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.

On the definition of affordances. (1/5)

This is most definitely a work under progress. These thoughts came from criticising Anthony Chemero’s “Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, ch. 7 “Affordances etc.” and concludes with the (in)famously ambiguous quote from Gibson on what affordances are defined as.

If affordances are defined as the relation between (or, the relation between is a part of the definition). Then an object need not exist if an agent is not perceiving it. It can, but it needn’t. This will incorporate idealism in full or in part and this is unsatisfactory.

If affordances are defined as the individual ability of an agent and the property of an object, then neither are necessarily coupled. Also unsatisfactory.

However, if abilities and properties are given a compatibility value (a, metaphorical, mathematical/numerical range), which, if in perception of each other are [also] within each others’ range and can thus be combined/actualised/realised. Then, if this is what we wish to call an affordance, is inherent individually in the object and the agent (and thus exist without the presence of each other) but can only be actualised in presence of each other (or by other agents/objects within the same range). Thus, an affordance is neither solely subjective, nor objective, at the same point in time. Or both, if you will. (I hope I got at least a chuckle from this rephrasing of Gibson.)

This view is compatible with evolutionary aspects, ecological aspects but is not selectionist [things Chemero makes a good point of what we should want]. In short and simple, there are many, albeit finite, number of affordances and those that have been directly linked to survival and reproduction (which are temporally and situationally dependent, although this specific aspect falls under biology to explore/have explored) have thus determined our phylogenetic development.

I suggest following terminology (although I have to admit that I am slightly confused by all the existing definitions and so reserve myself for the mistake of reifying someone else’s definition. Should this be the case, I apologize and will credit you accordingly)

Actualised: object/agent in a physically coupled, mutual, dynamic relationship that is temporally bound. (Temporally bound refers to that actualizations of affordances do not last forever, in the most extreme case, we die, but, the temporal aspect is necessary, for development, evolution and dynamicism more generally. Although it can be argued that someone else can keep actualizing what I did before death, this is still another instance, another coupling, that can be simultaneous to my coupling. This thus also holds for collective behaviour.)

Realised: object/agent in a perceptually coupled, mutual, dynamic relationship. (Perceptually bound, spatially bound, geographically bound. Referring to the necessary perception of the object and its affordances and (but not necessarily) the agents affordances and the compatibility range of both. Basically, we need direct perception, and perception at all to be able to realise that there are objects at all etc..)

Both these terms are necessarily physically bound, both by their individual physical properties (body of the agent and shape, density etc. of the object) and the physical constraints of the environment (gravity, exemplifying a more so global constraint, and situationally specific things for example social norms, etc.).
This, allows us realisations in absence of the relevant object but actualizations only in presence. It also allows us to avoid Evil Philosopher arguments, examples of cases when we don’t actualise although we can and failing an attempted actualization.

Arriving at the terribly mundane conclusion that we can interact with things when they are there and they are retained when we are not. To be continued… …probably in my master thesis…

Reading list for Embodied Cognition

[Edit 19/7 2013: I am getting quite a lot of traffic to this post, so I thought I’d point you to my thesis reference list instead as this post is a bit messy and incomplete.]

I am collecting my readings on Mendeley, in a group called Embodied Cognition (should be the only one so far..). I figured I needed somewhere to collect all readings I go through, however, since I have yet to find a way to add books to the group, and thought I may as well put them here in case anyone else has any utility for it. Will update the post as I’ve read articles/books etc. Also, please feel free to comment with additional readings that you’ve found valuable in understanding EC.

(in the order I read them)

Added on 14/3 2013
Larry Shapiro – The embodied cognition research program (article)
Louise Barrett – Beyond the brain (book)
Alva Noë – Out of our heads (book)
Wilson & Golonka’s blog (all entries)
Wilson & Golonka – Embodied cognition is not what you think it is (article)
Tim van Gelder – What might cognition be if not computation (article)
Montagne, Laurent, Durey & Bootsma – Movement reversals in ball catching (article)
Pfeifer & Bongard – How the body shapes the way we think (book)
Gerd Gigerenzer – Rationality for mortals (book)

Added on 16/3 2013
Haller & Krauss – Misinterpretations of significance (article)
Ziliak & McCloskey – The cult of statistical significance (article)

Added on 19/3 2013
Anthony Chemero – Radical embodied cognitive science (book)

Added on 8/4 2013
Semin & Smith – Embodied grounding (book)
Gibson – The ecological approach to visual perception (book)

In progress;
Pan, Bingham & Bingham – Embodied memory: Effective and stable perception… (article)
Holmes & Heath – Goal-directed grasping: The dimensional properties of an object… (article)
Mann, Dicks, Cañal-Bruland & van der Kamp – Neurophysiological studies may provide… (article)
Gray, Sims, Fu & Schoelles – The soft constraints hypothesis: A rational analysis approach… (article)
Hayhoe & Ballard – Eye movements in natural behavior (article)
Hayhoe – Vision using routines: A functional account of vision (article)

Russel and Norvig 1995   (article)
Pfeifer and Scheier 1991   (article)
Pfeifer and Scheier 1999   (article)
O’Regan and Noë 2001   (article)
McFarland and Bisser 1993   (article)
Monteliore and Noble 1989   (article)
Thompson 1996   (article)
Bird and Layzell 2002   (article)
Schelling 1969   (article)
Epstein and Axtell 1996 (article)
Bo{r/v}et & Pfeifer 2005   (article)
Bartlett 1932   (article)
Ashby 1956   (article)
Freeman 1991   (article)
Clancy 1997   (article)
Neath and Suprenant 2003 (article)
Dewey, ?. (1896). ?   (article)
Titchener, ?. (1895). ?   (article)
Kahneman and Tversky, 1996   (article)
Gilovich, Griffin and Kahneman, 2002,   (article)
Tversky and Kahneman, 1986   (article)
Wason and Johnson-Laird 1972   (article)
Thriver 2002   (article)
Cosmides 1989   (article)
Wundt 1912, 1973   (article)
Shaffer and McBeath, 2002   (article)
Fillenbaum, 1977   (article)
Sweetser 1990   (article)
Sher and McKenzie, 2006   (article)
Shaffer, 2004   (article)
Fodor and Pylyshyn   (article)
Chomsky   (article)
Kuhn 1962   (article)
Feyerabend 1963, 1965   (article)
Titchener, 1895   (article)
Titchener and Lange   (article)
Dewey, 1896   (article)
Fodor, 1981   (article)
Gibson, 1979   (article)
Barwise and Perry, 1981, 1983   (article)
Brooks (1991, 1999)   (article)
Clark (2001)   (article)
Thelen and Smith, 1994   (article)
Thelen 1995   (article)
Kirsh and Maglio 1994   (article)
Clark 1997   (article)
Adams and Aizawa (2008)   (article)
Beer 2003   (article)
van Rooii, Bongers & Haselages (2002)   (article)
Markman and Dietrich 2000a   (article)
Markman and Dietrich 2000b   (article)
Dietrich and Markman 2003   (article)
Grush, 1997,   (article)
Grush, 2004,   (article)
Turvey, 1981   (article)
Michaels and Carello, 1981,   (article)
Heft 1989   (article)
Heft 2001   (article)
Turvey 1992   (article)
Michaels 2000   (article)
Read 1996   (article)
Dennett 1998   (article)
Cosmelli, Lachaux and Thompson 2007   (article)
Thompson and Varela 2001   (article)
Bickle, 2003,   (article)
Churchland, Neurophilosophy, (book)
Thelen and Smith 1994 (article)
Pfeifer and Scheier 1999 (article)
Edelman 1987  (article)
Searle 1980  (article)
Schwanen and Plugel 1991  (article)
Barsalou 1999  (article)
Glenberg 1997 (article)
van Orden, Holden and Turvey 2005 (article)
Montessori 1967 (article)

Only read articles available on Mendeley. Books available on loan, from me, if you fancy a visit to Lund, Sweden, otherwise they’re available in bookstores online.

Exploding boxes and affordances

If I have understood this correctly, there is an issue with two boxes being identical but only one having a specific affordance -in this case being “pick-up-able” or “touch-able”. Both boxes, to us, are perceived to have the affordance but this is not the case. Therefore, we can’t rely on perception to decide which affordances are available to us.

I am not sure this makes sense. The central point of the masses of words beneath is, does it not assume us to be constant naive explorers of the world? And is this a fair assumption? (Now you don’t have to read all the details, you’re welcome.)

It strikes me however that, the consequence of trying to explore a possible affordance, gives information on which affordances are available to us. Because we are explorers/seekers, we navigate our environment and find out what is, and isn’t. We rely on perception to do so. Is ice walk-on-able? Sometimes. How do we go about finding out? We poke the ice infront of us with a stick, indirectly finding out if the ice is walk-on-able. So we use secondary mechanisms to find out if something has an affordance, if it is not directly perceptible to us, but this relies on that we have seen evidence of it not being able to be relied on by direct perception of our environment. The assumption in the issue may be that we are constant naive explorers, which we aren’t.

Is it not true that both boxes still persist in holding the affordance, only that, in one case we end up exploded and the other we don’t? A big enough box provides the affordance of sitting, regardless of what the consequence of sitting on it is?

It seems to me that this is a classic case of philosophy of mind issues -where we can’t rely on direct perception to perceive what is “actually out there”. For all its worth, if we are to be assumed to be naive explorers, I posit that we will always sit on the exploding chair, touch the exploding box, walk on what is perceived as a solid and rigid surface and so on -because the visual properties, surface and rigidity and so on, lend us to perceive the existence of such an affordance.

So it depends on reliance then. If we rely solely on direct perception (making us constant naive explorers) then objects retain their perceived affordances, regardless of which affordances actually are available to us. If two objects are identical in all perceptible ways, then we can not rely on direct perception to know which affordances are available to us. However. We are not constant naive explorers. We see others interact with objects, get burned on stoves that look like they are turned off. So what do we do? We quickly touch the stove, or look at the knob or hold our hand above the stove.

As for objects, without the involvement of interaction with other things, it is my view that they retain, many, finite number of affordances. These affordances will be available to other objects, but not all affordances to all other objects. Which ones are, will only be realised when another thing, with its own affordances, interact with it, perceive it. With this said, affordances are not the actual relationship between things, it is the fit between one objects affordance and another objects affordance. If they are compatible, then to the specific object, the other object has the specific affordance. They form a relationship, but importantly, both have their affordances retained in the non-presence of each other, if, the affordances are available when interacting with each other.

Example, the structure of DNA contains four characters, only A can bind to B but not C and D and vice versa, in A and Bs absence of each other they both retain the affordance of being able to bind to one other and they both do not have the affordance of binding to C and D. In A and Bs presence of each other they can bind to each other, and thereby realise both of their affordances. In essence, they retain their separate affordances in absence because they can be realised in presence.

No wonder social relationships are so damn important evolutionarily, seeing others being blown up by boxes would surely rule out to me going near any box even similar in visual makeup to the one that exploded!

Ugh.. always feel I lack knowledge when I finish a thought. Either way, these are thoughts associated to and

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?

Subjective experience of embodied cognition

Two examples in handball and rugby enabling me to subjectively understand continuous reciprocal interaction with one’s environment, without a need to invoke representations.

Handball (large sport in northern, central and eastern European countries)
Playing handball as an outfielder, when I receive the ball in an attacking position, in my visual field are three or so opponents, number doesn’t really matter. What I perceive is a wall with gaps in it, I begin moving towards one of the gaps and as I do it minimizes as a consequence of two defenders moving closer together. I need to get to the gap that I perceive opening up to the side instead and take a quick step towards it sideways and perceive the gap to still be there so I take two steps forward, altering my bodily posture to further avoid the wall I had just stepped past. When thinking about this sequence, there is no real thought, I simply perceive the environment in front of me, attempt to navigate in it, react bodily to the environmental changes occurring. It signifies to me a dynamically reciprocal relationship between the environment and my body, where my brain fills the task of perceiving the changes in the environment and as a consequence alters my motor-movement in response to those changes. I know which movement-possibilities I am able to employ because through training very similar situations, very many times, I have narrowed down which affordances are available to me in other similar situations. If I perceive, in the second instant in the situation that the second gap also is closing in front of me, the only two alternative motor-movements are to either pass the ball on to a teammate or find myself pacified by a defender holding me down. (The second alternative here being non-desirable because it means the energy spent on the previous movements were in vain and I will have to start over from a still-standing position.)

In rugby, much the same type of situation can occur, holding the ball on any given spot on the field, running forward, you perceive the obstacles that you have to move around. Just that, everything in this situation is dynamic because the environment changes depending on your movement and your movement changes the way the environment changes (not unlike the Watt governor). By that, you have to continuously rearrange your movements according to real-time demands. In the subjective experience there is simply no time to even begin explaining complex action-perception movements like this in representationalist terms. Now, this obviously doesn’t mean we don’t have representations at all, or that you can’t express it in those terms, but the point is that I don’t need to invoke them in the subjective experience of the situation, nor do I need to use them in a verbal explanation of it. While they may exist, it is an extra assumption about the world and can we do without extra assumptions, I believe we are getting a better explanation of the world.

While subjective experience itself may be misleading, what I am trying to get across is what a dynamic situation may look like. The type of continuously reciprocal relationship between environment, body and brain, all acting on each other and changing in response to each other, all in real-time. Tim van Gelder in What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation? provides an elaborate explanation however of systems that do not even seem to make sense to put in computational terms. It goes far deeper than the simple idea that I am trying to get across here and is worth a read.

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.

Bargh, Doyen and conclusions thereof.

I have just witnessed an interesting phenomenon.

I am concurrently to writing this blog-post, writing a literature review on priming and the Perception-Behaviour Link*. Another paper whom closely replicated the findings of Bargh et al. (1996)*, Doyen et al. (2012)**, were unable to replicate findings as well as provide an interesting demonstration of experimenter expectation. It is however presumptious to assume that the original literature* then also is explained by this bias. The reason is given in a reply by Bargh*** to the Doyen study, basically stating that the experiment was run as a blind study and so experimenter expectation can be safely ruled out. While Bargh’s reply unfortunately contains personal attacks and evidence towards being technologically unwilling, he is defended by others in that his experiment _has_ been replicated successfully and that one study cannot refute several made on the same topic. The studies given (by others than Bargh -he did not give any studies as support in his criticism) as support for this claim are these; Elderly prime effect on simulated driving speed, Gay male prime effect on hostility, elderly or youth prime effect on walking time and accessibility as precursor to goal-fulfilment and high vs. low self-conscious difference in being primed by an elderly stereotype on walking speed (xps 2 & 3). I have reviewed one of these in my literature review and it is at best a conceptual replication with several issues in methodology and statistical interpretation (specifics available on request).

In my book, it is not enough to conceptually replicate, since one is then stuck with reviewing another piece of research with its own flaws and fallacies. Granted, Doyen comes close to replicating but did differ on the point of blind experimenters (it was one of the manipulations in Doyen). The assumption was that Bargh’s work was non-blind (something I came to the conclusion of as well, although I’ve read the paper a gazillion times). This was not the case, and hence, it is also a conceptual replication. What _is_ interesting with the Doyen study is that it still supports the PBL, albeit unintentionally. The most important statistic presented is the believe-slow-walking speed comparison between automatic and manual measurement. Believe-fast-walking’s significant difference was removed when considering both automatic and manual, not so for believe-slow. A last alternative for this significant difference is then experimenter expectation. The thing is though, experimenter expectation is also an environmental stimuli that is unconsciously internalised and evidently had an effect on observable behaviour! Well, this is what the Preception-Behaviour Link strictly posits.

Again, it is a bit of a shame that many of the arguments Bargh uses in his criticism of the Doyen study are arbitrary, unsupported and, on occasion, false in light of other research (even some from the area of priming)****. It does however not reflect on his prior research. In conclusion, Doyen does not specifically cut Bargh’s research down, but rather, introduces another concept able to be accounted for within the Perception-Behaviour Link’s framework.

On a second note, if you have unpublished research on the replication of Bargh et al.’s 1996 study, I would very much like to read it. I believe it is of central importance to be open-minded to one’s own fallacies and others’ criticism (even if I very much like the Perception-Behaviour Link theory), the only way is forward and it is only obstructed when self-preserving opinions and values are set before empirical research.

*Bargh, J.A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behaviour: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 230-244.
**Doyen, S., Klein, O., Pichon, C., & Cleeremans, A. (2012). Behavioural priming: It’s all in the mind, but whose mind? doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029081
***Bargh, J.A. (2012, March 5). The natural unconscious: Nothing in their heads. [Web log post]. Retrieved from´
****See comment section of Bargh’s blog post, specifically the one referring to Assimilation and Contrasting (which is found in Dijksterhuis, A., Spears, R., Postmes, T., Stapel, D.A., van Knippenberg, A., & Scheepers, D. (1998). Seeing one thing and doing another: Contrast effects in automatic behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 862-871.)