Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Open Peer Commentary
Barsalou: Perpetual symbol systems

Spatial symbol systems and spatial cognition: A computer science perspective on perception-based symbol processing

Christian Freksa a1, Thomas Barkowsky a1 and Alexander Klippel a1
a1 Department for Informatics and Cognitive Science Program, University of Hamburg, D-22527 Hamburg, Germany {freksa; barkowsky; klippel}


People often solve spatially presented cognitive problems more easily than their nonspatial counterparts. We explain this phenomenon by characterizing space as an inter-modality that provides common structure to different specific perceptual modalities. The usefulness of spatial structure for knowledge processing on different levels of granularity and for interaction between internal and external processes is described. Map representations are discussed as examples in which the usefulness of spatially organized symbols is particularly evident. External representations and processes can enhance internal representations and processes effectively when the same structures and principles can be implicitly assumed.