Dook Shepherd at the Egenis Research Exchange – 1st Oct. 2-3pm, Byrne House

To begin this semester, we were very pleased to have Dook Shepherd visiting from the University of Adelaide, and discussing a drafted part of his doctoral research. The draft was entitled “Of Windows & Worlds: Foundational Concepts & Their Roles in the Study of Honeybee (Apis Mellifera) Cognition”. His research is part of a larger overarching research project ‘Organisms & Us: how living things help us understand our world’ (with professors Rachel Ankeny, Sabina Leonelli & Michael Dietrich). Dook’s PhD research is a philosophical analysis of the use of foundational concepts, albeit intellectually or theoretically vexed, which are utilised in the service of cognitive explanation for biological models.

In order to undertake this project, a large part of Dook’s research involves ethnographic fieldwork and lab observation with researchers conducting cognitive research with honeybees, as a central case study. Honeybees are chosen for this because they provide a rich natural concrete model from which to analyse how researchers deploy notions such as ‘representation’, ‘information/processing’, and ‘computation’ in order to investigate and understand their cognitive capacities. His analysis utilises bees to interface between philosophical considerations and empirical work/findings which make use of these cognitive concepts, in order to determine possible implications for: (i) our theoretical frameworks (e.g. anthropogenic/biogenic approaches to cognition); (ii) implications for foundational cognitive concepts themselves including ‘cognition’; and (iii) the explanatory utility and epistemic status of their use.

The reading concerns the first three sections of Dook’s thesis: (§1) ‘Introducing the cognitive bee’, which examines some of the history of scientific research with honeybees; (§2) ‘Bees waxing lyrically’, where Dook reviews the legacy of Frisch’s symbolic dance language, explores Karl von Frisch’s seminal work with bees as well as his analysis of one of their central cognitive capacities, namely communication as a symbolic system; and (§3) ‘Bees in the “Cognition Wars”’, where he discusses honeybee cognitive capacities and situates them between two competing cognitive frameworks, i.e. the anthropogenic framework and the biogenic framework.

Dook intends to research and draft the next four sections during his time here at Exeter. He will also pursue further ethnographic field work at a number of key cognitive insect laboratories in and around the United Kingdom during his time in Exeter An overview of the themes and aims of these developing sections are presented below. Get in contact with Dook to extend the discussion: <>


Section 4. A dance-language or a buzz-word?

In this section, Dook will investigate the behaviour/concept of dance-as-language by: analysing bee communication (i.e. “a rule governed system”); representational properties (e.g. non-arbitrary [iconic] form); vehicle structure (e.g. second order resemblance); expressive power (e.g. indexical reference, spatio/temporal separation); semantic content (questions of translation and equivalent expressions); conditions of accuracy; and plausibility of truth conditional form in relation to human language (i.e. Design Features). One of his aims is to offer prospects of bee communication as a quasi-propositional structure (i.e. predicate-object, negation, and truth/falsehood). He is developing theoretical arguments that include an analysis of the possibility for a propositional (yet non-classical) format of the schema. This, will satisfy some of the major representational concerns motivated by the approach of cognitive scientists adhering to the anthropogenc framework. He will explore the behaviour of bees expressing negation and hive behaviour modulation. Finally, he will deploy an argument for the ‘productivity’ and internal systematic coherence in bee communication schema.

Section 5. Gruesome Mappings or Elegant Cartography? Exploitable Isomorphism & Structural Representation in Honeybees (Apis Mellifera)

Here, Dook will conduct an assessment of the exploitable isomorphisms available and utilised in bee communication and navigation, relating these exploitable patterns to structural representation and prospects for content determination both in public and private representing vehicles. He will examine the coherent (and novel) inferences or ‘geometric deductions’ made by bees. This will be undertaken in order to analyse the conceptual/theoretic relationship between ‘cognitive maps’ and structural representation. He will examine the fact that the cognitive map is largely constructed or derived by shareable (expressible and understandable) and mutual information, as opposed to a correspondence to the landmark learning simpliciter. This, he will argue, vindicates these strategies in virtue of recent empirical findings with bees which observe path/vector integration behaviour.

Section 6. [untitled]

In this section, Dook will examine the bee communication system as an (ineliminable) extrinsic ‘cognitive scaffold’ for internal model construction. Here, he will develops the idea of ‘cognitive looping’ and emergent semantic information.

Section 7. [untitled]

In this section, Dook considers internal (interpreted) and external (expressed) looping in relation to Peircean triadic semiotics (i.e. sign [or vehicle or representing object], object [represented], and interpretant [relevance of the system to which the former are related]). He will discuss the derivation and application of content alongside semiotic grounding criteria (i.e. symbol-convention, icon-resemblance, index-causation). In this section, Dook will consider different modalities of semantic information.


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