Saturday, 30 May 2015

Why Brandom Thinks Analytic Philosophy Has Failed Cognitive Science

In anticipation for UCD's upcoming Summer Institute in American Philosophy entitled "The Reaches of Pragmatism," here is a piece by Robert Brandom called "How Analytic Philosophy Has Failed Cognitive Science."  Spoiler alert: the reason analytic philosophy has failed cognitive science is because, according to Brandom, "we have failed to communicate some of the most basic ideas, failed to explain their significance, failed to make them available in forms useable by those working in allied disciplines who are also professionally concerned to understand the nature of thought, minds, and reason" (Brandom, 2009, p. 121).  In this way, it reminded me of Abi's question related to the possibility/extent of interdisciplinary accounts of consciousness, cognition, etc.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Potential Space

The reading list from this module has seemed to me to be guiding us away from the brain centred attitude to the theories of action in the environment and its many influences on our cognition. And so I ask the question what of the space between human and object (what Buber would call the I-It) and Winnicott would term the "third space" (1996 p102) or the "potential space"?
Winnicott studied thousands of Mothers and babies and how these babies learned to endure separateness from Mother by sometimes using a transitional object (teddy bear or blanket) which becomes a symbol for the child of being able tolerate separateness through play with the symbolic object. This creative play Winnicott would suggest within the space between Mother and a Motherless space becomes the foundations for symbolic use, the creative process and our cultural life.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Death by Utopia

A few weeks ago I came across a curious study on influence of overcrowding on society. The experiment performed by John B Calhoun with mice and published in 1973. Calhoun designed a habitat for mice that had all the resources needed to survive, basically a “mouse paradise”. There was no need for looking for food, water and shelter as it was all there. There were also no predators, so mice did not need to invest in protection. Calhoun called his experiment “Mortality-Inhibiting Environment for Mice” and is also known as “Universe 25”.

Postcognitive Topics final post

During our post-cognitive topics module we have covered many different approaches to cognitive science from the Extended Mind to Enaction. Other approaches include Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuropsychology and Computational Cognitive Science. One thing all the approaches have in common is a tendency to produce long papers - like this post.

Elman et al., in Rethinking Innateness, describe development as an interactive process where ‘emergent form is the rule rather than the exception.’ They go on to describe development as taking place at multiple levels and in discussing innateness say ‘development is constrained at one or more of these levels. Interactions may occur within and also across levels. And outcomes which are observed at one level may be produced by constraints which occur at another level.’ They are describing development in emergent terms.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Different views of Affordances

Photograph taken with UV filter showing
possible view bees may have

I did some research on bees a few years ago for an art piece, looking at what is known about their social interaction as a hive or community It came to mind several times when reading through our reading list for this module. Von Uexull in his discussion of the "phenomenal world" of the varieties of life in the meadow.  Lyon and Keijzer because of their call to avoid our "species-centrisim"(p134) and acknowledge the insights that studying animal species can give us humans. And Harry Heft's discussion of Gibson's affordance theory "that seem most plausibly applied to features of the environment that have species-specific or transcultural significance" (p1).

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Beyond input-output mappings

In this post, a major paradigm shift in neuroscience from the last 20 years or so is described.  The move is from consideration of the activity of nervous systems as mapping from input to output (as in feed-forward neural networks) to a view whereby sensory input modulates the ongoing endogenous activity of the system (think of a recurrent network that is spontaneously generating activity before any input arrives) .  Sensory input is thus a perturbation to the system, whose effect will depend on the structure and activity of the system, rather than a stimulus producing a determinate response.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Criticism of Noe: Andy Clark

The enactive approach states that perception is something that we actively participate in and do, and not merely something that happens to us in a passive manner. Alva Noe aimed to describe perception as an action - and so treated action as a crucial part of perception in itself. The constitutivist thesis is at the focal point of Enactivism and it states that both sensorimotor skills and knowledge constitute the contents within our perceptual experience. Although Noe's approach is widely accepted, flaws and limitations can be observed through the criticisms of Andy Clark, which are interpreted and described in Mineki Oguchi's (2008) paper "Is Perception Enactive?"

Clark utilised Milner and Goodale's "dual stream model" in order to critique Noe's approach. The most prominent limitation highlighted by Clark is "sensorimotor chauvinism". Clark states that sensorimotor chauvinism can be seen in this excerpt from Noe's Action in Perception ; "it turns out that there is a good reason to believe that the sensorimotor dependences are themselves determined by low level details of the physical systems on which our sensory systems depend. The eye and visual parts of the brain form a most subtle instrument indeed, and thanks to this instrument, sensory stimulations varies in response to movement in precise ways. To see as we do, you must then have a sensory organ and a body like ours".

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Does ascribing meaning to perception necessitate consciousness? ( Part 1 of ?)

“The comprehensive class we are considering, which is to embrace everything, must embrace itself as one of its members. In other words, if there is such a thing as “everything,” then, “everything” is something, and is a member of the class “everything.” But normally a class is not a member of itself. Mankind, for example, is not a man. Form now the assemblage of all classes which are not members of themselves. This is a class: is it a member of itself or not? If it is, it is one of those classes that are not members of themselves, i.e., it is not a member of itself. If it is not, it is not one of those classes that are not members of themselves, i.e. it is a member of itself. Thus of the two hypotheses – that it is, and that it is not, a member of itself – each implies its contradictory. This is a contradiction.”(Bertrand Russel, 1919)

Monday, 13 April 2015


Last class we were introduced to the seminal work of F. Varela, E. Thompson, and E. Rosch called The Embodied Mind. The book begins to outline a method Varela would come to term ‘neurophenomenology’, the practice of using first-person methods and reports alongside third-person imaging data to mutually illuminate subjective experience and measured activity in the brain and body. Phew. In her book The Feeling Body, Giovanna Colombetti (who has coauthored papers with Thompson) puts forth a research program she calls neuro-physio-phenomenology as a means to illuminate emotion experience. 

She argues that neurophenomenology and neuroscience should join forces to better understand emotion experience; whereas neurophenomenology has largely ignored emotion and could benefit from incorporating bodily information, neuroscience has largely focused on brain and bodily activity without any recourse to first-person reports. 

Colombetti suggests a neuro-physio-phenomenological approach to studying emotion experience is much more in line with enactivism’s emphasis of the continuity of mind and life by focusing on the activity the whole of the organism, not just in the brain. 

One point of criticism with neurophenomenology is around the reliability of first-person data collection - one sticking point being that the observation of phenomenological states would fundamentally change the experience (bringing it from something pre-reflective to reflective awareness), and that the need to train subjects would have a similar effect. However Colombetti doesn't see this as a major problem for the study of consciousness. She offers several reasons why we might not want to be so sceptical in this regard, and says ultimately that neurophenomenology just happens to be linking (trained) reports of a possibly somewhat shifted experience with third-person data, but reports of experience nonetheless - still useful for studying consciousness. 

But I wonder if the study of emotion experience might not bypass this problem so easily. If one goal of studying emotion experience is to elucidate categories of emotion corresponding to specific brain/body states, a distorted experience by means of having a trained subject reflect on it would be a problem for this task by in some sense altering the 'boundaries' of where we would want to draw them for the average untrained, unreflecting person. But hey, how do we feel about categories of emotion? 

Here is an article by Colombetti and Thompson on an enactive approach to emotion, if anyone is interested in the topic but isn't feeling like reading her entire book.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Cat lovers duped

"Cuteness, how adorable"....if you're thinking these thoughts then I may change your mind! (pun will become apparent).
I recently read about this insidious little parasite called Toxoplasma gondii who begins its life in a cats gut. I have two cats so I read on.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Can we Really Afford it? (Part 2 of 2)

In this second post - as was promised last week - I will present some concerns for the ecological approach (EA) to social perception that was advanced in the previous instalment in this series. 

Herein, I will suggest that, though the concept of affordances does find application in the area of social perception (including facial perception), it should be applied judiciously, and if a truly comprehensive ecological account of social perception is to be developed it will have to be expanded to include some of the conceptualisations outlined below. 

The most obvious problem with the EA, is that unlike with the perception of a chair, or a table, the aim of an interaction when there is more than one agent is not simply to co-ordinate ones intentions with the environment - in the same manner one coordinates the intention to sit down with the chair - rather, intentions must be somehow negotiated between agents and within a shared environment.

Sensory Experience: Descartes Dilemma

Cartesianism that swept through Christian Europe during the enlightenment had a profound effect on how minds, bodies and other animals are understood. Although no one (almost no one just to be safe) these days ascribes to Descartes mind-body dualism, the influence remains. As Lyon and Keijzer (2007) have pointed out, the Cartesian framework has been a huge influence in species-centrism by dividing the world into two stuffs, one exclusive to humans.

Descartes view of the workings of nature, which was partly due to reaction to the Aristotelian view, had profound effects on how minds and bodies are understood. The Aristotelian framework, as outlined by Matthews (1977) placed humans in a continuum with animals and plants. What distinguishes humans from other animals is the possession of a rational soul - our capacity for volition, intellection and rationality. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Improve Your Perception!

Kevin O’Regan and Alan Noë’s A Sensorimotor Account of Vision and Visual Consciousness article published in 2001 characterizes perception as an inactive view. In this paper the authors create a landmark for “sensorimotor contingency theory” of perceptual experience and provide ways of means for the future theories.

 The experience of perception has been largely debated and somehow though differently according to the different disciplines. O’Regan and Noë attempt to halt the confusion by portraying perception as an ability that not only depends on, but is constituted by possession of sensorimotor knowledge. The writers attempt to separate the notions of ‘sensation’ and ‘perception’, concepts that have been viewed interchangeable. According to the theory perception is a skill that needs to be acquired. For instance Held and Hein’s (1963) “The Kitten Carousel Study”, which investigates the role of experience in perceptual-motor development. The research showed that visual experience is tightly related to movement. More evidence for this theory is provided by Muller Lyer Illusion. The illusion seems to only work with people that live in straight edge environment.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

What if Thoughts Were Behaviours 1

Behaviourism is not what you think it is. Despite the caricature of the behaviourist as a “stimulus/response” man, modern behaviourism is nothing of the sort. Even Skinner was not a stimulus/response man, but rather he was interested by how our environment shapes our behaviour. Most people wouldn’t argue with the statement that our environment (physical & verbal) shapes our behaviour, so how Skinner’s psychology managed to become so highly discredited, so much so that behaviourism is largely treated as a dirty word within psychology departments, perhaps has its origin in different *cough* Chomsky *cough* areas. But I digress

The goal of any science is a map, that when layered over an aspect of the natural world contains a structural similarity to what we observe happening. That is to say, while the map most certainly is not the territory, because of its similarity in structure to nature, it should be able to make predictions about its domain. Consider language. Language is a map that all of us use to understand our place in the world. Unfortunately, because many aspects of ourselves are mysterious to us, that is to say, because there is not a structural similarity between most theories of the human condition, and the human condition, when we speak of our experience, and when we speak of ourselves, we are not really talking about ourselves, but rather about the maps that we have created about ourselves. This is what Korzybski was talking about in Science and Sanity  when he said the map is not the territory. What we think we are, and what we are. Interestingly enough, this is what the Buddhists, and other Eastern philosophies have been telling us for several thousand years, however we tend to dismiss it because, y’know, what do they know? But I digress.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Can we Really Afford it? (Part 1 of 2)

This post is the first in a two part series, wherein I consider the notion of “affordances”, that first appeared in the work of the ecological psychologist J.J. Gibson (1966), and ask whether or not this concept can be applied to social perception, or more particularly, to the perception of faces. 

In the first post I will outline a positive account of this position as it is offered by those who champion it. However, in the second post - available here next week - I will present some of the difficulties with this position.

The ecological approach to the question of face perception is offered as an alternative to the more traditional cognitivist approaches. Such approaches tend to be quite limited in the questions they ask, mostly asking what are the mechanisms within our brains that organise the perception of someone’s face, and how do they operate. Moreover, the attributes of face perception traditional approaches are concerned with are also rather limited, prefering to focus only on the perception of identity, emotion and directional attention.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Must be dreamin’

In 'A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness', O’Regan and Noe (O&N) consider an argument from dreaming in opposition to a sensorimotor account of consciousness. According to O&N the dreaming argument says that the nature of dreaming suggests that it pulls on mental representations of the outside world; these images we see in our dreams are like ‘pictures in our heads’ and therefore must be brain-based representations of the outside world. They counter this by saying that just because it seems that we’re seeing an internal picture, this does not mean that the brain actually contains these pictures, and further argue that the fact that are dreams are so disorganized is due to the lack of external stimulus to ‘hold an experienced world steady’. They suppose the ‘pictures in the head’ idea may be an ill-founded phenomenological claim.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Why chomsky might be right about the evolution of language... but probably isn't. Part 2

This is the second part of a two part blog post. The first part can be found here.

I think I have shown that Chomsky does not deny the evolution of language. In fact, Chomsky has a very specific idea of how language evolved based on what he thinks the function of language is. For Chomsky, the function of language is thought. As with Fodor, Chomsky thinks that thought involves the interaction of symbolic representations according to certain rules. The two are thus inseparable. Chomsky is very clear on this:

"Without merge, there would be no way to assemble the arbitrarily large, hierarchically structured objects, with their specific interpretations in the language of thought that distinguish human language from other animal cognitive systems." (Bolhuis, Tattersall, Chomsky & Berwick, 2014)

Note that language is considered to be a cognitive, not a communication system... 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Time Travelling von Uexküll

Jakob Johann Baron von Uexküll was a noble biologist whose curious writings influenced many of 20th century’s thinkers. It is no wonder that he is viewed as one of leading figures on Semiotics and inspiration in the field of robotics. The fame amongst intellectuals was obtained by von Uexküll’s most widely known Umwelt theory.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The hard problem of the smell of the coffee

“Suppose you have just had a dental procedure under general anaesthetic and are coming round. You are aware of a dazzling light above you and of a muffled voice echoing in your ears. There is sickness in your stomach and a sharp metallic taste in your mouth. You feel a moment of panic as you struggle to work out what has happened. Moving your head, you recognize the dentist’s face and realize that he is speaking your name and asking if you want a glass of water. You remember where you are, sit up shakily and take the glass.” (Frankish 2010, p.2)

These experiences, the dazzling light above you, hearing a muffed voice, having a metallic taste on your mouth, and so on each have a certain feel/character to them. There is

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Throwing Like A Girl

For any who may be interested, Iris Marion Young wrote a (now quite famous) piece called "Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality" in which she describes how Merlau-Ponty's description of the 'lived body' (most notably, in Phenomenology of Perception) differs for women.  This difference is not merely a difference in observed behavior but, consistent with Merlau-Ponty's account of an embodied being in the world, it strikes right at the heart of the lived experience.

So, for example, the Merlau-Ponty quote from the Heft reading, "The body is the vehicle for being in the world, and having a body is, for a living creature, to be intervolved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them" (Merleau-Ponty, 1963, p. 82), is for Young different in men and women within the context of a patriarchal society.

This is of particular importance to the Heft reading because the ideas of ecological psychology are clearly in line with those of Merleau-Ponty.  As such, Young's critique of Merleau-Ponty may be relevant to this approach, particularly in the later sections of the paper in which Heft discusses how functional meaning may be culturally derived and how perceptual learning is shaped by many variables (including exploration - which Young would claim to be inhibited in women - and age).

Ecological Analytic Philosophy

Despite my fear of being the person inappropriately dressed for the party (metaphorically speaking), I will attempt to relate ecological psychology to the analytic philosophical tradition (Adam, go easy on me).  After all, Harry Heft's description of the ecological approach (particularly that of Gibson) inspired within me a flashback to my last semester, not only within the continental camp (e.g. Merleau-Ponty, who was cited several times in the paper, not to mention concepts of the 'lived body' and apperception described by Husserl), but also within analytic attempts at demystifying perception (if one can call it that).  Specifically, I was reminded of the sense-data debate, with Bertrand Russell in one corner and Wilfrid STALKER Sellars in the other.  Ding, ding!  Round one!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Is pain all in our heads?

Is pain really all in our heads? According to neuroscientist David Linden of Johns Hopkins University, this seems to be the case. In instances where we experience pain, for example a cut on our index finger, we believe that the pain is emanating from the index finger. Contrary to this belief, it is actually coming from the brain. This is due to our own perception of pain being moulded by the circuits in our brain that are consistently receiving inputs from our sensory nerves. Linden exemplifies this further in his book Touch , and explains that our brains can amplify our experience of pain by means of its intensity and characteristics, such as the burning or aching sensations we may feel due to injury or illness. Another aspect of individual experiences of pain is the emotions we correlate with certain situations, as the brain decides the emotion we associate with each instance in which pain is experienced. For example, pain can be minimised once positive emotions - such as feelings of safety and calm - are emitted, therefore reducing the emotional component of pain.

Of Statistics and Significance

Most psychology students are steeped in the culture of null hypothesis testing, with convention dictating that p-values below 0.05 be treated rather differently from p-values above that threshold.  If one had little exposure to other branches of science, one might even come to believe that this form of inferential practice was at the heart of the scientific method.  Nothing could be more (significantly) wrong.  In fact, null hypothesis testing, the concept of statistical significance, and the holy p-value are all rather local phenomena, found primarily in the soft sciences, where the entities being discussed are in desperate need of shoring up to ensure their very reality: a job that null hypothesis significance testing does very poorly.

Interesting then that a reputable journal smack in the middle of the soft sciences, Basic and Applied Social Psychology has now reached a point where it is banning null hypothesis testing and the associated argument from "significance".

Monday, 23 February 2015

Planimeter perception

Runeson argues that perception consists of 'Smart' Perceptual Mechanisms. He compares them to the polar planimeter, an instrument which allows for the measurement of areas on a 2D surface such as a map. These smart mechanisms are similar to the affordances that Gibson sees as the basis for perception.  Runeson does not see the need for cognitive processes in perception. As in the planimeter, the relationship between the stimulus and the smart mechanism is automatic, emanating from the ‘physical realisation’ of the mechanism.

This is fine if the phenomenon under study is perception and the unit of analysis is the smart mechanism. But if we want to dig lower, how does it work?  The distance the planimeter travels in any direction is directly related to the area covered by the arm.  A mathematical proof is available.  Can smart mechanisms be explained at a lower level?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Why Chomsky might be right about the evolution of language... but probably isn't. Part 1

This is a two-part blog post. Part 1 explains why Chomsky might be right, the second part will explain why I think he isn’t.

Chomsky says language didn't evolve - according to psychologist Frederick Coolidge, who recently wrote a blog post entitled "Why Chomsky is wrong about the evolution of language." Citing a 2014 paper by Bolhuis, Tattersall, Chomsky & Berwick as evidence, Coolidge makes two major claims. First, that Chomsky denies language evolved, but appeared suddenly and was not subject to natural selection. Secondly that Chomsky denies genetic evidence, comparative animal studies, neurophysiological evidence and childhood acquisition theories, all of which contradict his language origin theory. In this blog post I’ll deal with his first point and the second in my next post.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Try to see if from their perspective: Embodied Perspective Taking

The other day while I was studying at home a repair person asked for the code to our front gate so they could come as they pleased. I couldn’t tell them the number until I shifted my body slightly to the left, where if I were outside in front of my house, I’d be facing the dial pad, and drew the pattern of the numbers I habitually press in the air. Simultaneously I recalled the standard arrangement of numbers on a dial pad and superimposed that pattern on a mental image I had of the dial pad. 1,4,3, 6.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Embodied Theories of Cognition

Almost every article concerning embodiment opens with the declaration that theories of embodiment reject ‘traditional’ or cognitivist approaches to explaining and understanding cognitive processes; as such approaches are inclined to equate the ‘mind’ with brain activity, and brain activity with information processing.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Joint Action

 The definition of joint action can be regarded as “any form of social interaction whereby two or more individuals coordinate their actions in space and time to bring about a change in the environment” ( Sebanz, Bekkering & Knoblich, 2006). In a nutshell joint action is individuals doing same thing at the same time.

 The idea is upright and comprehensible. One cannot deny witnessing the ability of synchronisation, especially when it is performed as alluring and amusing, for example as illustrated in dancing and other performing arts. The phenomenon of course, occurs with particular array of characteristics and rules. Many of these described in Periodic and Aperiodic Synchronization in Skilled Action.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Drawing the brain

Brain Drawing
I recently got to hold and draw a human brain (many Thanks to the anatomy department).
I was completely star struck!
As I began drawing, which involves switching into a mode that focuses on an 'active seeing', I had to consciously shut up my internal chatter about how amazing it was to be drawing a real plasticised brain. For two hours I drew, unaware of my environment, time or any theoretical sense of the brain. I describe this state as as liminal state or space, where my focus and attention is engaged between the brain and I, what Csikszentmihalyi (2002) would refer to as Flow or what Winnicott might refer to as "transitional space".

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Theories of Categorization

Extensive research was conducted in the area of categorization in order to create the most accurate model, that would be able perform the process of categorizing similar items and predict a similar outcomes for each real world event the same way a human mind would do it. Here we will explore categorisation process and how it developed and grew over the years. Several researchers (fiske1989) reasoned that "The idea that categorization is a natural and adaptive, even dominant, way of understanding other people does not mean that it is the only option available." So, we will study the earliest and the latest concepts formed in the field along with the limitation in each one of them. By then end of the paper, the concept that presents less weakness will be obvious. Besides, we will present some of the studies conducted in the field of explaining how human categorisation process is actually done and the theories produced by pioneer researchers. 

Habits Like Ours

There has been much recent effort within the field(s) of enaction to both reintroduce and re-appraise the notion of habit as it relates to the discourse surrounding cognition, robotics etc. Speaking recently with somebody on this issue, that person asked me if I could answer the following question, why habit? In other words, why the reintroduction of this age old concept as part of the enactive project, and why now? Unable to come up with even a good deflection, let alone anything like a reasonable answer, I have taken it upon myself - having being instructed to do so - to do precisely that. I hope that what I offer in the following is something more like an plausible answer (though a brief one) and less like a piteous deflection. 

If language shapes thought, we should reconsider our vocabulary

Just like the post-cognitivist approaches we’re dealing with at the moment tackle the simple input-output model of the brain, mounting evidence from neuroscience that cognitive processes do not map to the brain in a particularly straightforward way has led many researchers to believe that our cognitive models might need some revision.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Distributed cognition: How practical are its methods?

Distributed cognition, as outlined by Edwin Hutchins, like mainstream cognitive science, takes decision making, learning and so on to involve cognitive processing. However, unlike mainstream cognitive science, the distributed cognition approach is not bound by the skin and skull of the individual in analysing cognitive processing. According to Hutchins distributed cognition approach, cognition is socially, materially and temporally distributed. This approach puts great emphasis on the social and cultural context and cognition is distributed over time as we develop over time. Interactions among individuals as well as the materials (artefacts/tools) used in aiding cognition are central in analysing cognition. The material environment can serve as a medium to amplify cognition of the artefact user. 

What is the future for Cognitive Science ?

The Brain acting as a computer is too easy an explanation of what it is that makes us think.  We don't need to know the workings of the brain in this comparison, its a computer program, its a sidestep, a get out of jail free card.  Why should the process of billions of years of natural selection slot nicely into something we can readily understand with our current technology.  The good news is that Cognitive Science seems to be moving away from this and towards Cognitive Neuroscience. We will understand how the mind works much more when we understand how the brain works. Thats quite a project,  I remember talk of there being 1 billion neurones in the brain, later it was 10 billion, now its  100 billion - isn't it ?  and at their heart there are a bagillion (?) synapse connections.  So far we are fumbling in the till on how the thing works and operates.  Surely we shouldn't talk about spooks and consciousness without first understanding whats under the hood ?

Monday, 9 February 2015

You and your significant other - Beyond Distributed Cognition, Transactive Memory, and Extended Mind?

According to Hutchinson, cognitive processes may be distributed across the members of a social group, cognitive processes may be distributed in the sense that the operation of the cognitive system involves coordination between internal and external structure, and processes may be distributed through time in such a way that the products of earlier events can transform the nature of later events.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Blocking Enactivism

This is supposedly an old photo of Ned Block, but since the website was entirely in Korean except for "Ned Block," there's really no way to know.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Ned Block, here is his wikipedia page.  The reason I am posting Professor Block this evening is because we are venturing into embodiment and enaction territories, and Block questions many of the assumptions and interpretations made by Hutchins and those cited in our readings this week (i.e. Varela, Noë, O'Regan, etc.). Here he is in a video explaining why he thinks these concepts are wrong.  Also, there is a lovely publication of his debate with O'Regan on such matters following the release of O'Regan's book Why Red Doesn't Feel Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Distributed Cognition

Reading Distributed Cognition by Edwin Hutchins Distributed Cognition I could not stop thinking about the film Cast Away. In his theory Hutchins highlights that cognitive processing is distributed across the members of a social group; operation of cognitive systems involves allocation between internal and external structures; and may be distributed through time. The example I could think of is a football team. All members are working together towards a goal..literally ha.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Are robots embodied?

‘Are robots embodied’ is the question posed by Hooijmans & Keijzer in Robotics, Biological Grounding and the Fregean tradition. They describe the ‘symbol grounding’ problem where symbols are not related to the actual world. They need sensors and actuators that embodiment and situatedness provide to become grounded. A similar ‘biological grounding’ question exists for robots where it cannot be sure that robots are really agents in the same way as organisms. 

The Extended Mind - Richard Menary

In 1998, the essay The Extended Mind was published by David Chalmers and Andy Clark. The main argument contained within the essay entailed the idea that our minds are capable of extending beyond our bodies into the external world, into devices such as mobile phones or computers. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of our minds, Chalmers and Clark explain that we must firstly understand our interactions with the external world.

The Extended Mind essay has in turn provoked a mixed bag of reactions. Richard Menary provides a compilation of responses in his 2010 volume that range from stark defences that attempt to provide further developments of the 1998 essay, to strong, provocative critiques. Menary shows two distinctive, yet unsaid, approaches in his volume. The first being of course a defence of Chalmers and Clark's 1998 essay, which is provided in a staggering 12 out of 15 responses. However, having said that, Menary does open the volume heavily defending the Extended Mind Hypothesis, so it was not a complete surprise that the volume contained an overwhelming amount of defenses in comparison to the number of criticisms. If you are currently in search of an unbiased, balanced approach to the argument, then this is not a source I would recommend taking into account.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

In the blog post The Extended Breath, Paul Thagard makes a parodic attack on the 4 E’s of contemporary cognitive science and philosophy of mind [embedded, embodied, extended and enactive] by soliciting us to consider, not the conceptualisation of mind as an extended phenomenon, but rather, the breath.

Although challenging all the E’s as one is always going to be overly ambitious, as a piece of parody Thagard’s post is certainly effective. The ridiculousness of his claim, and the apparent ridiculousness of the philosophical position it apparently extolls emerge quite brilliantly as the writing proceeds.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Mainstream experimental psychology; should it be more critical?

I feel there are constant warnings against false dichotomies in psychology, such as nurture versus nature, or that the individual and social binary is extremely fuzzy. Simplistic approaches that attempt to explain human cognition such as perception, based on experiments that measure stimulus response, are extremely reductive. Dewey's paper brilliantly illustrates this. Furthermore, any given theory has underlying assumptions and any research that attempts to provide evidence should be clear about those assumptions.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Extended Mind - Clark & Chalmers 1998

The first section of the The Extended Mind  argues that cognition can be extended beyond the individual through the use of tools such as pen, paper and computers in coupled systems. The major advances in computing, since this article was written, have provided tools that are easily accepted as extensions to visual and audio processing, memory, problem solving, learning and other cognitive processes. The tools are active in what is described as active externalism. Our cognitive processes are improved substantially through the use of these computer extensions. It is as if some cognitive abilities were transferred into these tools by the hardware and software engineers who created them.  Similarly, the pen and paper only participate in cognition once we transfer some of our cognition to them during the process of writing. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Fred's Sample Test Post

This is an example of how your test post should look.  There is text, of course, and for now we don't care about the content of your test.  You should provide a link to a pdf file.  Here for example is a link to The Extended Mind article to be read for next week. Notice I did not put an ugly, bare URL.  Instead, I made some clickable text.   This paragraph is the opening paragraph.  There will be more content, which you get to by clicking on the "Read more" button.