The neural ingredients for a language of thought are available

Nina Kazanina, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The classical notion of a ‘language of thought’ (LoT), advanced prominently by the philosopher Jerry Fodor, is an influential position in cognitive science whereby the mental representations underpinning thought are considered to be compositional and productive, enabling the construction of new complex thoughts from more primitive symbolic concepts. LoT theory has been challenged because a neural implementation has been deemed implausible. We disagree. Examples of critical computational ingredients needed for a neural implementation of a LoT have in fact been demonstrated, in particular in the hippocampal spatial navigation system of rodents. Here, we show that cell types found in spatial navigation (border cells, object cells, head-direction cells, etc.) provide key types of representation and computation required for the LoT, underscoring its neurobiological viability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)996-1007
Number of pages12
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • compositionality
  • computational theory of mind
  • language-of-thought
  • spatial navigation
  • symbolic representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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