What is the ISSILC?

The International Society for the Study of Interactivity, Language, and Cognition (the acronym ISSILC can be pronounced I-silk) is a society of scientists and scholars engaged in conversing with each other in ways that help to integrate studies of cognition, language, and interactivity. Traditionally, cognition has been understood as some form of computation, language has been described as a formal rule system, and interactivity has been explored as an exchange between two autonomous agents. Although much has been learned using these perspectives, they limit our ability to appreciate the integrity of human life and action.

Cognition is better understood as how humans and other animals maintain ongoing contact with their environment and its meaningful opportunities for actions that are life-affirming. Thus, cognition is fundamentally interactive: It is the interactivity of animals with their surroundings, especially other animals, but also cultural artifacts and activities that have evolved historically among those animals. Language is one of those activities and artifacts that is embedded within interactivity and contributes to it. From this perspective ‘language’ is primarily conversing in particular physical, social, moral contexts that allow people to realize values, and that allow linguistic actions to be described scientifically.

If we are to develop a proper scientific appreciation of the social, moral, physical, and biological richness of people’s ability to coordinate and direct their activities by gesturing, vocally and otherwise, we will need to go beyond treating language as an object, a code, and an idealized system. Similarly, we will need to take a much more ecological approach to cognition and action, and to the interactivity of human life, and its interdependence with larger biological and cultural systems.

Purposes and Aims

The Society intends to foster interactivity among a broad range of scholars in the cognitive and life sciences, and in the humanities, with the hope that a more integrated understanding of interactivity, language, and cognition will emerge that will be useful both to science and to public welfare. This will be done through encouraging friendships leading to joint research projects, through formal conferences, through publishing ventures (e.g., a journal), and through other methods of dissemination and resource development (e.g., a website).

The Society welcomes the membership and collaboration of scholars from all relevant disciplines, including, but not limited to, linguistics, biology, cognitive science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, communication, education, semiotics, and biosemiotics. It is a more formal scientific society that grew out of an earlier grass-roots movement of international scholars interested in developing alternative models of the activities of humans as they talk together. This earlier group, The Distributed Language Group, was initiated by Stephen Cowley and Nigel Love, and held its first formal meeting in 2005 at Cambridge University.