Minimalism is a useful element in the constructivist arsenal against objectivism. By reducing actions and sensory feedback to a bare minimum, it becomes possible to obtain a complete description of the sensory-motor dynamics; and this in turn reveals that the object of perception does not pre-exist in itself, but is actually constituted during the process of observation. In this paper, this minimalist approach is deployed for the case of the recognition of “the Other.” It is shown that the perception of another intentional subject is based on properties that are intrinsic to the joint perceptual activity itself.
Context: The integration of data measured in first- and third-person frameworks is a challenge that becomes more prominent as we attempt to refine the ties between the dimensions we assume to be objective and our experience itself. As a result, cognitive science has been a target for criticism from the epistemological and methodological point of view, which has resulted in the emergence of new approaches. Neurophenomenology has been proposed as a means to address these limitations. The methodological application of this discipline, even in its mildest form, enriches the methodology typically used in cognitive sciences. Problem: Nowadays psychological studies are difficult to replicate. As a way to achieve replication of results published in a previous study in order to develop a methodological adaptation suitable for electroencephalographic (EEG) measurements in a subsequent experiment, first-person accounts from the participants in our pilot study were included in the experiment construction. This study’s objective is to show the benefit of including a mild-neurophenomenology-inspired approach in the adaptation from an original paradigm, which requires, foremost, the ability to replicate the original results. Method: Interviews with open and semi-structured questions were carried out at the end of an Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT. The first-person reports, together with the behavioral outcomes of each pilot, were taken into account for the development of the next piloting phase until replication of the original results was achieved, and the final experimental design was elaborated. Results: A sequence of four pilots, where the integration of third- and first-person information derived from subjects’ behavior and reported experiences while carrying them out rendered the behavioral replication we sought to achieve, providing support for a first-person enriched cognitive science paradigm. Implications: Including first-person accounts systematically during the development and performance of classic cognitive paradigms ensures that those paradigms are measuring what they claim to measure. This is the next logical step to improve replication rates, to refine the explanation of the results and avoid confounding third-person data interpretation. Constructivist content: Including first-person experiences and acknowledging the active role that participants’ experiences regarding the paradigm had in the modeling of its final version is in concordance with a constructivist standing.
Purpose: Yerkish is an artificial language created in 1971 for the specific purpose of exploring the linguistic potential of nonhuman primates. The aim of this paper is to remind the research community of some important issues and concepts related to Yerkish that seem to have been forgotten or appear to be distorted. These are, particularly, its success, its promising aspects for future research and last but not least that it was Ernst von Glasersfeld who invented Yerkish: he coined the term “lexigrams,” created the first 120 of them and designed the grammar that regulated their combination. Design: The first part of this paper begins with a short outline of the context in which the Yerkish language originated: the original LANA project. It continues by presenting the language itself in more detail: first, its design, focusing on its “lexigrams” and its “correlational” grammar (the connective functions or “correlators” and the combinations of lexigrams, or “correlations”), and then its use by the chimpanzee Lana in formulating sentences. The second part gives a brief introduction to the foundation of Yerkish in Silvio Ceccato’s Operational Methodology, particularly his idea of the correlational structure of thought and concludes with the main insights that can be derived from the Yerkish experiment seen in the light of Operational Methodology. Findings: Lana’s success in language learning and the success of Yerkish during the past decades are probably due to the characteristics of Yerkish, particularly its foundation in operational methodology. The operation of correlation could be what constitutes thinking in a chimpanzee and an attentional system could be what delivers the mental content that correlation assembles into triads and networks. Research implications: Since no other assessment or explanation of Lana’s performances has considered these foundational issues (findings), a new research project or program should validate the above-mentioned hypotheses, particularly the correlational structure of chimpanzee thinking.
This paper examines two questions related to autopoiesis as a theory for minimal life: (i) the relation between autopoiesis and cognition; and (ii) the question as to whether autopoiesis is the necessary and sufficient condition for life. First, we consider the concept of cognition in the spirit of Maturana and Varela: in contradistinction to the representationalistic point of view, cognition is construed as interaction between and mutual definition of a living unit and its environment. The most direct form of cognition for a cell is thus metabolism itself, which necessarily implies exchange with the environment and therefore a simultaneous coming to being for the organism and for the environment. A second level of cognition is recognized in the adaptation of the living unit to new foreign molecules, by way of a change in its metabolic pattern. We draw here an analogy with the ideas developed by Piaget, who recognizes in cognition the two distinct steps of assimilation and accommodation. While assimilation is the equivalent of uptake and exchange of usual metabolites, accommodation corresponds to biological adaptation, which in turn is the basis for evolution. By comparing a micro-organism with a vesicle that uptakes a precursor for its own self-reproduction, we arrive at the conclusion that (a) the very lowest level of cognition is the condition for life, and (b) the lowest level of cognition does not reduce to the lowest level of autopoiesis. As a consequence, autopoiesis alone is only a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for life. The broader consequences of this analysis of cognition for minimal living systems are considered.
Current cognitive science models of perception and action assume that the objects that we move toward and perceive are represented as determinate in our experience of them. A proper phenomenology of perception and action, however, shows that we experience objects indeterminately when we are perceiving them or moving toward them. This indeterminacy, as it relates to simple movement and perception, is captured in the proposed phenomenologically based recurrent network models of brain function. These models provide a possible foundation from which predicative structures may arise as an emergent phenomenon without the positing of a representing subject. These models go some way in addressing the dual constraints of phenomenological accuracy and neurophysiological plausibility that ought to guide all projects devoted to discovering the physical basis of human experience.
This article revisits the concept of autopoiesis and examines its relation to cognition and life. We present a mathematical model of a 3D tesselation automaton, considered as a minimal example of autopoiesis. This leads us to a thesis T1: “An autopoietic system can be described as a random dynamical system, which is defined only within its organized autopoietic domain.” We propose a modified definition of autopoiesis: “An autopoietic system is a network of processes that produces the components that reproduce the network, and that also regulates the boundary conditions necessary for its ongoing existence as a network.” We also propose a definition of cognition: “A system is cognitive if and only if sensory inputs serve to trigger actions in a specific way, so as to satisfy a viability constraint.” It follows from these definitions that the concepts of autopoiesis and cognition, although deeply related in their connection with the regulation of the boundary conditions of the system, are not immediately identical: a system can be autopoietic without being cognitive, and cognitive without being autopoietic. Finally, we propose a thesis T2: “A system that is both autopoietic and cognitive is a living system.”
This Introduction is our attempt to clarify further the cluster of key notions: autonomy, viability, abduction and adaptation. These notions form the conceptual scaffolding within which the individual contribution contained in this volume can be placed. Hopefully, these global concepts represent fundamental signposts for future research that can spare us a mere flurry of modelling and simulations into which this new field could fall.
This article investigates how a motivational module can drive an animat to learn a sensorimotor cognitive map and use it to generate flexible goal-directed behavior. Inspired by the rat’s hippocampus and neighboring areas, the time growing neural gas (TGNG) algorithm is used, which iteratively builds such a map by means of temporal Hebbian learning. The algorithm is combined with a motivation module, which activates goals, priorities, and consequent activity gradients in the developing cognitive map for the self-motivated control of behavior. The resulting motivated TGNG thus combines a neural cognitive map learning process with top-down, self-motivated, anticipatory behavior control mechanisms. While the algorithms involved are kept rather simple, motivated TGNG displays several emergent behavioral patterns, self-sustainment, and reliable latent learning. We conclude that motivated TGNG constitutes a solid basis for future studies on self-motivated cognitive map learning, on the design of further enhanced systems with additional cognitive modules, and on the realization of highly adaptive, interactive, goal-directed, cognitive systems. The system essentially constructs a spatial reality. At the same time it learns to interact with this reality, driven by its internal motivations (Hullian drives).
Embodied Cognition represents the most important news in cognitive psychology in the last twenty years. The basis of its research program is the idea that cognitive processes depend, mirror, and are influenced by bodily control systems. A whole class of novel perspectives entered into the psychologists’ agenda only after the emergence and success of EC. In the paper we will deal with some of the main topics debated within EC, from the discussion on the role of representation, to the relationship with enactivism, with functionalism and with the extended mind view. Against an interpretation according to which EC is simply an evolution of the classical cognitivist program, we will focus on the aspects that highlight crucial discontinuities with it, suggesting instead that the EC perspective is indebted to previous theoretical traditions such as American pragmatism, ecological psychology and phenomenology. In the present paper we will discuss some of the most important achievements of EC in different areas of experimental research, from the study of affordances to that of the bodily experience, from the investigation on emotions to that on language. Our aim is to force the Italian public, particularly recalcitrant to EC, to critically reflect on the debts to previous traditions. Relevance: The paper reviews embodied theories with a special focus on enactivist approaches.
This book takes ideas from the enactive approach developed over the last twenty years in cognitive science and philosophy of mind and applies them for the first time to affective science – the study of emotions, moods, and feelings. Colombetti argues that enactivism entails a view of cognition as not just embodied but also intrinsically affective, and she elaborates on the implications of this claim for the study of emotion in psychology and neuroscience. In the course of her discussion, the author focuses on long-debated issues in affective science, including the notion of basic emotions, the nature of appraisal and its relationship to bodily arousal, the place of bodily feelings in emotion experience, the neurophysiological study of emotion experience, and the bodily nature of our encounters with others. Relevance: The author draws on enactivist tools such as dynamical systems theory, the notion of the lived body, neurophenomenology, and phenomenological accounts of empathy.