November 11, 2010

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By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Lera Boroditsky will give the talk, "How the Languages We Speak Shape the Ways We Think," Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. in the Gallery Theater of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell University.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, is the second event in the series, "Emerging Minds: Seeking Meaning in a Physical World."

Uniquely human
"Language is a uniquely human gift," says Boroditsky. "When we study language, we are uncovering in part what makes us human, getting a peek at the very nature of human nature."

Boroditsky asks, "Do languages merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express? Do speakers of different languages think differently? Does learning new languages change the way you think? Do bilinguals think differently when speaking different languages?

"In my talk, I will present data from around the world showing how the structures in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are."

An assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and symbolic systems at Stanford University, Boroditsky grew up in Minsk in the former Soviet Union. After earning a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford in 2001, she served on the faculty at MIT in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences before returning to a faculty position at Stanford.

Her laboratory has collected data around the world, from Indonesia to Chile to Aboriginal Australia. Her research has been widely featured in the popular press and has won multiple awards, including the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, the Searle Scholars Award, and the McDonnell Scholars Award.

Key scholars, new perspectives
"This yearlong series will explore the nature of the mind with talks by key scholars," said series coordinator Joseph Tranquillo, assistant professor of biomedical and electrical engineering at Bucknell.

"Questions about the nature of our minds and identities have been posed for millennia. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, technological and scientific advances have enabled the ancient questions about mind and self to be revisited in new ways," Tranquillo said.

"The result of these cross-disciplinary studies has been the emergence of new perspectives on a wide range of issues including the relationship between the brain as an organ and the mind as a concept, the existence of a universal human nature, the production and appreciation of art, the boundaries of our free will, the goals of our health and education systems, and the extent to which our behavior is motivated by evolutionary imperatives."

Other speakers in the Social Science Colloquium series are:

  • Jose Carmena, who on Feb. 22 will discuss neural adaptations to a brain-machine interface. Carmena is principal investigator with the Brain-Machine Interface Systems laboratory at the University of California-Berkeley, where he also serves as assistant professor of electrical engineering, cognitive science and neuroscience. Carmena will give an introduction to the field of cortical BMIs, a summary of lab results showing that the brain can consolidate prosthetic motor skill in a way that resembles that of natural motor learning, and an outline on the emerging directions the field is taking towards the development of neuroprosthetic devices for the impaired.
  • David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author who on March 10 will speak about neuroscience and the law. Eagleman holds a joint appointment in the departments of neuroscience and psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine. His research areas include time perception, vision, synesthesia and the intersection of neuroscience with the legal system.

Contact: Division of Communications


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