March 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm (Publications)
Tags: biology of cognition, enaction
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.
February 18, 2014 at 10:47 am (Publications)
Tags: cognitive science, enactive perception, imitation, phenomenology, primates
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 Various strands of evidence are converging on this conclusion, but further progress has been hampered by an outdated theory of perceptual experience.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.
November 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm (Publications)
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
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?
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.
November 11, 2013 at 10:44 am (Presentations)
Tags: adaptive behavior, altered states of consciousness, complex systems, cybernetics
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.
November 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm (Publications)
Tags: adaptive behavior, artificial life, origins of life, synthetic biology
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.
September 4, 2013 at 11:23 am (Presentations)
Tags: agent-based models, complex systems, sociology
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
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.
September 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm (Publications)
This paper examines the consequences of recent developments in the cognitive sciences, such as a focus on biological autonomy, agency and embodied consciousness, for our understanding of the nature and future of technology.
Bio-machine Hybrid Technology: A Theoretical Assessment and Some Suggestions for Improved Future Design
Philosophy & Technology
In sociology, there has been a controversy about whether there is any essential difference between a human being and a tool, or if the tool–user relationship can be defined by co-actor symmetry. This issue becomes more complex when we consider examples of AI and robots, and even more so following progress in the development of various bio-machine hybrid technologies, such as robots that include organic parts, human brain implants, and adaptive prosthetics. It is argued that a concept of autonomous agency based on organismic embodiment helps to clarify the situation. On this view, agency consists of an asymmetrical relationship between an organism and its environment, because the continuous metabolic and regulatory activity of the organism gives rise to its own existence, and hence its specific behavioral domain. Accordingly, most (if not all) of current technologies are excluded from the class of autonomous agents. Instead, they are better conceptualized as interfaces that mediate our interactions with the world. This has important implications for design: Rather than trying to help humans to achieve their goals by duplicating their agency in artificial systems, it would be better to empower humans directly by enhancing their existing agency and lived experience with technological interfaces that can be incorporated into their embodiment. This incorporation might be especially facilitated by bio-machine hybrid technology that is designed according the principles of biological autonomy and multi-agent coordination dynamics.
August 23, 2013 at 11:02 am (General)
Tags: altered states of consciousness, cognitive science, hallucinations, origins of art, Turing patterns
Due to the publicity that was generated by the article on Turing patters and altered states of consciousness, the publisher of Adaptive Behavior has made it freely available online and has placed a special banner on the journal’s homepage.
Click the image to access the article!
August 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm (Presentations)
I presented a talk at the 12th International Conference on SocioCybernetics, which was held June 24-28 in Merida, Mexico.
This research is based on ongoing collaborations between the Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas Aplicadas y en Sistemas (IIMAS) and the Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas (IIA) of UNAM.
Can urban society self-organize its government? The case of Teotihuacan
Tom Froese, Linda Manzanilla and Carlos Gershenson
Keywords: self-organization, archaeology, adaptive systems
Teotihuacan (100 BC – 600 AD) was the first urban civilization in Mesoamerica. During its peak it was one of the world’s most populous cities, and its pyramids are still among the world’s largest monumental constructions. Yet despite its importance in the sociocultural development of Central America, the governing system of this city is a longstanding scientific puzzle because it was exceptional. Teotihuacan uniquely built itself as an inclusive corporate society. But how could a collective system have been organized to ensure the long-lasting success of the city? More precisely, assuming that citizens act in their own best interest, how could such an aggregate of selfish individuals bring about a stable supply of public goods? This question goes beyond the specific case of Teotihuacan, as it is related with the maintenance of cooperation, and has relevance to social policies today.
Read the rest of this entry »