We are pleased to announce that this year’s Andrew Brook Distinguished Lecture series will be delivered by Dr. Daniel Casasanto from Cornell University.

Date: Dec 9, 2020 03:00pm -4:30pm

Location: online

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Meeting ID: 960 2245 6264
Passcode: 877883

Title: The ad hoc construction of linguistic meaning

Speaker: Daniel Casasanto – Cornell University


To explain how people think and communicate, cognitive scientists posit a repository of concepts, categories, and meanings (CC&Ms) that are stable across time and shared across individuals. But if concepts are stable, how can people use them so flexibly? In this talk I’ll explore a possible answer: Maybe this stability is an illusion. Perhaps all CC&Ms are constructed ad hoc each time we use them. According to the Ad Hoc Cognition framework, all words are infinitely polysemous, all communication is “good enough,” and no idea is ever the same twice. Commonalities across instantiations of CC&Ms yield some emergent stability.

I will argue, however, that even the most stable-seeming CC&Ms are constructed ad hoc, and vary (a) from one microsecond to the next within a given instantiation, (b) from one instantiation to the next within an individual, and (c) from person to person and group to group as a function of people’s experiential history. Thinking depends on brains, and brains are always changing; therefore thoughts are always changing. By understanding the ad hoc construction of linguistic meaning, researchers can dissolve some of the fundamental problems in language and cognition and frame a new set of challenges for the cognitive sciences.

Relevant reading:

Casasanto, D., & Lupyan, G. (2015). All concepts are ad hoc concepts. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), The conceptual mind: New directions in the study of concepts (pp. 543-566). Cambridge: MIT Press.


Daniel Casasanto is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Psychology at Cornell University and director of the Experience and Cognition Laboratory <casasanto.com>. He studies how the diversity of human experience is reflected in our brains and minds: how people with different physical and social experiences come to think, feel, and act differently, in fundamental ways. To study cognitive diversity across cultures, his lab conducts research on five continents, using methods that range from watching children at play to brain imaging and neuro-stimulation.

A former opera singer, Casasanto received a graduate diploma in Voice from the Peabody Conservatory before earning a doctorate from the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 2005. Casasanto’s awards include a National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s Scholar Award, and the distinguished early career awards from the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and the Psychonomic Society.