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.