The Representational Penumbra. An examination of borderlines cases of representation

Duration: 2022-2025
Code: PID2021-127046NA-I00
Funded by: Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación

Principal Investigator: Marc Artiga (Valencia)
Research Team: David Pineda (Girona), Manolo Martínez (Barcelona)
Work Team: Nicholas Shea (London), ‪Joulia Smortchkova‬ (Oxford), Peter Schulte (Zurich), Joan Camarena (Valencia)


A central tenet of mainstream cognitive science is that organisms are able to cope with complex and varying environments by using internal representations. According to this hypothesis, information about the external world flows through the brain, encoded somehow in its states, modulating behavior in increasingly sophisticated ways. Much of cognitive science (including cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology) assumes a representationalist picture, in which mental states, neural states or populations of neurons qualify as representational.

Much theorizing on the nature of representation has its focus on clear and explanatorily central examples of representation. Beliefs, desires and other propositional attitudes have remained at the center of the philosophical debate. Similarly, perceptual experiences have played a prominent role in vindicating a representationalist framework and clarify its nature. Certainly, these cognitive states are clear and paradigmatic cases of representation. However, most representational states are far from the paradigm; they might be be unconscious, or have an indeterminate content or be tightly connected to an output system. There are many different ways of failing to be a central case of representation; this is what we call ‘the representational penumbra’.

The guiding hypothesis of this research project is that looking at the margins, at the unclear cases of representation, can provide valuable insights on the metaphysical nature of representational phenomena and help to address some classical problems.