Open peer commentary on the article “Designing Constructionist E-Books: New Mediations for Creative Mathematical Thinking?” by Chronis Kynigos. Upshot: Chronis Kynigos’s article invites us to explore how to make familiar objects for learning — namely, books — more constructionist. In my response, I ask questions about the affordances and potential limitations of books as central objects, particularly about the role of the learner in relation to the objects.
In this paper, we argue for a theoretical separation of the free-energy principle from Helmholtzian accounts of the predictive brain. The free-energy principle is a theoretical framework capturing the imperative for biological self-organization in information-theoretic terms. The free-energy principle has typically been connected with a Bayesian theory of predictive coding, and the latter is often taken to support a Helmholtzian theory of perception as unconscious inference. If our interpretation is right, however, a Helmholtzian view of perception is incompatible with Bayesian predictive coding under the free-energy principle. We argue that the free energy principle and the ecological and enactive approach to mind and life make for a much happier marriage of ideas. We make our argument based on three points. First we argue that the free energy principle applies to the whole animal–environment system, and not only to the brain. Second, we show that active inference, as understood by the free-energy principle, is incompatible with unconscious inference understood as analagous to scientific hypothesis-testing, the main tenet of a Helmholtzian view of perception. Third, we argue that the notion of inference at work in Bayesian predictive coding under the free-energy principle is too weak to support a Helmholtzian theory of perception. Taken together these points imply that the free energy principle is best understood in ecological and enactive terms set out in this paper.
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 paper contrasts conservative and liberal interpretations of the extended mind hypothesis. The liberal view, defended here, considers cognition to be socially extensive, in a way that goes beyond the typical examples (involving notebooks and various technologies) rehearsed in the extended mind literature, and in a way that takes cognition to involve enactive processes (e.g., social affordances), rather than functional supervenience relations. The socially extended mind is in some cases constituted not only in social interactions with others, but also in ways that involve institutional structures, norms, and practices. Some of the common objections to the extended mind are considered in relation to this liberal interpretation. Implications for critical social theory are explored.
The full scope of enactivist approaches to cognition includes not only a focus on sensory-motor contingencies and physical affordances for action, but also an emphasis on affective factors of embodiment and intersubjective af-fordances for social interaction. This strong conception of embodied cognition calls for a new way to think about the role of the brain in the larger system of brain-body-environment. We ask whether recent work on predictive coding offers a way to think about brain function in an enactive system, and we sug-gest that a positive answer is possible if we interpret predictive coding in a more enactive way, i.e., as involved in the organism’s dynamic adjustments to its environment.
Open peer commentary on the article “Music as Semiotic Eigenbehavior” by Douglas Walter Scott. Upshot: The main goal of this commentary is to provide an impetus toward the integration of some aspects of musical enactivism and ecological psychology into the framework of the semiotic eigencycle. I argue that the notions of embodied imagination and musical affordances at the level of interaction between agent and musical environment, play a robustly causal or perhaps even a constitutive role in the music cognitive semiotic process.
In this programmatic paper we explain why a radical embodied cognitive neuroscience is needed. We argue for such a claim based on problems that have arisen in cognitive neuroscience for the project of localizing function to specific brain structures. The problems come from research concerned with functional and structural connectivity that strongly suggests that the function a brain region serves is dynamic, and changes over time. We argue that in order to determine the function of a specific brain area, neuroscientists need to zoom out and look at the larger organism-environment system. We therefore argue that instead of looking to cognitive psychology for an analysis of psychological functions, cognitive neuroscience should look to an ecological dynamical psychology. A second aim of our paper is to develop an account of embodied cognition based on the inseparability of cognitive and emotional processing in the brain. We argue that emotions are best understood in terms of action readiness (Frijda, 1986, 2007) in the context of the organism’s ongoing skillful engagement with the environment (Rietveld, 2008; Bruineberg and Rietveld, 2014; Kiverstein and Rietveld, 2015, forthcoming). States of action readiness involve the whole living body of the organism, and are elicited by possibilities for action in the environment that matter to the organism. Since emotion and cognition are inseparable processes in the brain it follows that what is true of emotion is also true of cognition. Cognitive processes are likewise processes taking place in the whole living body of an organism as it engages with relevant possibilities for action.
Open peer commentary on the article “Radical Constructivist Structural Design Education for Large Cohorts of Chinese Learners” by Christiane M. Herr. Upshot: Herr’s thought-provoking approach to structural design education targets goals that include fostering the development of students’ intrinsic motivation and shifting the instructor’s role from one of dispensing knowledge to one of guiding students’ conceptual organization of their experiences. This commentary is intended to start a dialogue regarding the affordances and constraints of particular approaches to achieving these goals. In particular, opportunities for self-generated feedback within the context of students’ productive activity and the use of models of individual student thinking to guide instructional planning are presented as promising possibilities.
Context: Technology has not only changed the way we teach mathematical concepts but also the nature of knowledge, and thus what is possible to learn. While geometric transformations are recognized to be foundational to the formation of students’ geometric conceptions, little research has focused on how these notions can be introduced in elementary schooling. Problem: This project addressed the need for development of students’ reasoning about and with geometric transformations in elementary school. We investigated the nature of students’ understandings of translations, rotations, scaling, and stretching in two dimensions in the context of use of the software application Graphs ’n Glyphs. More specifically, we explored the question “What is the nature of elementary students’ reasoning of geometric transformations when instruction exploits the technological tool Graphs ’n Glyphs?” Method: Using a design research perspective, we present the conduct of a teaching experiment with one pair of fourth-graders, studying translation and rotation. The project investigated how and to what extent activity using Graphs ’n Glyphs can elicit students’ reasoning about geometric transformations, and explored the constraints and affordances of Graphs ’n Glyphs for thinking-in-change about geometric transformations. Results: The students proved adept using the software with carefully designed tasks to explore the behavior of two-dimensional shapes, distinguish among transformations, and develop predictions. In relation to varied conditions of transformations, they formed generalizations about the way a shape behaves, including the use of referent points in predicting outcomes of translations, and recognizing the role of the center of rotation. Implications: The generalizations that the students developed are foundational for developing an understanding of the properties of transformations in the later years of schooling. Dynamic technological approaches to geometry may prove as valuable to elementary students’ understanding of geometry as it is for older students. Constructivist content: This study contributes to ongoing constructivism/constructionism conversations by concentrating on the transformation of ideas when engaging learners in activity through particular contexts and tools. Key Words: Geometry, transformations, constructionist technologies.
Open peer commentary on the article “Learning about Urban Sustainability with Digital Stories: Promoting Collaborative Creativity from a Constructionist Perspective” by Maria Daskolia, Chronis Kynigos & Katerina Makri. Upshot: Daskolia, Kynigos and Makri’s article offers us a view into potential applications of constructionist learning theory to help students conceive of and collaborate on solutions to today’s complex problems. This work in many ways parallels the efforts of those investigating systems thinking and highlights the importance of digital production in that process. While many efforts rely on simulations and models, the authors place centrally the role of digital production in understanding complexity. This, in turn, calls our attention to the affordances and limitations of our current tools for facilitating learning and collaboration, and ultimately to the need for new tools.