Philosophical interest in situated cognition has been focused most intensely on the claim that human cognitive processes extend from the brain into the tools humans use. As we see it, this radical hypothesis is sustained by two kinds of mistakes, confusing coupling relations with constitutive relations and an inattention to the mark of the cognitive. Here we wish to draw attention to these mistakes and show just how pervasive they are. That is, for all that the radical philosophers have said, the mind is still in the head.
The concept of autonomy is of crucial importance for understanding life and cognition. Whereas cellular and organismic autonomy is based in the self-production of the material infrastructure sustaining the existence of living beings as such, we are interested in how biological autonomy can be expanded into forms of autonomous agency, where autonomy as a form of organization is extended into the behaviour of an agent in interaction with its environment (and not its material self-production) In this thesis, we focus on the development of operational models of sensorimotor agency, exploring the construction of a domain of interactions creating a dynamical interface between agent and environment. We present two main contributions to the study of autonomous agency: First, we contribute to the development of a modelling route for testing, comparing and validating hypotheses about neurocognitive autonomy. Through the design and analysis of specific neurodynamical models embedded in robotic agents, we explore how an agent is constituted in a sensorimotor space as an autonomous entity able to adaptively sustain its own organization. Using two simulation models and different dynamical analysis and measurement of complex patterns in their behaviour, we are able to tackle some theoretical obstacles preventing the understanding of sensorimotor autonomy, and to generate new predictions about the nature of autonomous agency in the neurocognitive domain. Second, we explore the extension of sensorimotor forms of autonomy into the social realm. We analyse two cases from an experimental perspective: the constitution of a collective subject in a sensorimotor social interactive task, and the emergence of an autonomous social identity in a large-scale technologically-mediated social system. Through the analysis of coordination mechanisms and emergent complex patterns, we are able to gather experimental evidence indicating that in some cases social autonomy might emerge based on mechanisms of coordinated sensorimotor activity and interaction, constituting forms of collective autonomous agency.
Excerpt: This brief chapter will focus on two types of arguments for extended cognition inspired by Clark and Chalmers (1998). First, there has been the thought that cognition extends when processes in the brain, body, and world are suitably similar to processes taking place in the brain. We might describe these as cognitive equivalence arguments for extended cognition. Second, there has been the thought that, when there is the right kind of causal connection between a cognitive process and bodily and environmental processes, cognitive processes come to be realized by processes in the brain, body, and world. We might describe these as coupling arguments for extended cognition. What critics have found problematic are the kinds of similarity relations that have been taken to be applicable or suitable for concluding that there is extended cognition and the conditions that have been offered as providing the right kind of causal connection.
Many cognitive scientists have recently championed the thesis that cognition is embodied. In principle, explicating this thesis should be relatively simple. There are, essentially, only two concepts involved: cognition and embodiment. After articulating what will here be meant by ‘embodiment’, this paper will draw attention to cases in which some advocates of embodied cognition apparently do not mean by ‘cognition’ what has typically been meant by ‘cognition’. Some advocates apparently mean to use ‘cognition’ not as a term for one, among many, causes of behavior, but for what has more often been called “behavior.” Some consequences for this proposal are considered.
Predictive processing (PP) approaches to the mind are increasingly popular in the cognitive sciences. This surge of interest is accompanied by a proliferation of philosophical arguments, which seek to either extend or oppose various aspects of the emerging framework. In particular, the question of how to position predictive processing with respect to enactive and embodied cognition has become a topic of intense debate. While these arguments are certainly of valuable scientific and philosophical merit, they risk underestimating the variety of approaches gathered under the predictive label. Here, we first present a basic review of neuroscientific, cognitive, and philosophical approaches to PP, to illustrate how these range from solidly cognitivist applications – with a firm commitment to modular, internalistic mental representation – to more moderate views emphasizing the importance of ‘body-representations’, and finally to those which fit comfortably with radically enactive, embodied, and dynamic theories of mind. Any nascent predictive processing theory (e.g., of attention or consciousness) must take into account this continuum of views, and associated theoretical commitments. As a final point, we illustrate how the Free Energy Principle (FEP) attempts to dissolve tension between internalist and externalist accounts of cognition, by providing a formal synthetic account of how internal ‘representations’ arise from autopoietic self-organization. The FEP thus furnishes empirically productive process theories (e.g., predictive processing) by which to guide discovery through the formal modelling of the embodied mind.
Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
This paper undertakes a theoretical investigation of the “learning” aspect of science as opposed to the “knowledge” aspect. The practical background of the paper is in agricultural systems research – an area of science that can be characterised as “systemic” because it is involved in the development of its own subject area, agriculture. And the practical purpose of the theoretical investigation is to contribute to a more adequate understanding of science in such areas, which can form a basis for developing and evaluating systemic research methods, and for determining appropriate criteria of scientific quality. Two main perspectives on science as a learning process are explored: research as the learning process of a cognitive system, and science as a social, communicational system. A simple model of a cognitive system is suggested, which integrates both semiotic and cybernetic aspects, as well as a model of self-reflective learning in research, which entails moving from an inside “actor” stance to an outside “observer” stance, and back. This leads to a view of scientific knowledge as inherently contextual and to the suggestion of reflexive objectivity and relevance as two related key criteria of good science.
In philosophy, there is an as yet unresolved discussion on whether there are different kinds of kinds and what those kinds are. In particular, there is a distinction between indifferent kinds, which are unaffected by observation and representation, and interactive kinds, which respond to being studied in ways that alter the very kinds under study. This is in essence a discussion on ontologies and, I argue, more precisely about ontological levels. The discussion of kinds of kinds can be resolved by using a semiotic approach to ontological levels, building on the key semiotic concept of representation. There are three, and only three, levels of semiosis: nonor protosemiotic processes without representation, such as physical or causal processes, semiotic processes with representation, such as the processes of life and cognition, and second-order semiotic processes with representation of representation, such as self-awareness and self-reflexive communication. This leads to the distinction between not two, but three kinds of kinds: indifferent, adaptive and reflexive kinds, of which the last two hitherto have not been clearly distinguished.
The nature of cognition is being re-considered. Instead of emphasizing formal operations on abstract symbols, the new approach foregrounds the fact that cognition is, rather, a situated activity, and suggests that thinking beings ought therefore be considered first and foremost as acting beings. The essay reviews recent work in Embodied Cognition, provides a concise guide to its principles, attitudes and goals, and identifies the physical grounding project as its central research focus.
This article considers W. Ross Ashby’s ideas on the nature of embodied minds, as articulated in the last five years of his career. In particular, it attempts to connect his ideas to later work by others in robotics, perception and consciousness. While it is difficult to measure his direct influence on this work, the conceptual links are deep. Moreover, Ashby provides a comprehensive view of the embodied mind, which connects these areas. It concludes that the contemporary fields of situated robotics, ecological perception, and the neural mechanisms of consciousness might all benefit from a reconsideration of Ashby’s later writings.