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.

(3/4) Cognitive Psychology in Crisis: Ameliorating the Shortcomings of Representationalism. EcoPsy and rECS.

After a few more e-mails to a few people, I received my feedback. It was mostly general structuring issues and broader aspects of the thesis. Valuable and informative comments overall, so no change in posting the last two chapters as planned.
This chapter is to me a bit of an anti-climax. It mainly contains definitions and concepts, explanations and examples. So, if you already know your way around Gibson’s Ecological Psychology, Chemero’s radical Embodied Cognitive Science, van Gelder’s Watt Governor example for Dynamic Systems Theory and Wilson and Golonka’s four-point task analysis, there is not too much to gain from this chapter. You can find the whole 21 page chapter here. One thing of importance however, is that in this chapter I attempt to ontologically and epistemologically define affordances, something I have not seen in the literature before. However, I have already posted my ontological query here. The last section in this chapter does bring up a novel area of interest to EcoPsy however. It is called “Electronic Sports and Computer Resistance” and brings in the curious aspect of affordance/information from depictions. I have written about this in a previous blog post also, but have extended and reworked it a bit. So the following is a summary of that section;
Gibson, Chemero and Wilson discuss if affordances actually exist when perceiving depictions. This is quite curious because it is not intuitively simple to decide whether depictions actually afford something, or inform of something. Wilson is currently intellectualising about this, so we will have to wait to see what comes out of that. The official understanding (most likely to change) is that depictions do not afford us anything. This in turn impacts computer-screen research if you wish to stick to EcoPsy because the broad genres of computer gaming and on-screen research rely on it. If we immerse ourselves in virtual environments, are we dealing with affordances? Virtual affordances? Not affordances at all? Information? Virtual information? Do virtual environments inform us and not afford us? Does a virtual environment offer virtual affordances to virtual agents? This could easily be a point of criticism against EcoPsy in a philosophy-journal, but there’s no fun in that, is there? Instead I attempt to define virtual affordances and virtual environments as separate concepts, at least until their possible integration depending on the work of Wilson. The simplest core concept here is the verbal notation virtual which should be seen as a working definition.
I am going to try and summarize and post the last chapter, my thesis experiment, as soon as possible. If not today, then probably during the weekend seeing as Midsummer’s Eve is upon Sweden tomorrow! So, Happy Midsummer’s Eve and don’t forget to dance around the Midsummer Pole pretending you are a frog.

Disappointment as a consequence of EP. Good riddance, I say.

I believe many will be disappointed to find out that there is no entity called consciousness. There is no entity called self. There is, in fact, nothing of any of this kind. All there is is a half-assed semi-reproduction of sensory input. Reproduction here almost misleads one however, it is not production, it just is perception. Conscious cognitive acts, just are perceptions. There is nothing over and above perception to be had. Creativity is just the rearrangement of perceptions. Imagination is just the semi-production of perceptions.

Our brain doesn’t store anything in that sense, it is solely repeated exposure to specific parts of the ambient energy array, allowing perception to continue past the now and lend itself to re-perception without the need for the concurrent exposure in the environment. It solely speaks to the persistence of environment, objects and agents. We are truly active explorers, and what we explore the most, we become able to more so specifically explore. It is about perceiving what is there to be perceived, what was there to be perceived before but because of repeated exposure we are more and more able to discriminate between smaller and smaller changes in that ambient energy array. Indeed it is what experience is. Perception and movement is all there is. “All”. It gets us very far.

Perceived sense of control, is just that. Perceived. Ecological Psychology or rECS leads to discussions on free will, and rightly so. Many proponents of free will argue that we need it to be able to be held accountable for offenses. I argue we still can even without. It is enough that we perceive our actions to be of free will, it doesn’t have a bearing on the metaphysical account of free will. As long as humans experience the world as if we control our actions in it, we can still be held accountable.

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

Simplified taxonomy of modified rECS (5/5)

Well well, this is how far I’ve come in trying to visualise the whole tree of concepts in the modified version of rECS (Chemero), with additions from Golonka & Wilson and myself.

Starting out in the bottom right, with energy array and physical properties, it is worth mentioning that an energy array also could be said to be physical properties since we are talking about for example visually, light particles/waves. They are separated due to their function.

Energy array + Physical properties give rise to Structure.

Structure, non-perceived, is not information.

Structure + Perception give rise to Information.

Information give rise to Affordances of the object/agent and the Limitations.

Limitations + Affordances can be Realised and/or Actualised.

Affordances can be Realised and/or Actualised (without the need of perceiving Limitations).

Affordances can be Realised which can give rise to Actualisation.

Affordances can be Actualised giving rise to Realisation.

These are not static one-way relationships, change in one, changes the others down to Perception. Practically, there should be arrows from Affordances, Realisation, Actualisation, Limitations, Information and Perception, to each other.. My MS Paint skills need a bit of retouching for that to happen. I am on my way of separating out all the concepts one by one and link them to their implicated and or necessary concepts. This is meant as a simple overview.

Watch this space as I will try and post a new blog post each day (roughly) for each concept.

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…