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.
Context: This conceptual paper tries to tackle the advantages and the limitations that might arise from including second-order science into global climate change sciences, a research area that traditionally focuses on first-order approaches and that is currently attracting a lot of media and public attention. Problem: The high profile of climate change research seems to provoke a certain dilemma for scientists: despite the slowly increasing realization within the sciences that our knowledge is temporary, tentative, uncertain, and far from stable, the public expectations towards science and scientific knowledge are still the opposite: that scientific results should prove to be objective, reliable, and authoritative. As a way to handle the uncertainty, scientists tend to produce “varieties of scenarios” instead of clear statements, as well as reports that articulate different scientific opinions about the causes and dynamics of change (e.g., the IPCC. This might leave the impression of vague and indecisive results. As a result, esteem for the sciences seems to be decreasing within public perception. Method: This paper applies second-order observation to climate change research in particular and the sciences in general. Results: Within most sciences, it is still quite unusual to disclose and discuss the epistemological foundations of the respective research questions, methods and ways to interpret data, as research proceeds mainly from some version of realistic epistemological positions. A shift towards self-reflexive second-order science might offer possibilities for a return to a “less polarized” scientific and public debate on climate change because it points to knowledge that is in principle tentative, uncertain and fragmented as well as to the theory- and observation-dependence of scientific work. Implications: The paper addresses the differences between first-order and second-order science as well as some challenges of science in general, which second-order science might address and disclose. Constructivist content: Second-order science used as observation praxis (second-order observation) for this specific field of research.
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.
The course on nature coincides with the re-working of Merleau-Ponty’s breakthrough towards an ontology and therefore plays a primordial role. The appearance of an interrogation of nature is inscribed in the movement of thought that comes after the Phenomenology of Perception. What is at issue is to show that the ontological mode of the perceived object – not the unity of a positive sense but the unity of a style that shows through in filigree in the sensible aspects has a universal meaning, that the description of the perceived world can give way to a philosophy of perception and therefore to a theory of truth. The analysis of linguistic expression to which the philosophy of perception leads opens out onto a definition of meaning as institution, understood as what inaugurates an open series of expressive appropriations. It is this theory of institution that turns the analysis of the perceived in the direction of a reflection on nature: the perceived is no longer the originary in its difference from the derived but the natural in its difference from the instituted. Nature is the “non-constructed, non-instituted,” and thereby, the source of expression: “nature is what has a sense without this sense having been posited by thought.”\\The first part of the course, which consists in a historical overview, must not be considered as a mere introduction. In fact, the problem of nature is brought out into the open by means of the history of Western metaphysics, in which Descartes is the emblematic figure. The problem consists in the duality at once unsatisfactory and unsurpassable – between two approaches to nature: the one which accentuates its determinability and therefore its transparency to the understanding; the other which emphasizes the irreducible facticity of nature and tends therefore to valorize the viewpoint of the senses. To conceive nature is to constitute a concept of it that allows us to “take possession” of this duality, that is, to found the duality. The second part of the course attempts to develop this concept of nature by drawing upon the results of contemporary science. Thus a philosophy of nature is sketched that can be summarized in four propositions: 1) the totality is no less real than the parts; 2) there is a reality of the negative and therefore no alternative between being and nothingmess; 3) a natural event is not assigned to a unique spatio-temporal localization; and 4) there is generality only as generativity.
Context: The enactivist tradition, out of which neurophenomenology arose, rejects various internalisms – including the representationalist and information-processing metaphors – but remains wedded to one further internalism: the claim that the structure of perceptual experience is directly, constitutively linked only to internal, brain-based dynamics. Problem: I aim to reject this internalism and defend an alternative analysis. Method: The paper presents a direct-realist, externalist, sensorimotor account of perceptual experience. It uses the concept of counterfactual meaningful action to defend this view against various objections. Results: This account of experience matches certain first-person features of experience better than an internalist account could. It is fully tractable as “normal science.” Implications: The neuroscientific conception of brain function should change from that of internal representation or modelling to that of enabling meaningful, embodied action in ways that constitutively involve the world. Neurophenomenology should aim to match the structure of first-person experience with the structure of meaningful agent-world interactions, not with that of brain dynamics. Constructivist content: The sensorimotor approach shows us what external objects are, such that we may enact them, and what experience is, such that it may present us with those enacted objects.
This chapter aims to defend the thesis that we can only perceive what we understand. Such a theory would seem to be unable to account for our learning to perceive what we do not yet understand. To address this objection, the paper presents a non-representationalist, direct realist theory of perception. In this, the sensorimotor theory of Noë and O’Regan plays a crucial role (although one important modification to the interpretation of that theory is proposed). The result is an account of how we are in contact with the world itself during perceptual experience; and this leads to an account of how the world itself guides our understanding, as we move from non-sense to sense.
Context: Direct realism is a non-reductive, anti-representationalist theory of perception lying at the heart of mainstream analytic philosophy, where it is currently generating a lot of interest. For all that, it is widely held to be both controversial and anti-scientific. On the other hand, the sensorimotor theory of perception (which is a specific development of Gibsonian approaches to perception) initially generated a lot of interest within enactive philosophy of cognitive science, but has arguably not yet delivered on its initial promise. Problem: I aim to show that the sensorimotor theory and direct realism complement each other, and that the result is a philosophically radical, but fully scientifically realised, theory of perception. Method: The article uses (non-reductive) philosophical analysis and discussion. It also draws on empirical evidence from the relevant cognitive sciences. Results: Direct realism can be augmented by sensorimotor theory to become a scientifically tractable alternative to the mainstream, representationalist research programme within cognitive science. Implications: The article aims to further clarify the philosophical importance of the sensorimotor approach to perception. It also aims to show that the apparently radical claim that we perceive objects themselves is amenable to normal scientific study. Constructivist content: Objects are analysed as a kind of collaboration between the world and the perceiver. On this account, we can never perceive outside the categories of our own understanding, but we do perceive genuinely outside our own heads. Thus, the approach here is not exactly constructivism, though it shares many goals and results with constructivism.
Self-reference and recursion characterize a vast range of dynamic phenomena, particularly biological automata. In this paper we investigate the dynamics of self-referent phenomena using the Extended Calculus of Indications (ECI) of Kauffman and Varela, who have applied the ECI to mathematics, physics, linguistics, perception, and cognition. Previous studies have focused on the algebraic structure of the ECI, and on form dynamics using only the arithmetic of Spencer-Brown. We here examine the temporal behavior of self-referent or reentrant forms using the full power of the ECI to represent tangled hierarchies and multiple enfolded dimensions of space-time. Further, we explore the temporal convolution of static and recursive states in coherent fluctuation, providing a foundation for going beyond the Turing model of computation in finite automata. Novel results are presented on the structure of reentrant forms and the canonical elements of form eigenbehavior, the characteristic self-determined dynamic inherent in reentrant forms.
Purpose: To provide illumination of how systems tend to produce an output nobody expected. It is in these moments that observers may learn something about their own expectations. Design/methodology/approach – The paper discusses two cases in the history of art: faked Vermeer paintings and a test Heinz von Foerster did in the art department at the University of Illinois. Findings: McLuhan’s notion of the “collide-oscope” is applied to the way Heinz von Foerster (ab)uses images in his own texts; furthermore it is applied to the way the BCL was organized. The formal structure of the “collide-oscope” offers a model of perception. Originality/value – Provides a discussion of a fundamental message of cybernetics – that we cannot escape collisions and disturbances. They are its essence. Relevance: This paper relates to the second-order cybernetics of Heinz von Foerster.
Excerpt: ‘Sensorimotor Theory’ offers a new enactive approach to perception that emphasises the role of motor actions and their effect on sensory stimuli. The seminal publication that launched the field is the target paper co-authored by J. Kevin O’Regan and Alva Noë and published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) for open peer commentary in 2001. In the central argument of their paper, O’Regan and Noë suggest radically shifting the nexus of research in visual perception away from analysis of the raw visual patterns of stimulation, to refocus on the law-like changes in visual stimulation brought about as a result of an agent’s actions in the [light-filled] world. A key consequence of this change is a new way of characterising objects by the unique set of ‘sensorimotor correspondences’ that define the characteristic changes in objective appearance brought about by the agent-object interactions [in the world]. These characteristic correspondences relating the movement of any object relative to the agent define its sensorimotor dependencies [qua world]; an agents practical knowledge of these sensorimotor dependencies constitutes its visual experience. Thus in O’Regan and Noë’s sensorimotor theory, perhaps for the first time, we have a rich, testable, psychological (and philosophically grounded) theory that accounts for why our conscious experience of the world appears as it does. This is a significant achievement and one that, in our opinion, goes a long way to answering at least some of the hard problems of consciousness.