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The conceptual system contains categorical knowledge about experience that supports the spectrum of cognitive processes. Cognitive science theories assume that categorical knowledge resides in a modular and amodal semantic memory, whereas neuroscience theories assume that categorical knowledge is grounded in the brain's modal systems for perception, action, and affect. Neuroscience has influenced theories of the conceptual system by stressing principles of neural processing in neural networks and by motivating grounded theories of cognition, which propose that simulations of experience represent knowledge. Cognitive science has influenced theories of the conceptual system by documenting conceptual phenomena and symbolic operations that must be grounded in the brain. Significant progress in understanding the conceptual system is most likely to occur if cognitive and neural approaches achieve successful integration.
Based on accumulating evidence, simulation appears to be a basic computational mechanism in the brain that supports a broad spectrum of processes from perception to social cognition. Further evidence suggests that simulation is typically situated, with the situated character of experience in the environment being reflected in the situated character of the representations that underlie simulation. A basic architecture is sketched of how the brain implements situated simulation. Within this framework, simulators implement the concepts that underlie knowledge, and situated conceptualizations capture patterns of multi-modal simulation associated with frequently experienced situations. A pattern completion inference mechanism uses current perception to activate situated conceptualizations that produce predictions via simulations on relevant modalities. Empirical findings from perception, action, working memory, conceptual processing, language and social cognition illustrate how this framework produces the extensive prediction that characterizes natural intelligence.
Three experiments demonstrated that situational information contributes to the categorization of functional object categories, as well as to inferences about these categories. When an object was presented in the context of setting and event information, categorization was more accurate than when the object was presented in isolation. Inferences about the object similarly became more accurate as the amount of situational information present during categorization increased. The benefits of situational information were higher when both setting and event information were available than when only setting information was available. These findings indicate that situational information about settings and events is stored with functional object categories in memory. Categorization and inference become increasingly accurate as the information available during categorization matches situational information stored with the category.