprinted in Consciousness, F. Jackson editor. (Aldershot, England: Ashgate). pp.178-196, 1998.

"Of Sensory Systems and the 'Aboutness' of Mental States" Reprinted in The Philosopher's Annual, 1997, Patrick Grim ed.

"A Bat Without Qualities", Reprinted in Readings in Animal Cognition, D. Jamieson and M. Beckoff eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).pp 345-358, 1996.


Edited Books

Cognition and the Brain: The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement. A. Brook and K. Akins, editors. (Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press) 2005.For the introduction, index and list of contributiors, click Cognition and the Brain

Vancouver Series in Cognitive Science:  Perception, vol. 5. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1996. For Table of Contents, Contributor Information and Introduction, click Perception


Published Commentaries

"More than mere coloring:The art of spectral vision", with John Lamping, a commentary on E. Thomposon, A. Palacios and F. Varela "Ways of coloring: Comparative color vision as a case study in cognitive science". The Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 1992, 15 (1) pp. 26-27. HERE

"Just Science?", wit M. E. Windham, a commentary on R. Thornhill and N.W. Thornhill's "The Evolutionary Psychology of Men's Coercive Sexuality". The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1992,15 (2) pp. 376-77. HERE

"Who May I say is Calling?", with D.C. Dennett, a commentary on R. Hoffman's "Verbal Hallucinations and Language Production Processes", The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol 9 (3). pp. March 1986. pp. 517-518 HERE


Book Reviews

Review of John Taylor's The Race for Consciousness, co-authored with Michal Arciszewski, Trends in Neuroscience, Vol.23, No.12 (270), pp.648-9. HERE

Review of Michael Tye's The Imagery Debate. The Philosophical Review, vol. 103, 1994. pp. 172-174. HERE

Review of Patricia S. Churchland's Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Approach to the Mind/Brain. in The Journal of Philosophy, March 1990, pp. 93 - 102. HERE

Review of Andy Clark's Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and Parallel Distributed Processing. in The Quarterly Review of Biology, December 1990, p. 526. HERE