Mathias Sablé-Meyer

PSL/CollĂšge de France & NeuroSpin

Picture of the face of Mathias Sable-Meyer, the author


Overall Image

I am a postdoctoral research in Tim Behrens’s lab, and I am based in UCL’s Sainsbury Wellcome Centre. I am interested in the mental representation of abstract compositional concepts in humans.

I have just finished a PhD under the supervision of Stanislas Dehaene at PSL/Collùge de France and NeuroSpin, CEA. I’m interested in humans’ striking ability to manipulate highly abstract structures, be it language, mathematics or music. My work focuses on the perception of geometry, seeking traces of the ability for abstraction in a domain attested to be extremely old: homo erectus already carved abstract geometrical patterns half a million years ago, while other non-human primates seem unable to produce such shapes.

You can find a copy of my PhD manuscript, including a long summary in English on page 245 followed by a summary in French.

My work relies on experimental psychology to answer specific questions: are certain shapes processed faster and perceived more accurately than others? Even when matched for low-level perceptual features? What characterizes such shapes, and why? We’ve run comparative experiments with French adults at a large scale, together with behavioral data from preschoolers, uneducated adults, and neural networks. This work is moving toward incorporating neuroscience methodologies to answer new questions: EEG in babies to get even more naive participants, and fMRI & MEG in adults to look for perception-independent representations of geometrical shapes.

I also have strong interest in the topics below:


See dedicated page, which I used when TAing logic to Philosophy and Cognitive science ENS students in their first year of Master Degree.


After studying math, physics and computer science in prep. classes in France, I entered École Normale SupĂ©rieure (ENS) de Cachan in Computer Science where I finished my License (BA) and my first year of Master. During my masters I spent six months in Oxford, UK doing theoretical computer science under the supervision of Luke Ong, working on the semantics of various λ-calculi.

I then took a gap year sailing Gap year: a boat in Ithaca, FĂ©licien, a fire.
A dinner on the island of Ligia, Greece during my gap year. Boat in the background, FĂ©licien Comtat in the foreground.

and decided to focus on cognitive neuroscience: I applied for the CogMaster and worked with Stanislas Dehaene on geometrical sequences. Between that year and my PhD I spent six months at École Normale SupĂ©rieure working under the supervision of Salvador Mascarenhas on the links between reasoning and language, as well as six months at MIT under the supervision of Josh Tenenbaum working on program induction and more specifically applying it in the domain of geometry.

Advising experience

I have been co-advising, together with my own supervisor, the M2 internship of Maxime Cauté. He is exploring cross-modal representation of sequences of parametrized complexity using language-of-thought models.


Submitted / under review

  • Question-answer dynamics and confirmation theory in reasoning by representativeness.
    Mathias Sablé-Meyer, Janek Guerrini. Salvador Mascarenhas (under review: preprint available on PsyArXiV and data available on OSF)
  • Graphicacy across age, education, and culture: a new tool to assess intuitive graphics skills
    Lorenzo Ciccione, Mathias Sable-Meyer, Esther Boissin, Mathilde Josserand, Cassandra Potier-Watkins, Serge Caparos, Stanislas Dehaene (submitted, preprint available on BioArXiV)





  • Library Learning for Neurally-Guided Bayesian Program Induction.
    Kevin Ellis, Lucas Morales, Mathias Sablé-Meyer, Armando Solar-Lezama, Joshua B. Tenenbaum.
    NIPS 2018. Spotlight.

Talks & Seminars

  • Invited speaker at the “Communicative efficiency” workshop organised by Olivier Morin, Isabelle Dautriche and Alexey Koshevoy, where I presented work entitled “A Minimum Description Length account of how humans mentally represent geometric shapes”, 2023
  • Invited speaker at Vienna University’s Vienna Cognitive Science Hub to present Human cognition of geometric shapes, a window into the mental representation of abstract concepts, 2022
  • Invited speaker at CEU’s Department of Cognitive Science Colloquium to present Geometry as a window into symbolic mental representations, 2022
  • Invited speaker at the 2022 FYSSEN colloquium, entitled “Logic and Symbols”
  • Invited speaker at the CoLaLa, invited by Steven Piantadosi: “A language of thought for the mental representation of geometric shapes”, 2022
  • Invited speaker at the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University, invited by Kathryn A. Hirsh-Pasek and Nora Newcomb: “A language of thought for the mental representation of geometric shapes”, 2022
  • Invited speaker at the McDonnell plenary workshop 2022, “A language of thought for the mental representation of geometric shapes”, 2022
  • Invited speaker at the Brain/AI at Facebook AI Research (FAIR), invited by Jean-RĂ©mi KING: “Sensitivity to geometric shape regularity in humans and baboons: A putative signature of human singularity”, 2021
  • Chairman for the Fondation Les Treilles “Cognitive maps in infants: Initial state and development” 2021
  • Invited member of the seminar “Music, Brain and Education”, organised by Oubradou/CollĂšge de France, 2020
  • Invited speaker at the LINGUAE Seminar: “The laws of mental geometry in human and non-human primates”, 2019
  • FYSSEN seminar “Pillars of cognitive development in mathematics”, 2019
  • Invited young researcher at Centre l’Oubradou, “Where Art, Science & Education connect”, 2018
  • Joint talk with Kevin Ellis: “Dream-Coder: Bootstrapping Domain-Specific Languages for Neurally-Guided Bayesian Program Learning”, at CogSci 2018 workshop on program induction
  • LPPRD seminar, joint talk with Salvador Mascarenhas, invited by Philip Koralis, 2018, handout.
  • The Experimental Philosophy Group, 2017, handout


Academic Reports

Structural compression of visual input?

General public communications


Review work

I have been directly contacted and have provided reviews for the following journal and conferences:


Open Science Commitment

I use almost exclusively free (libre) softwares, to which I contribute when able to. I have submitted fixes, implemented features and documented bugs in the following neuroimaging softwares ecosystems: nilearn, mne, fmriprep. Code for my models, analyses and experiments are systematically published alongside articles, typically on Open Science Framework.


I’m an avid climber, a competent sailor and an adequate handyman. Occasionally I get hooked into tinkering with various programming languages, electronic projects, neural networks models, etc., and when in luck I write about it. Selected examples here: