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.
Upshot: The “Extended Mind Thesis” claims that cognitive processes are situated, embodied and goal-oriented actions that unfold in real world interactions with the immediate environment, cultural tools and other persons. The body and the “outside” world, undoubtedly, have a crucial influence, driving human beings’ cognitive processes. In his book, Andy Clark goes slightly further by claiming that the mind is often extended into the body and the world.
W. Ross Ashby was a founder of both cybernetics and general systems theory. His systems theory outlined the operational structure of models and observers, while his cybernetics outlined the functional architecture of adaptive systems. His homeostat demonstrated how an adaptive control system, equipped with a sufficiently complex repertoire of possible alternative structures, could maintain stability in the face of highly varied and challenging environmental perturbations. The device illustrates his ‘law of requisite variety’, i.e. that a controller needs at least as many internal states as those in the system being controlled. The homeostat provided an early example of how an adaptive control system might be ill-defined vis – vis its designer, nevertheless solve complex problems. Ashby ran into insurmountable difficulties when he attempted to scale up the homeostat, and consequently never achieved the general purpose, brainlike devices that he had initially sought. Nonetheless, the homeostat continues to offer useful insights as to how the large analogue, adaptive networks in biological brains might achieve stability.
Excerpt: The term embodiment suggests a return to the body (or to a physical or perceivable realm) of something that was (but should not be) previously separated from it. This phenomenon can be found in a wide range of contexts; for example, abstract entities, such as computer programmes, may acquire dynamics when executed in material devices; theoretical ideas can become operative when put in relation to practical or contingent situations; or, similarly, when considered as properties of bodies (including brains), mental capacities recover a physical nature. The return we refer to has an explanatory character: it is motivated by an assumption that embodiment may throw light upon areas where disembodied explanations are unsatisfactory. Many scientific and philosophical traditions have postulated privileged realms (e.g. Platonic worlds) deprived of materiality, dynamics, interactions or praxis for explanation, but they priorise the know that in front of the know how and may thus side-step the more complex problems. This is the reason why it is important to explore a differently motivated epistemology, one able to approach phenomena in their original embodied situations. Then, a claim for embodiment would not be a demand for a restitution, but an urge to start from the beginning, from the things themselves.
Upshot: Douglas Robinson argues for a revision of the extended mind theory (EMT) that incorporates intersubjectivity and qualia. Robinson argues that “material extendedness” is less important than accounting for the subjective experience of what he terms “body-becoming-mind,” and that this experience, rather than mere computational equivalence between intra- and transcranial cognition, is the strongest argument in favour of the EMT.
In this article, we review the nature of the functional and causal relationship between neurophysiologically/psychologically generated states of emotional feeling and action tendencies and extrapolate a novel perspective. Emotion theory, over the past century and beyond, has tended to regard feeling and action tendency as independent phenomena: attempts to outline the functional and causal relationship that exists between them have been framed therein. Classically, such relationships have been viewed as unidirectional, but an argument for bidirectionality rooted in a dynamic systems perspective has gained strength in recent years whereby the feeling–action tendency relationship is viewed as a composite whole. On the basis of our review of somatic–visceral theories of feelings, we argue that feelings are grounded upon neural-dynamic representations (elevated and stable activation patterns) of action tendency. Such representations amount to predictions updated by cognitive and bodily feedback. Specifically, we view emotional feelings as minimalist predictions of the action tendency (what the agent is physiologically and cognitively primed to do) in a given situation. The essence of this point is captured by our exposition of action tendency prediction–feedback loops which we consider, above all, in the context of emotion regulation, and in particular, of emotional regulation of goal-directed behavior. The perspective outlined may be of use to emotion theorists, computational modelers, and roboticists. Relevance: The paper presents an enactive/cybernetic/dynamical systems perspective on embodied emotion theory (James, Damasio, etc).
Upshot: In his latest book, Lawrence Shapiro analyzes three main themes of embodied cognition that are claimed to make it distinct from traditional, disembodied research on cognition. The author provides a lucid comparison of the “old” and the “new” cognitive science, thereby often referring to enactivism, which most certainly makes his book interesting for constructivists.
Abstract: Many current neurophysiological, psychophysical, and psychological approaches to vision rest on the idea that when we see, the brain produces an internal representation of the world. The activation of this internal representation is assumed to give rise to the experience of seeing. The problem with this kind of approach is that it leaves unexplained how the existence of such a detailed internal representation might produce visual consciousness. An alternative proposal is made here. We propose that seeing is a way of acting. It is a particular way of exploring the environment. Activity in internal representations does not generate the experience of seeing. The outside world serves as its own, external, representation. The experience of seeing occurs when the organism masters what we call the governing laws of sensorimotor contingency. The advantage of this approach is that it provides a natural and principled way of accounting for visual consciousness, and for the differences in the perceived quality of sensory experience in the different sensory modalities. Several lines of empirical evidence are brought forward in support of the theory, in particular: evidence from experiments in sensorimotor adaptation, visual “filling in,” visual stability despite eye movements, change blindness, sensory substitution, and color perception. Relevance: action; change blindness; consciousness; experience; perception; qualia; sensation; sensorimotor.
The paper proposes a way of bridging the gapbetween physical processes in the brain and the “felt” aspect of sensory experience. The approach is based onthe idea that experience is not generated by brainprocesses themselves, but rather is constituted by theway these brain processes enable a particular form of “give-and-take” between the perceiver and theenvironment. From this starting-point we are able tocharacterize the phenomenological differences betweenthe different sensory modalities in a more principledway than has been done in the past. We are also ableto approach the issues of visual awareness andconsciousness in a satisfactory way. Finally we consider a number of testable empirical consequences, one of which is the striking prediction of thephenomenon of “change blindness.”