Comments on ENSO Seminar “Radical Embodiment and Real Cognition”

Over at 4e Cognition Group Anthony Chemero has given a talk (YouTube link) about a couple of interesting new directions that he and his students are working on for their dissertations and a paper. The main impetus is to explain “higher order cognition” through a rECS-able perspective.

The first turn is through Gui Sanches de Oliveira’s Artifactualism approach to models, essentially giving a thorough and solid argument for that scientific models are foremost tools, not accurate representations of the world. If it works, we use the model to predict, explain, plan, experiment, etc. It reminds me of the futile path that scientists often are found on: Focusing on finding The Truth, or finding objectivity. But the world seems to me to contain none, but even if it does, it doesn’t matter, at least not nearly as much as if the proposed model can be used in any applied setting. It reminds me of Nancy Cartwright’s arguments about truth and explanation, how far away those two concepts are from each other -and opting for truth takes us further away from a functioning tool. This is a really important step. Artifactualism rightfully criticizes the assumption that thoughts are for representing the world accurately, and replaces it with that cognition is for toolmaking. “Explicit, occurrent thoughts are tools, instruments, or artifacts that some agents create and use. Of course, models can meet formal definitions of representations, but that is not what they are for…”.

The second turn is through Vicente Raja Galian’s attempt at defining brain activity through resonance and oscillators. In his case, TALONs as resonant networks of neurons that resonate to certain ecological information and not others, that can continue to oscillate in the absence of the initial resonate -and that can be set in oscillatory motion at a later point in time (again without the initial resonate, through Ed Large’s work). The brain here, is driven by everything else (not the opposite way around). Oscillators, and non-linear oscillators, can act as filters and produce patterns not in the original driver.

Then, we take a turn into what Chemero refers to as slave/master systems, and while those words seem very culturally loaded, they make the point that slave systems wander (drift) in absence of a master system. E.g. circadian rythms stay in tune when we are regularly exposed to sunlight, but when deprived, our rhythms start to drift. An idea connected to that when we do try and use TALONs to think about things, or the past, but because it is not what they (and as a whole, the brain) is for, we just don’t seem to be very good at it. Marek McGann adds “‘Memories’ are constructed on the fly, and confabulation is rife, because it is not retrieval of things, but it is temporary toolmaking”.

Ultimately these initial steps in making more concrete the idea of ‘resonance’, seems very promising. An interesting aspect of resonance, is that it exists on all scales, it doesn’t matter if we look at the behavioral or neural scale, which makes them analyzable by methods like fractals. It makes it an empirically testable theory. Also, with resonant networks, they no longer have to contain content -Anthony Chemero suggests tool-making which will have to be defined further for me to understand if representational content hasn’t just been replaced by Gibsonian tool content. And don’t get me wrong, that would be a wonderful first step in better characterizing what humans do, but I am also currently on a quest for a non-content description of neural activity -and resonance seems to fit that description.

Radical embodied cognitive science. (4/19)

Article 4 of 19 in Eric Charles’ Special Issue of Review of General Psychology
Author, Anthony Chemero; in Review of General Psychology, 2013, 17(2), p. 145-150.

I agree with Chemero’s theoretical perspective, and I believe rECS built on top of Gibson’s Ecological Psychology complements the latter. I believe it does so because questions asked in EP seem to me to be more about the absolute basis on how animals exist in the world (why, is answered by evolution), questions in rECS ask more specifically how we interact with stuffs in the world and why. Neat.

However, specific to the article, I only have one point of disagreement. The last paragraph. “Is Radical Embodied Cognitive Science the Right Way to Do Psychology?” (p. 149). I don’t understand the question.

“It seems prudent to adopt a pluralistic stance toward theorizing in psychology.” “The mind, I submit, is just as complicated as the Mississippi River, and it would be shocking if just one style of explanation could account for all of it.” I am partly stumped for words. Where is the full avant garde against representations and that we can do just as well without them? I’m not advocating dismissing a perspective outright, and while I agree that there are issues calling things right and wrong, it can impossibly be correct both to stipulate the non-existence of representations to be a core value and also state that it is an alternative to use in psychology. Ontologically even, it cannot both be and not be (unless representations are Schrodinger’s cat). On the other hand, it may be easier to explain more complex cognitive experiences with representations, but here I believe empiricism has to supercede pragmatism. How else can we become a unified paradigm?

It seems to me that Dr. Chemero has come to the conclusion that all we have in psychology are perspectives, different ways of seeing the same thing.. I am not ready to concede to this quite yet.