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, NoĆ«, 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.