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An efficient coding approach to the debate on grounded cognition

  • Abel Wajnerman Paz


The debate between the amodal and the grounded views of cognition seems to be stuck. Their only substantial disagreement is about the vehicle or format of concepts. Amodal theorists reject the grounded claim that concepts are couched in the same modality-specific format as representations in sensory systems. The problem is that there is no clear characterization of (modal or amodal) format or its neural correlate. In order to make the disagreement empirically meaningful and move forward in the discussion we need a neurocognitive criterion for representational format. I argue that efficient coding models in computational neuroscience can be used to characterize modal codes: These are codes which satisfy special informational demands imposed by sensory tasks. Additionally, I examine recent studies on neural coding and argue that although they do not provide conclusive evidence for either the grounded or the amodal views, they can be used to determine what predictions these approaches can make and what experimental and theoretical developments would be required to settle the debate.


Concepts Format Grounded cognition Efficient coding 



I would like to thank the members of the Research Group on Cognition, Language and Perception (CLP) from Buenos Aires (Liza Skidelsky, Mariela Destéfano, Sergio Barberis, Sabrina Haimovici, Nicolás Serrano, Fernanda Velázquez Coccia and Cristial Stábile) for many early discussions of this material. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for very helpful suggestions on crucial aspects of the manuscript. Finally, I am indebted to Julieta Picasso Cazón for ongoing support.


CONICET postdoctoral research grant (2015–2017) (Argentina) and FONDECYT postdoctoral research grant (2018–2020) (Chile).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Instituto de FilosofíaBuenos AiresArgentina

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