Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Defence of a Neo-Darwinian analysis of culture

Culture moulds us
Ingold in his “An Anthropologist looks at Biology” offers a critique on Neo-Darwinism. From the text, he seems to be referring to the theory that was popularised under Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” moniker. Ingold argues convincingly that that is a theory that is not complete, such as it was in 1990. Neo-Darwinism then as now is a structure which allows for a well-defined, if abstracted account of evolution, one that can be convincingly put to use analysing the kinds of systems where evolution through fitness for reproduction may emerge. This model however also offers us a view on cultural evolution through the extension into memes.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dialogism and the Psyche

This is review of an article by Salgado and Clegg, which is called Dialogism and the psyche: Bakhtin and contemporary psychology. The authors in their article argue that Bakhtin offered psychology a way to conceptualize and study human experience so that the notion of psyche is preserved and enriched. Then they discuss the implications of dialogism for theories of the self which focus on six basic principles of dialogical thought: the principles of relationality, dynamism, semiotic mediation, alterity, dialogicality, and contextuality. All together these principles refer to the notion of psyche.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

What about the brain?

In neuroscience the brain is the centre of everything. It is the control centre that allows us to be who we are and act as we do in our environments. Neuroscience is taught in a factual way, it is science and it is not to be questioned. Although there is a lot about the brain that scientists still do not understand, neuroscience is taught in a very confident way indicating that this is the way the brain works and this brain is how we as humans or animals are able to live. It is hard to go from this to a more enactive way of thinking, where the brain is simply another organ in the body. But the more I look into the enactive approach the more plausible it seems.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Tooling about with a Polar Planimeter

Dr. Jakob Amsler-Laffon
Not uniquely among animals, humans are a tool using animal. We seem to be very efficient at tool use, and also very efficient at teaching/learning how to use tools. Tooling about is something that we do. At a fundamental level toolmaking precedes us as a species. Toolmaking is something that the species that preceded us used. We evolved from a species that used tools.

At the broadest level, tools are those things that can expand our potential options for interacting with our world. The most obvious set of tools are the physical ones which with the skill to apply them correctly can grant us abilities that are not available to us otherwise, or make us more efficient at those that we have evolved to be capable of.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Is this stool taken?

Ai Weiwei, Bang, 2010-2013, 886 antique stools, installation view
I walked through and around Ai Weiwei’s 2013 Bang organic sculpture when it was exhibited in Vancouver last year. The unified sculpture emerges from the connection of 886 three-legged wooden stools, all of which were made by traditional Chinese craftsmen. 
Walking through the internal spaces created by the piece, the individual stools quickly lose their object distinction while the primacy of their relationship to the overall structure is established. There is also an awareness that appreciation can only be achieved by exploring it from its created internal spaces i.e. becoming part of it.  It was evident that the gallery had to adjust the exhibition space, rooms, and other works of art, to display Bang.  In that necessary adjustment to accommodate the sculpture, western and eastern cultural differences become apparent. The traditional western display of the Objet d’art for passive appreciation by a clearly distinct viewer can be contrasted with the eastern integration of both art and viewer to create an identifiable relationship.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Making sense of a Bayesian approach to the world.

With “Perceptual decision making: drift-diffusion model is equivalent to a Bayesian model” (2014) Blitzer et al. have taken the Bayesian approach to the problems that exist when we approach the world as a percepting decision maker. Their target of attack with this paper is the drift-diffusion model of perception, or at least the drift-diffusion model of following a dot as it traverses a computer screen under experimental conditions.

In this kind of experiment, a dot moves across the screen, along some vector, it’s local position is also subject to a Gaussian distribution centred upon the vector at time t.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Social constructivism and research in the human sciences

Social constructionism (SC) is a diverse intellectual field, comprising perspectives from philosophy, social science, pedagogy, art etc., that resists easy categorisation. It has often been unfairly derided by prominent academics, most notably in the evolutionary and psychological sciences. The argument against SC has been popularised by Steven Pinker (Blank Slate Ted Lecture)in his cutting critique of the blank slate model of humanity (favours the social environment as explanation for behaviour over innate factors e.g. genetic makeup). Whilst Pinker does some disservice to this literature he is right to challenge the role of the social (the product of our interactions with one another), as the sole determinant of behaviour. However, he underdetermines the validity of the social in shaping behaviour. I index his argument because it raises key points which framed the Science Wars and continues to polarise opinion along realist and anti-realist lines[1].

The gulf between ecological validity and controlled experiments regarding social interaction and cultural activity

Brain to brain coupling
I recently read a piece titled 'Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world' (Hasson,Ghazanfar,Galantucci, Garrod, Keysers, 2012). It was an informative, straightforward read that addressed many of the problems in contemporary psychology. It challenged the focus on the mind of the individual in isolation, except through abstract conceptualisation, as opposed to looking at the mind in situ i.e. in interaction with other people. What struck me as a concern was the repetitive invocation of 'brain-to-brain coupling' (see image below) as the locus of attention that should concern researchers in looking at social interaction. Now of course if one is looking at the brain in particular that this is where the focus must be. For a complete understanding of social interaction, an understanding of the spectrum from the fundamental neural and related physiological processes, to the activity of the interaction itself, it will be necessary to understand the role of the brain in this interaction. However, what worries me is not this but that this focus on the brain, and then the body almost as an afterthought, blinds the researcher to other aspects of the interaction. 

Social cognition and the death of the inner voice

During a lively discussion at the most recent class on the subject of participatory sense-making, I cited Fred’s paper as an example of the kind of dynamic social phenomena that the theory of PSM seems to well describe.

The paper provides a detailed and persuasive account of the voice, and the act of speaking, as an integral part of language and languaging rather than a peripheral and non-salient aspect that is attributed to it by modern linguistics, which assumes phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics to be worthy, and the rest (literally) is noise.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Whole Body

This is in response to, the blog post"Embodied cognition is not what you think it is" by Andrew Wilson.
      I choose to write  a response to "Embodied cognition is not what you think it is" by Andrew Wilson because it cleared up some grey areas for myself. A few times, the idea of embodied cognition has appeared throughout my years of studying and the term has been defined in different ways.
      I was glad to see that he mentioned opposing or even wrong ideas of embodied cognition. The main one that stuck out for me, that I vaguely remembered is the idea that embodied cognition has to do with our body being effected by mental representations. It was best explained by using a paper that showed that when people thought about the future they would tend to lean forwards. For myself when I read this, I thought how could that actually be represented as embodied cognition? To me that seems more of a social framing. 

The Sensorimotor Theory Of Perception and Savant Syndrome

In the class on the Sensorimotor Theory Of Perception I put forward the case was made that savant syndrome could falsify the Noe and Regan’s theory on sense making. Admittedly this could have been presented more clearly, this blog post will attempt to clarify how Savant Syndrome proposes a serious problem for the sensorimotor theory of perception.  
A unified theory of consciousness (or sense making) is a major problem for cognitive science. Within recent years the sensorimotor theory of perception has increased in popularity. The sensorimotor theory of perception states that our perception of the world is based on a series of representations. Perception is determined by our nature to focus visual attention on an object. Visual attention is likened to a spotlight that can be engaged, disengaged and moved. Perception is described as an extended memory in that it is described as a poorly defined representations. Experiments that have been conducted by Noe have helped to demonstrate this. The strengths of this theory of consciousness is that unlike other theories (philosophical or religious) this one relies on empirical data; therefore it cannot simply be dismissed as lacking scientific basis.


I was quite sceptical at first when I read the articles about joint action and synchronisation ‘Social connection through joint action and interpersonal coordination’ by Marsh, Richardson and Schmidt and ‘Periodic and aperiodic synchronisation in skilled action’ by Fred Cummins. I could not get my head around coupling between two individuals. Hasson (2011) states that ‘Brain to brain coupling is the perceptual system of one brain can be coupled to the motor system of another’. Signals and stimulation come from another individual’s brain and body. However in order to become ‘coupled’ both individuals need to function in a similar way. 

The Enaction in Slavery

As I was reading the Froese and Di Paulo's outline of the enactive approach, I was particularly intrigued by their outline of the parameters necessary to designate an interaction as a "social interaction" between two agents, and how these parameters may or may not be met. One of the key conditions for such a designation lies in the autonomy of the two agents in the equation, and the recognition of each other as having that autonomy. Froese and Di Paulo highlight the problem which arises when the autonomy of one of the agents in question is destroyed, reducing the encounter to a mere cognitive engagement. In addition to the absolute destruction of autonomy, a similar result is yielded by an encounter wherein one of the agent simply fails to recognise the autonomy of the other. Here, they are simply recognising the other agent as an object or tool with which to use to their advantage, or maybe an obstacle or problem needed to be solved.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Prosody, hearing and emotions

In the paper “Auditory event structure and speech”, Fred Cummins illustrate types of event structures suggesting that being familiar with them could motivate their phonologization into familiar structures. In his words – “This work is an initial attempt to move the discussion of speech prosody towards a grounding in auditory ecology.”. Reading the article took me to a completely different direction. Thinking about the many people who focus on speech and language. From acquisition to proper and folk usage of it, why is speech so special? What is it about hearing that fascinates us?
As the article continues on auditory systems and recognizing events I could not stop thinking about sound tracks and scary movies when we can “feel” what the movie wants us to feel just by listening to the sounds. Growing up with sound tracks like the ones from “jaws”, “psycho” and “the shinning” I still have goosebumps when I hear one of those sounds. Reading about how sounds can combining to belong as a single event made me realize how many sounds could combine to characterize moments that are important to us and will be remembered in a certain way, specially reading about the example of bouncing and breaking sounds. Is it the same hear a glass breaking during breakfast or your mother’s glass of water breaking while she collapses on the floor?

Robots: Engineered Art

Theo Jansen’s  Strandbeest  sculptures attracted enormous attention in the last few weeks, with over 17 million views on  the Insider clip showing the giant pieces moving across windswept beaches. The movement is without any executive control and uses wind, funnelled by land sails, to maintain momentum. The wind-sourced energy somewhat obscures the dependence of smooth movement on the interaction between the Strandbeest and the ground. The biological robotic nature of the structures has not been lost on the popular audience where the comments range from 'they are amazing'  to 'a bit creepy aren’t they'.The immediate attribution of anthropomorphic characteristic is testament to the popular (and wrong) idea that if it moves it has a mind! If Jansen’s Strandbeest robot were shown on a sloping surface without wind the interdependence of the environment and the morphology may have been more visible. What is obvious in the Strandbeest  is the morphology and materials chosen in its construction to achieve function. The critical nature of the jointing in the ‘legs’ is very obvious in that co-ordination of movement is achieved not because of central control but because of the interaction of the jointed legs and hence the body with the environment.

Merleau's Ponty-fication on Cézanne and Depth

It is hard not to be in awe of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961).  If Woody Allen had made a Midnight in Paris movie for aspiring existential philosophers, the journey back to the past may have located the protagonist in late 1920’s Paris where Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty were students together. What would it have been like to go late night drinking with this crew, ashtrays piled high with cigarette butts, arguing at length on how we understand the world? Sartre wrote many years later that Maurice convinced him of the validity of Marxist communism, but they eventually fell out because Sartre remained aligned with communism while Maurice distanced himself from the contemporary interpretations. One source of agreement between this group however is likely to have been a rejection of their lecturer Edmund Husserl’s view on phenomenological transcendence. Transcendence didn’t cut the mustard with this bunch of existentialists, they didn’t concur that perception went beyond the physical limits; for them phenomenology was concrete, the lived experience was the driver of our knowledge of the world.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Surprised? No, I saw it coming

Not long after I moved to Singapore, the city–state in South East Asia, an acquaintance invited me to a movie. The film was an unremarkable post apocalyptic Hollywood production. What was remarkable to me was the audience reaction to the ebb and flow of the dramatic tension in the film. I, reared in western Europe and sensitised to the projected affect of its cultural artifacts, had what I thought to be natural and universal reactions to these ebbs and flows. As the film director built the tension and upped the ante, creating danger and life-threatening risk for the protagonists, I in turn tensed my body, fixed my eyes unblinkingly to the screen and remained solemn and still until our glorious lead overcame the danger and allowed me to relax again.

Friday, 1 April 2016

What It IS Like To See: A Sensorimotor Theory Of Perceptual Experience

             This is a review of an article by J. K. O'Regan and A. Noe 'What It Is Like To See: A Sensorimotor Theory Of Perceptual Experience'. It proposes a way of bridging the gap between physical processes happening in the brain and the 'felt' aspect of sensory experience happening when coming into direct contact with the world around us. It has a new idea that the process of experience does not happen in the brain only but it is constituted in a way the brain processes enable a form of 'give and take' between the perceiving person and the environment. J.K. O'Regan also approaches issues of visual awareness and consciousness, as well as change blindness.