Talk at AISB symposium on re-conceptualizing mental “illness”

I was invited by Joel Parthemore to give a talk during The Second AISB Symposium on Re-Conceptualizing Mental “Illness”: Enactive Philosophy and Cognitive Science – An Ongoing Dialogue, which was held as part of the AISB 2014 Convention at Goldsmiths, University of London, 1-4 April 2013. The title and abstract are:

An Enactive Critique of the Psychopathologies of Cognitive Science

Tom Froese

Phenomenology has long pointed to the inadequacy of the mainstream conception of social cognition. While it is correct that we occasionally engage in mindreading, that is, theorizing or simulating other minds in order to predict behavior, the hypothesis that this is the default mode of normal social understanding is phenomenologically unsupported. In this talk I show how phenomenological psychopathology allows us to further extend this critique. It turns out that not only is mindreading not our default mode of social understanding under normal conditions, it is the default mode of social understanding under some psychopathological conditions such as schizophrenia and high-functioning autism. This result has implications for how we understand the social mind in health and disease, and it raises questions about the viability of a mainstream cognitive science that has long theorized about a patently abnormal state of mind as if it were the norm.

This talk was based on the following publication:

Froese, T., Stanghellini, G. & Bertelli, M. O. (2013). Is it normal to be a principal mindreader? Revising theories of social cognition on the basis of schizophrenia and high functioning autism-spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(5): 1376–1387

Keynote: “Engineering new knowledge for the social and cognitive sciences”

I was invited to give the closing keynote address at the X Congreso Internacional Electrónica y Tecnologías de Avanzada, which was held March 26-28 in Pamplona, Colombia. The title and abstract are as follows:

Engineering new knowledge for the social and cognitive sciences

Dr. Tom Froese

The sciences of man are sharply divided over the role played by sociality. On the one hand, cognitive science tries to reduce all explanations of behavior, including human social behavior, to a single person (and often even to nothing but a single organ: their brain). On the other hand, anthropology and sociology have long insisted that most (if not all) human behavior is an irreducible product of our shared socio-cultural environment. Computer engineering and complex systems theory can help to build a bridge between these two viewpoints. In particular, computer models can be used as formal proofs of concept for the possibility that the individual and the social co-determine each other. In order to illustrate this possibility I will present two case studies that represent two different scales of sociality.
Read the rest of this entry »

Response to commentaries by Hodgson and Lewis-Williams

More discussion of the role of neural Turing instabilities enabled by unusual disinhibitions of the primary sensory cortex. My colleagues and I respond to commentaries by two cognitive archaeologists, Hodgson and Lewis-Williams, in the latest issue of Adaptive Behavior.

Are altered states of consciousness detrimental, neutral or helpful for the origins of symbolic cognition? A response to Hodgson and Lewis-Williams

Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward and Takashi Ikegami

We respond to the commentaries by Hodgson and Lewis-Williams by clarifying the novelty of our theory. We argue that whenever Turing instabilities of neural activity play a role in generating visual hallucinations, they do more than shape the geometric patterns. Their relatively autonomous self-organization is a source of intrinsic value related to their self-maintenance as a pattern of activity, and they would also thereby decouple “higher-level” stages of neural processing from external stimulation, thus facilitating a more abstract mode of cognition. These additional features of our proposal support Hodgson and Lewis-Williams in their respective theories about the very first origins of human artistic activity. We also evaluate the critical literature regarding the possibility of ritualized enaction of altered states of consciousness (ASC) in early prehistory. We conclude that ASC were indeed possible, and suggest that they were likely involved in facilitating the social development of more symbolic forms of life and mind.

Comments and epilogue for John Stewart’s book

A couple of years ago John Stewart kindly invited me to be a glossator for his latest book, Questioning Life and Cognition: Some Foundational Issues in the Paradigm of Enaction, published online by Enaction Series: Online Collaborative Publishing.

My comments are interspersed as hyperlinks throughout the book’s text, and in addition I provided an extended epilogue in which I describe John’s influence on my research outlook.

The direct perception hypothesis in comparative psychology

After 4 years of effort, my take on comparative psychology has finally been published. Many thanks to my colleague Dave for his expert guidance and endless patience.

The direct perception hypothesis: perceiving the intention of another’s action hinders its precise imitation

Tom Froese and David A. Leavens

We argue that imitation is a learning response to unintelligible actions, especially to social conventions. Various strands of evidence are converging on this conclusion, but further progress has been hampered by an outdated theory of perceptual experience. Comparative psychology continues to be premised on the doctrine that humans and non-human primates only perceive others’ physical “surface behavior,” while mental states are perceptually inaccessible. However, a growing consensus in social cognition research accepts the direct perception hypothesis: primarily we see what others aim to do; we do not infer it from their motions. Indeed, physical details are overlooked – unless the action is unintelligible. On this basis we hypothesize that apes’ propensity to copy the goal of an action, rather than its precise means, is largely dependent on its perceived intelligibility. Conversely, children copy means more often than adults and apes because, uniquely, much adult human behavior is completely unintelligible to unenculturated observers due to the pervasiveness of arbitrary social conventions, as exemplified by customs, rituals, and languages. We expect the propensity to imitate to be inversely correlated with the familiarity of cultural practices, as indexed by age and/or socio-cultural competence. The direct perception hypothesis thereby helps to parsimoniously explain the most important findings of imitation research, including children’s over-imitation and other species-typical and age-related variations.

Embodied social interaction constitutes social cognition in pairs of humans

It’s been many years since first I started working on agent-based models to demonstrate that social interaction dynamics can constitute individual behavior. I’m very happy and excited to announce that we finally managed to verify some of the predictions that we generated on the basis of the models, as well as of enactive theory more generally, in an actual psychological experiment. I think this is perhaps the strongest empirical evidence we have yet for the interactive constitution of individual cognition, including of intersubjective experience!

Embodied social interaction constitutes social cognition in pairs of humans: A minimalist virtual reality experiment

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami

Scientists have traditionally limited the mechanisms of social cognition to one brain, but recent approaches claim that interaction also realizes cognitive work. Experiments under constrained virtual settings revealed that interaction dynamics implicitly guide social cognition. Here we show that embodied social interaction can be constitutive of agency detection and of experiencing another’s presence. Pairs of participants moved their “avatars” along an invisible virtual line and could make haptic contact with three identical objects, two of which embodied the other’s motions, but only one, the other’s avatar, also embodied the other’s contact sensor and thereby enabled responsive interaction. Co-regulated interactions were significantly correlated with identifications of the other’s avatar and reports of the clearest awareness of the other’s presence. These results challenge folk psychological notions about the boundaries of mind, but make sense from evolutionary and developmental perspectives: an extendible mind can offload cognitive work into its environment.

The article is also available for open access here:

Two commentaries on ultrastability, robotics and HCI

I have been invited to become a member of the editorial board of the open-access journal Constructivist Foundations. The latest issue is a collection of papers on the theme of Computational Approaches to Constructivism. I contributed two commentaries:

Ashby’s Passive Contingent Machines Are not Alive: Living Beings Are Actively Goal-directed

Tom Froese

Franchi argues that Ashby’s homeostat can be usefully understood as a thought experiment to explore the theory that life is fundamentally heteronomous. While I share Franchi’s interpretation, I disagree that this theory of life is a promising alternative that is at odds with most of the Western philosophical tradition. On the contrary, heteronomy lies at the very core of computationalism, and this is precisely what explains its persistent failure to construct life-like agents.

Tool-use Leads to Bodily Extension, but not Bodily Incorporation: The Limits of Mind-as-it-could-be?

Tom Froese

Sato and colleagues make use of an innovative method that combines robotics modeling and psychological experimentation to investigate how tool use affects our living and lived embodiment. I situate their approach in a general shift from robotics to human-computer interface studies in enactive cognitive science, and speculate about the necessary conditions for the bodily incorporation of tools.

Two presentations on the role of destabilization

Last week I gave a poster presentation during the conference Complejidad y multidisciplina: El Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad de la UNAM, which took place November 4-6, 2013 at Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City.

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” A dynamical systems account by Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and David A. Rosenblueth

I also gave the opening talk of the Segundo Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas, which took place November 7-8, 2013 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Can altered states of consciousness be adaptive? Two proofs of concept by Tom Froese

Click on the titles of the presentations for PDFs of the poster and the technical report of the talk.

Motility at the Origin of Life: Its Characterization and a Model

The conference paper I presented with Nathaniel Virgo and Takashi Ikegami at the 2011 European Conference on Artificial Life was selected for a special issue of the journal Artificial Life dedicated to showcasing the best work of that conference. Our expanded paper has finally become available.

Motility at the Origin of Life: Its Characterization and a Model

Tom Froese, Nathaniel Virgo and Takashi Ikegami

Due to recent advances in synthetic biology and artificial life, the origin of life is currently a hot topic of research. We review the literature and argue that the two traditionally competing replicator-first and metabolism-first approaches are merging into one integrated theory of individuation and evolution. We contribute to the maturation of this more inclusive approach by highlighting some problematic assumptions that still lead to an impoverished conception of the phenomenon of life. In particular, we argue that the new consensus has so far failed to consider the relevance of intermediate time scales. We propose that an adequate theory of life must account for the fact that all living beings are situated in at least four distinct time scales, which are typically associated with metabolism, motility, development, and evolution. In this view, self-movement, adaptive behavior, and morphological changes could have already been present at the origin of life. In order to illustrate this possibility, we analyze a minimal model of lifelike phenomena, namely, of precarious, individuated, dissipative structures that can be found in simple reaction-diffusion systems. Based on our analysis, we suggest that processes on intermediate time scales could have already been operative in prebiotic systems. They may have facilitated and constrained changes occurring in the faster- and slower-paced time scales of chemical self-individuation and evolution by natural selection, respectively.

Seminar: Mathematical approaches to exploring the social mind

Tomorrow I will give a presentation for the Mathematical Sociology group of UNAM. The title and abstract are as follows:

Mathematical approaches to exploring the social mind

Tom Froese

The sciences of man are sharply divided over the role played by sociality. On the one hand, cognitive science tries to reduce all explanations of behavior, including human social behavior, to a single person (and often even to nothing but a single organ: their brain). On the other hand, anthropology and sociology have long insisted that most (if not all) human behavior is an irreducible product of our shared socio-cultural environment. My research aims to build a bridge between these two viewpoints. In particular, I use mathematical models as formal proofs of concept for the possibility that the individual and the social co-determine each other. In order to illustrate this possibility I will present two case studies that are represent two different scales of sociality. First, I will briefly discuss a computer model of embodied agents in which a dyadic interaction process reconfigures the internal activity of each agent such that it exhibits mathematical properties that are in principle impossible for the agents in isolation. Second, I will present some results of a mathematical model that is loosely based on the social organization of the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan. The model demonstrates that local social interactions between agents who selfishly optimize their own utility can consistently give rise to globally optimal social configurations even without any a priori knowledge of the problem space.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers