Back on the anti-representation train

I have the wonderful opportunity at the moment to teach methods of Ecological Psychology and Dynamic Systems Theory, their philosophical basis, theoretical concepts, how they require certain analyses, and what kinds of explanations this/these perspective/s give. I am lucky to be in a department that is (as of yet) wholly representation-dominant, yet are curious, interested, and promotes theoretical plurality. I just personally keep running into the wall of not being able to believe in representations as an ontological foundation for psychology.

Perhaps someone can convince me otherwise. Four different ways of defining representations are as follows. The ‘literal-structural’ version, which amounts to old-school phrenology, i.e., it is literally neurons/physical structures in the brain that are/store representations. I do not meet many researchers that hold this belief. Mostly, I find this belief in folk psychology, because I think it is an easily envisionable version that has surface validity through movies and tv-series that talk about brain function in this way (the British “knowledge”-panel program QI is an example of this). Second, you have a ‘literal-activational’ version, which amounts to what I would call modern phrenology, i.e., it is the electrical activity in the brain that are representations. This and the literal-structural version are sometimes unhelpfully combined. fMRI, MRI, PET and similar techniques try to get at this by measuring blood flow to different parts of the brain, although it is an indirect technique since the assumptions go 1) thoughts, feelings, reactions, cognitions, etc, are produced in the brain, 2) in the brain there is electrical activity presumed to indicate usage of a particular brain area, 3) when a brain area is used, increased blood flow is seen to the area, 4) blood flow can indicate brain-part-usage and therefore thoughts, feelings, reactions, cognitions, etc. Third, we leave the literal kinds and hop the fence to ‘symbolic-mathematical’ accounts, that representations aren’t literal parts in the brain, but a more abstract version, instantiated by mathematics. This version is often combined with the methods of the ‘literal-activational’ version, and I’ve listened to several, prominent cognition scholars that have expressed beliefs in how mathematical equations are running in/produced by the brain… somehow. And several of them, upon explaining how the math got there to begin with, used various kinds of nativism as explanations. I’ve also found network-explanations, or ‘patterns of activation across groups of neurons’ and similar, both here and in the fourth grouping. Fourth, the ‘symbolic-abstract’ version, which often amounts to more hand-waving than the third, where representations are not mathematics, they can be groups of patterned activity, sometimes explained as dynamic clouds of activation of different kinds.

I just don’t find myself believing in any of them. With the literal-structural versions, there’s actually been attempts at finding them. Or, they were called Engrams at the time, and could simply not be found. There is little wiggle room in this description, either you can show empirically that a literal neuron/structure changes when you memorize something new or change a memory, or you are more or less forced to accept that this story isn’t the best one. Which is why I think so few ascribe to it beyond non-experts (e.g. folk psychology and AI researchers, the latter of which are almost exclusively dependent on this version).

The literal-activational version is far more popular however. In part, a lot of support comes from the medical sciences, where, if you poke a brain with electricity while talking or playing an instrument, are often disrupted in their activities. Or, if you have particular cognitive issues, a neurosurgeon can often quite easily pick out where a tumor is pushing up against (if you have a tumor, which isn’t always the case). This evidence is a muddle to me, since you can also completely remove brain parts, even half the brain(!), and still maintain functioning -which seems to me to break down the validity of this narrative. It is usually explained away with brain plasticity, but if brain plasticity is true (in reference to literal-activational representations), then the reliability across time when looking at the same brain, or when looking at different brains, break down (Anderson’s book After Phrenology is an interesting read). In fact, if either of the literal accounts are true, we should have specific structures and/or patterns of activation found to be stable across time for a single person, or across people. And if this were substantiated by research and industry, where the f* are our mind-reading helmets? Often when I bring this point up in discussions, neurocognitivists retreat back to neurons and how we don’t have the technical expertise to measure individual neurons in the entire brain simultaneously to answer that question. There are a couple of practices that seem to support the view however, sending a whole bunch of electricity down the spine seems to help people with motor-function constraints to regain/less disruptive movements. Which is great. But it is a far cry from being specific in the sense that’s needed to support the theoretical position. There are also toy versions like moving cubes on a screen using EEG, and beyond taking a surprising amount of time to train, once the person leaves the room and comes back the next day, the process restarts and cannot be continued the next day. I understand this position though, I do, I can deal with living alongside it (although I am extremely frustrated by grant-decisions heavily favoring neuroscience). However, the evidence surrounding it promises a specificity, a specificness, of identifying recurring activation/al patterns, that very clearly both empiricism and practical implementation does not live up to.

We get to the symbolic version of brain activity, particularly mathematical accounts, the story about activation standing in for representations seems to me to either give up the ontological foundation of representations (hand-wavy “it’s maths” explanations), or simply add another step of assumptions to the literal-activational account. Now, not only do you have to solve the above problems, but you also have to explain why a conglomerate of biology-chemical-electrical activity would instantiate an accounting tool that humans created to begin with. A good tool, mind you, but human-created nonetheless. From this point, of course, you get all kinds of half-to-non-scientific abstractions about how everything in the world is made up of mathematics, a tall-tale version of ruthless reductionism, and you of course lose the ontology of the phenomena you are trying to explain. You’d be surprised who I have heard literally say, in very public circumstances, that babies run physics equations in their brain that they are born with. And they are given so much research funding. My personal grievances aside, we have the symbolic-abstract version, which I find the most convincing, perhaps surprisingly. In some ways it can be seen as a less specific version of the literal-activational/structural versions of representations. Often, the explanation begins from the point that larger structures in the brain are not specific specific, but rather, there may be particular patterns of activation across structures that are recruited in a kind of online fashion. The patterns can thus “move around” the brain in part-deterministic-part-stochastic ways, meaning that, if you think about a cat, you come into that time-period from a different point than if you had been asked to think about it the next day. So, a similar pattern would repeat, but, not necessarily the same neurons and not necessarily all the same structures. This account would additionally fit the empirical findings detailed in After Phrenology. It would also explain how fMRI and MRI studies find general trends (averages over both spatial structures, and averages over time -how much time of course depends on imaging technique) across people. However. If this account is true, then I will most likely never get my mind-reading helmet, because it would be near-impossible to know how a particular pattern of activation would only stand for one object, and, what that pattern would look like the next day. Of course, an objection could be that it is not objects that are represented, but everything that we are exposed to continuously at the same time (plus memories, plus …). But then it would be nigh impossible to sort out which components of input lead to what activational pattern, particularly if that pattern changes over each instance. I do have some sympathy for this position though, as it seems to me to better fit more of the empirical data, but it gives a version of representations that is practically unusable except as a theoretical description.

To sum up. The more literal narratives of representations gives promises of specificity (particularly the medically inspired accounts), but this just hasn’t materialized on the practical-functional end, and, there is plenty of contradictory empirical evidence. The symbolic-mathematical perspective seems to explain some of the contradictions due to the shift of ontological basis to mathematics, but this step seems fantastical as it requires another set of beliefs to accept an ontological reality of maths. The world isn’t maths. The world is the world. Although it can be described in detail by maths. Lastly, we have the more symbolic-abstract-network version, which seems to me to cover most of the empirical literature and dispel the contradictions of the literal account. However, this perspective seems to me to not live up to the definition of a representation to begin with, losing the ‘specificness’ of representations that at the outset make them attractive to AI-researchers. In a recent interview with a prominent Ecological Psychological researcher, they were reacted to with a “I don’t see how anything could be anything else than computation”, and I have the exact opposite view, I have a very hard time seeing how anything could really be computational (that says something of value about psychological phenomena beyond simple, mechanical, surface level generalisations).So what is the brain up to? Biology does not preserve components that are not used.

Well, finally, we have the Raja-ian version of brain-activity, but we have left the realm of representations. Where the brain and central nervous system is seen more as a tuning fork, a resonance device, than something harboring ‘the real world’ in one way or another. As a non-content explanation of the brain I have high hopes for this perspective, and perhaps it is compatible with some versions of the abstract-variational-network version of representations (which do not live up to the demands of what a representation would be in the first place). But, just as more literal proponents of representations wait for the technological solutions to their theoretical problems, I’ll have to wait out the empirical evidence and theory-building required for a fuller account of the resonance narrative.

(2/4) Cognitive Psychology in Crisis: Ameliorating the Shortcomings of Representationalism. Representationalism.

I have yet to hear back from my examinators, so the following has not been officially critiqued. I did want to receive this before I posted it here, but alas, here we are.

This chapter is devoted to critiquing the principles of representations and clarifies and exemplifies that the map you follow when embracing representationalism is misguiding. It is 14 pages long, and you can find it here.

Historically, Titchener (1895) proposed stimuli to cause linear series of mental acts, at the end of which is a behavioural response. Which mental acts occur, and in which order, are for the experimenter a matter of speculation. It was critiqued by Dewey (1896) already the year after as being subject to the “empiricist fallacy”. This term is used in a broader sense in the thesis concerning unobservable events.

Chemero (2007) argues that Hegelian Arguments (arguments marshalled in an attempt to constrain empirical research and close down developing research programs a priori) shut down alternative interpretations, even ones that hold promise to give satisfying explanations. In my own view, cognition is often treated as the pinnacle of evolution and it enforces an arbitrary argument but powerful consequence. It heightens the credit towards the subject matter of psychology, a discipline often under fire from competing disciplines for being non-scientific. It is a left-over from the establishment of psychology as its own discipline, Unfortunately, many still live within the perspective that brain and mind are separate or “just different perspectives of the same thing”. Nonsense. Science necessarily relies on materialistic monism, no room for dualism.

The issue presents itself when we are unaware that this is excluding other alternatives and theorists act through a theoretical filter, biasing assumptions and interepretations in experimentation. If we assume that everything is represented in the brain then we will only look in the brain and interpret results on this basis also. An example of this is the curious case of mirror neurons. Barrett (2011) proposes that mirror neurons are difficult entities to account for without representations. Their function has been severely de-dramatised as of late, but observations made state that they fire both on others’ specific movement as well as one’s own. This finding is not contrary to Ecological Psychology, for example, but because of ignorant theory-ladenness, explanations given and research on, link them with representations. Instead, ignoring what contemporary cognitive theory forces us to believe, what could explain their function? It may just be simultaneous activation between stimulated sensory modalities and/or movement, and due to strengthening of simultaneous neuronal activation, they are just more so activated, or activated in different ways, than other neurons due to their multiple sources. Explanations like these are however more than discouraged due to Hegelian arguments and theory-laden contemporary cognitive psychology.

Because of the unfounded assumption that language is an abstract symbolic system following laws of grammar, we came to the false conclusion that it would be easy to construct what was supposedly so easily accomplished in our brain. Under a representationalist understanding of human enterprise, it really should have been simple, and justified, to put resources to projects like CYC and DARPA. When failed, it should have given some indication on that perhaps underlying theory is not correct in its assumptions.

A person is led into a room, seated and asked to read a list of words. After some time, the same person is asked to write down as many of the words as possible. The conclusion to this type of experiment is that the invisible process underlying the explanation of recall is called memory, and consists of representing the words in the brain, storing them, to later pull them out and write them down. Popper (1963) had the idea of theories to be non-scientific if any result could be explained in terms proposed by the theory. Posit that a participant in the above experiment does not write down any, or very few, words. Is the theory to blame and a rejection of representationalism in order? No, and in all honesty, it would not be justified to do so because the participant’s result does not directly falsify the claim. The first issue with this is that empirical observation cannot falsify the claim, and secondly, it cannot falsify it because the claim does not strictly deal with what is observed, but rather, what is not. It would be claimed that the participant failed, but not only, it would also be claimed that the participant failed to live up to the already assumed unobservable process posited to exist.How can a methodology be accepted that, without anything else to refute alternative explanations on than Hegelian arguments, posits an unobservable process to exist and then compare any observable behaviour to live up to its presumptuous ideals? Instead, the question needs to be, what is it that actually is observed? There are two behaviours, reading the list and writing down words previously on that list. Everything else is an assumption.

To exemplify that logic is without perspective and not a reasonable norm, the classic four card task (Wason, 1966) residing on truth-table logic will be used. Trivers’s model was introduced to this task, yielding the if-then statement “If a previous employee gets a pension from the firm, then that person must have worked for the firm for at least 10 years.”. The four cards read, “got a pension”, “worked for 10 years”, “no pension” and “worked for 8 years”. Perspective, as mentioned earlier, is crucial. When participants were told they were an employee, they turned up “worked for 10 years” and “no pension”. When told they were an employer, they turned up “got a pension” and “worked for 8 years”. The latter situation renders choices of participants consistent with both Trivers’s model of cheater detection and the laws of the truth table. The former situation however, is not consistent with truth-table logic, but is explained by Trivers’s social contract theory. Gigerenzer (2008) argues that this is essentially a frame-of-reference problem and it is unfair to set up (albeit, perhaps, unintentionally) an experiment in this way in order to confirm a hypothesis. In contrast, it is important to note that logic can be appropriate as a criteria, but its domain is restricted (Gigerenzer, 2008). Truth-table logic experiments have not explained human enterprise, but rather, explored the limits of logic as criteria.

Challenging traditional cognitive psychology is an uphill battle against tradition, norm, life works, unfair criteria, Hegelian arguments, the Empiricist Fallacy, theory-ladenness and non-falsifiability. However, on a theoretical basis it has, thus far, little to stand on.

It is not with neuropsychologists I lay blame, they often know of all the issues inherent in methodology and apparatus, it is with those who draw unfounded conclusions from this field. First of all, it is not a natural environment for humans to lie frozen in an enclosed area fixating on a screen, but more so to a general point; can we ultimately say that performing no task is a valid baseline to compare with performing a task? The assumption is that it is, but again, it only comes about because of the restrictions on methodology because of the practical restraints in testing participants. What other baseline is possible? A second issue is that the difference in activation between the two conditions, depending on particular method, shows a maximum of 5% difference in activation. The remaining 95% of the activation is at the same levels under both conditions (Pfeifer and Bongard, 2007). What are those 95%? Contemporary cognitivists tend to ignore them and usually only point to the difference (for example Ochsner & Gross, 2008, or see Logotheitis, 2008, for a discussion on fMRI-techniques), which is clearly all too simplistic. A third issue is brought to our attention through Naghavi and Nyberg (2005), whom caution against too much enthusiasm by stating that “functional neuroimaging techniques can at best specify the coincidence of regional brain activations with specific cognitive demands. These methods cannot determine which brain regions are essential for a specific cognitive process.” (Pfeifer and Bongard, 2007, p. 321). It is important that we do not let unwarranted assumptions and generalisations taint the neuropsychological field, turning it into a modern version of phrenology where different brain parts do different things in isolation. A fourth important aspect is the assumption that the images show “thoughts” or other vague definitions of cognition. What we in fact see, taking fMRI as an example, is firstly an inference between ‘more thoughts’ and ‘more activation’, secondly an inference from ‘amount of activation’ to ‘amount of blood flow’, and thirdly, an inference from blood flow to an averaged out numeric value between spatial areas, participants and timeframes. There are thus three steps of inferential logic which makes it vulnerable to both a priori and ad hoc assumptions of what it is we are actually looking at when we are presented with these images. There is thus little support gained, at the present moment in time, from the maturing field of neuropsychology. We simply do not yet have enough knowledge, specific or enough controlled techniques to confidently state what the brain is doing. What are we actually looking at?

Although representations are unobservable entities with only assumptions to rely on, yet are essential for contemporary cognitive psychology, and thus needs to physically exist, the only thing left to deal with in representationalism, is that of Entity Realism. This is the proposition that you can still be justified in assuming a realist standpoint for theoretical entities (and representations fits this bill), if one has pragmatic use for them as tools in experimental investigation of other entities (Chemero, 2007). As in the case of asking participants to recall a list of words, the explanation given for their current behaviour is by reference to a previous behaviour, but, what went on in participants have not actually been observed, the word ‘memory’ is just used to fill this gap (Barrett, 2011). In other words, the issue with this proposition is that, because representations are necessary for the internalist account, yet have not been established empirically to actually exist, the assumption does not really explain anything. It is merely stating that, this is one possible process that may occur because it would fit the criteria for linking one behaviour to another. There is doubt that cognitive scientists would resort to this however, since the power of the concept is drastically reduced, and in all right.

All we have done is named unobservable, hypothetical processes, leading us down a garden path, away from the core subject of psychology. We want to understand why humans behave the way they do, we want to understand what the brain does. Representationalism does not provide these answers. “…if we cannot do any better than this, we should stop using the word…” (Gibson, 1986, p. 254).

Contrasting Ecological and Computational Strategy in a Virtual Interception Task 1/5

Well, it looks like my master thesis will be admitted and graded. They brought in an extra examiner on my thesis since its philosophically heavy, so it’ll take a few more days to get it graded. When it is, I am going to correct some errors and format it properly (as luck had it, I was following a previous APA-style guideline, it was not appreciated). And I figured, I’ll post the whole thing here in three chunks. The arguments against representationalism, the basic definitions of ecological psychology and radical embodied cognitive science, and lastly, my research paper.

As I have been invited to speak at the Social Sciences Master Graduation Ceremony, I have that to focus on, as well as, wait for critique from my second examiner. Roughly, I’ll be able to post my stuff a few days after the 11th.

Unofficial lecture on representations, intro to rECS and Master Thesis

So I’m writing my thesis on abandoning representations and replacing it with ecological psychology, and this is bits and pieces of what I’m writing. To fit one lecture I obviously had to leave out a whole lot of information. Even information that would change some of the subject matter. The idea I had was to introduce, not even all of, the basic stuff I have in my thesis and was hoping to get some critique and comments on it.

Link to video;

Most sources used in the video;

Blogs and blogposts
Scandinavia And The World (illustrations);
Eric Charles blog post;
Wilson and Golonka’s blog;

James Gibson – The ecological approach to visual perception
Anthony Chemero – Radical embodied cognitive science
Pfeifer and Bongard – How the body shapes the way we think
Gerd Gigerenzer – Rationality for mortals
Bem and de Jong – Theoretical issues in psychology

Tim van Gelder – What might cognition be if not computation
Fodor and Pylyshyn – Connectionism and cognitive architecture: A critical analysis


The traditional misperception of the brain as infinitely complex perpetuates unfounded credit towards it when rationalising behaviours. Participants compare their strategy in retrospect to that of mathematical capability of a computer. That is, the participant is not capable of mathematically computing rapidly enough an interception point, thus explaining their failure to live up to a clear predictive strategy. “If only we could realise the full potential of our brain.” Nonsense. The fallacy of the brain as the pinnacle of biological evolution, is used as a norm and blamed in an explanation of failure. It is thus perpetuated in every aspect of rationalising, but not for the observable behaviour. If you have a doctrine that constantly explains failure on the same terms, both a priori and a posteriori, there is good reason to examine it even closer. Observable behaviour is supposed to be the basis of assumption, indication and generalisation. I propose that traditional psychology does not. I propose it solely deals with antecedent assumptions and consequential rationalisation. Behaviour is only a means to the end of perpetuating the doubtful conclusions already postulated in the assumptions. There is a strong need for reinvention, to say the least.

Ontological and epistemological definitions of affordances (as per previous post). (2/5)

The ontology of affordances (based on my previous post), then, defines affordances as physical properties inherent to the object/agent that may be acted upon only by other compatible objects/agents.

The specific affordance to-be-explained is derived from the specific physical properties with the object/agent and they are necessarily constrained/restricted by both the body of the object/agent and the physical properties of the environment. For example, our legs are able to move in some ways but not others, we are restricted in the movement of our legs by a) the physical properties of the make-up of our leg (the knee puts the most obvious restriction) and b) the physical properties of the make-up of the environment in which it is currently in (living in a gas allows relatively free movement of the leg -compared to living in water, for example, but gravity will “restrict” -probably more accurate to say control here- us in one sense, whereas, say direct physical constraint -someone holding your feet down- restricts us in another sense). Here, thus, it should be obvious to see that Physics, Chemistry and Biology are necessarily implicated as the basis upon which determines what is a restriction and what is a constraint.

The most important part; defining affordances minimalistically ontologically, avoids many of the ontological consequences faced when defining affordances as relationships (by leading to some form of idealism), although, as I will argue, affordances within objects/agents depend on each other epistemologically. I believe this is also the consequence by using the definitions of realisation and actualisation for the epistemological reliance of affordances.

Realisation and actualisation is the, how we come in contact with, how we gain knowledge of, what affordances do. What we do. How we do them. Since (if I’ve got this right) (radical) embodied cognitive science posits that, consciousness, cognition, memory (and many other representationalist terms) are not properties of the brain -but things we do– then I think it appropriate to the central ideas of rECS. I use “radical Embodied Cognitive Science” instead of embodied cognition due to the well argued taxonomy that Chemero presents in his book. Radical does not get a capitol letter however, to make the point that the theory is not radical in and of itself (like Chemero argues) but is merely a distinction from Embodied Cognition. This distinction seems to me necessary because of Chemero’s arguments.

Affordances rely on the mechanisms of realisation and actualisation.

Realisation is to do with what Wilson & Golonka discusses on their blog, that which is perceptible necessarily contains information, if I understood it correctly (energy array etc., their definition is brilliant and me rewriting it would not do it justice, it also serves my purposes well).

Actualisation is to do with the coupling, when we act on the perceived affordances.

Objects exist when we are not there to perceive them; realisation, but not actualisation. It should be obvious that once we have perceived an object and some of its affordances, the realisation is retained by virtue of the compatible affordances of both the affordances of the object and the affordances of the agent. As of yet however, I believe the affordances of the agent are necessary (we can realise the affordance we need in an object in order to actualise the affordance perceived of our body).

Failing when doing; I don’t see this as an issue, why would it be? This type of reasoning belongs to Evil Philosopher type arguments, in that, because we “get it wrong” then it somehow reflects on the actual mechanism of perception and/or action. I do not believe this is so. Direct perception gives us the information that we are able to perceive and act upon, but in my mind there has to be a perturbance or something not yet perceived to disrupt our ability to actually carry out, actualise, affordances. And, objections like that seem to assume that we are perfect beings. As I see it, our sensory modalities are limited, we are not the pinnacle of “creation”, we will get things “wrong” -but like all other philosophy of mind objections it doesn’t have a bearing on ontology, solely epistemology. We evolved to perceive to survive and reproduce, not to gain a perfect perception of the environment. And that’s ok. Doesn’t have a bearing on affordances since they are defined ontologically without the requirement of being accurate.

Ontology; Affordances, thus, are not defined as realisation and actualisation, but as (simplified here) physical properties reflected by Wilson & Golonka’s definition of information.
Epistemology; Affordances rely on the mechanisms of realisation and actualisation. All three are necessarily constrained by physical properties of themselves individually as well as each other. Objects and agents can be realisable but not actualisable, both in presence and in absence of each other; actualisable only in presence of each other.

What in the world is the brain necessarily up to?

Some simple reflections on ‘necessariness’

How we consciously experience the world is not necessarily a reflection of what the brain is doing. While it is fully possible to assume that the brain does a bunch of things, I find it a better way of going about things to notassume that the brain does more than necessary. Is it possible that we internalize the world and represent it in our mind? Yes. Is it necessarily so? No. What then are the most basic abilities our brain necessarily has in order for us to function successfully in the world? In my perspective, it is necessary for our brain to perceive change in a meaningful way across all sensory modalities, inform each other and produce motor-movement.

·         Change here is defined as whatever is discernible to our senses from something else.

·         Meaningful here is defined as; Experiments where we do not see change, it is often in situations where change would not matter for our safety or well-being. Changing words in a text when someone isn’t looking and other change-blindness experiments, is non-threatening and not a part of the current goal of the situation, thus, non-meaningful. Even in repeating a pattern of coloured blocks, and changing the colour of completed blocks, is non-meaningful in the sense that, in a first person perspective a part turns non-meaningful when it has been completed (but obviously not in an objective sense, where the overarching goal is to create the same pattern of colour for all parts of the picture).

Change is something that could be universal within the brain and wherever our sensory organs connect with the brain, enables cells to activate on change, as well as connect to all other modalities. Detecting change is necessary, because without it we could not navigate through the environment. This all necessarily needs to be connected to motor-movement of our bodies, because without it we couldn’t respond to these changes. Why then aren’t representations necessary? Because of the simple fact that we do not need to internalize the world in order to successfully navigate in it. The Portia spider and Webb’s crickets in Louise Barrett’s Beyond the Brain exemplifies this. Does all of this mean that we don’t internalize the world and create “representations”? No. However, in order for us to conduct science, we need to criticize and reflect upon the assumptions we make about ourselves –even the ones that seem to make sense in regard to conscious experience as well as the concepts standing for invisible inner processing.
I believe it too indulgent to see the brain as an infinitely complex organ, I just do not believe it to be the pinnacle of evolution. We just make far too many mistakes. I also believe that internalizing every single object that exist through our contact with them makes little sense too. The amount of cognitive load that this requires, in terms of representations, computation, memory and other concepts created by traditional cognitive literature, seems to me to be all too overwhelming. While it is true our brain allows us to act in ways afforded to few other animals, we are still animals and we are not too different from other animals either. In my mind then, it is simply more probable that our brain evolved to sufficiently solve navigating our environment in a cost-effective way, rather than overkill with extreme specialisation. Evolution should have selected for the simplest possible way to achieve, shouldn’t it?

Embodied emotion?

A quick note on EC and the lack of discussion on emotion. Becoming fascinated by the Embodied Cognition approach championed by, amongst many others, Barrett (2011), Wilson & Golonka (2012) and Nöe (2009) I find the embodied approach to enable explanation of behaviour without the use of representations. As taught through philosophy, the less assumptions a theory makes about the world, still being able to explain the phenomenon, the better science we are producing. While there are personal and emotional resistances to the idea that cognition belongs more so in the dynamic reciprocal relationship with the environment, body and brain rather than solely in the brain, I have found one area of discussion lacking. That of emotion.

[Edit 22/02/2013] Semin och Smith’s ‘Embodied grounding…’ has a few chapters on affect. Still emotion seem hard to account for under env-body-brain…

I have long wondered if not our [subjective] experience of emotion may just be the consequence of brain activity [in a horribly general sense, as it obviously does not hold scientifically]. We happen to pay attention to some of it as it blends into the collected sensory experience [and their reciprocal relationship] we call consciousness. This [simplistic] view is not entirely coherent with representationlistic ideas and cognitive research seem to want to put the initiating processes of our inner workings down to cognition, not emotion (however, on occasion emotion is defined within the cognition concept). Where does an embodied cognitive approach consider emotion?

I have, as of yet, not touched upon literature discussing the topic on embodied cognitive terms. I can accept that cognition is not in the brain, or perhaps rather, not solely in the brain. I can accept that perception of our environment is enough to have us experience the world such as that we think it is inside us -because- all we really need in a brain is an elaborate change-detector for all sensory modalities, the ability to form connections between these systems (as if they are separate or “geographically” determined biologically from the start anyways -ferret example in Barrett comes to mind) and the ability to guide motor-movement of our bodies [in relation to what we perceive in our environment and vice versa] (cricket or spider example here) [also connecting this to modalities throughout the brain and body].

However, when it comes to emotion, accepting it as a stimuli-response mechanism, follow representationalist assumptions. Although, some literature would have it that arousal could be enough to place within the brain, then the act of determining what type of arousal (what am I feeling?) would be dependent on the situational, environmental and bodily factors. This is however slightly unsatisfactory since it still seems to rely on representation.

I will thus, for now, await further literature in the embodied cognition perspective that will deal with emotion. If not I get to it first (just have a master thesis in EC to take care of). Suggested literature more than welcome.