Amsterdam, Netherlands

Out of my Mind: Embodied Cognition, Mechanistic Explanation and Mental Disorder

when 28 July 2018 - 11 August 2018
language English
duration 2 weeks
credits 3 EC
fee EUR 1150

The latest research in cognitive science is revealing that cognitive phenomena such as spatial navigation, action perception and emotional understanding all depend on the human body: not only the body’s morphological, biological and physiological make-up, but also how it actively engages with a structured natural, technological or social environment. Meanwhile, an increasing number of studies in cognitive neuroscience suggest that brains are ‘protean’, continuously adjusting their functions in response to physiological and environmental changes. In a very profound way, it appears that human cognition is shaped and structured by the body and features of our socio-cultural environment. What impact does this have on our understanding of cognitive function and dysfunction?

This three-part summer course focuses on recent debates about the nature of human cognition and our efforts to explain it. How do these debates impact our understanding of mental disorder?

In Part 1: Embodied and Extended Cognition, you will home in on the cognitive processes involved in solving a multiplication problem. Is this down to neuronal processes alone? Can eye movement, posture and the use of a calculator be seen as part of the cognitive system that solves the problem? You will consider philosophical arguments and empirical evidence for the hypothesis that cognitive systems are dynamically constituted by brain, body and environment.

Part 2: Mechanistic Explanation looks at the increasingly prevalent idea that cognitive neuroscientists provide mechanistic explanations of cognitive phenomena. This sparks a discussion of the mechanistic explanatory strategy and whether it can be applied to extended cognitive systems.

Part 3 looks at Psychiatry and Mental Disorder. You will assess the DSM-ICD psychiatric classification framework and the many issues associated with it before going on to examine the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative, launched by the National Institute of Mental Health and aimed at transforming the DSM-ICD into an objective biological system that conceptualizes mental disorders as brain dysfunctions. You will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, utilizing the insights and ideas you acquired in the first week.

The course centres on questions about the nature of human cognition, how we explain it and the impact on psychiatry and the concept of mental disorder. These are key themes in the Philosophy of Neuroscience track, a joint initiative by the VU University Medical Center Amsterdam and VU Amsterdam’s Department of Philosophy.

Course leader

Dr Leon de Bruin / Prof. Gerrit Glas

Target group

Students and professionals in philosophy, psychology or neuroscience with an interest in psychiatry and mental disorder. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds.

Course aim

At the end of this course you:
•Are familiar with the state-of-the-art literature on embodied cognition, mechanistic explanation and mental disorder.
•Can explain the philosophical implications of embodied cognition and mechanistic explanation in debates on the concept of mental disorder.
•Can reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the DSM-ICD and the RDoC frameworks of psychiatric classification.
•Have learned to critically engage with the literature and the lectures in your area of specialization.
•Are able to analyse, present and discuss the central issues of this course both verbally and in writing.

Credits info

3 EC
Contact Hours: 45
If you want to earn more credits you can take courses in our other sessions to create a 4 or 6 week programme.

Fee info

EUR 1150: The tuition fee includes:
• Airport pick-up service
• Welcome goodie bag
• Orientation programme
• Course excursions
• On-site support
• Emergency assistance
• Transcript of records after completion of the course

An early bird discount of €150 is available for students who apply and pay before 15 March, and students from VU Amsterdam as well as from exchange partner universities will receive a €250 discount. You apply for the discount simply by indicating that you are currently a student at VU Amsterdam or at a partner university in the online application.

There are also discounts for students who attend multiple sessions, combine 2 courses and receive a €200 discount and combine 3 to receive a €300 discount. All courses include excursions. We will also organize trips and excursions as part of our social programme, which is a great way to get to know your fellow students and learn more about Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The social programme is not included in the tuition fee.

Furnished accommodation is available. Various housing options will be offered.


The VU Amsterdam Summer School offers ten scholarships that cover the full tuition and housing fees of one course. Information about how to apply for the scholarship will be posted on the VU Amsterdam Summer School website.

Register for this course
on course website