Back from Japan

I just returned from a 2 week tour through Japan. The journey started with a talk entitled “Stability of Coordination Requires Mutuality of Interaction in a Model of Embodied Agents” at the Tenth International Conference on Simulation of Adaptive Behavior in Osaka, for which the paper can be downloaded here.

After the SAB conference I participated in a Workshop on Agency in Natural and Artificial Systems organized by Ikegami, Rohde, Di Paolo and Tani in Kyoto.

Then I was invited to give a seminar at the Ikegami Lab of the University of Tokyo. I’ve posted the title and abstract below:

The Times They Are a-Changin’ – From a cognitive science of artificial intelligence toward a phenomenological pragmatics

Tom Froese
15 July 2008, Ikegami Lab, Tokyo University

From the historical point of view we can say that AI has to a large extent been the driving force for the establishment and ongoing development of the cognitive sciences, but in the recent literature you can notice a change. While AI has become more satisfied in doing its own thing and fighting its own academic battles, the big issues in the cognitive sciences have been shifting in focus. In this talk I will defend the controversial position that AI has exhausted its domain of applicability; it is not pushing the envelope any longer.

Instead, consciousness is moving center stage: the ‘hard problem’ is turning into a research program. Indeed, the competing paradigms are engaging one another in a new domain of inquiry: is our experience of the Other more like internal simulation, or a form of direction perception? Do trained subjects use a particular sensory substitution device by means of theoretical inference, or via a new perceptual modality constituted by their skillful manipulation of the device? Is the personal-level story which we are trying to explain in this manner even valid? How can we tell? To be properly grounded, such debates must eventually be informed by recourse to the evidence of lived experience. Accordingly, the necessity for developing more appropriate methods to deal with these kinds of questions will naturally continue to grow.

I will argue that these recent changes are only the tentative beginnings of a much greater scientific revolution. The shift of focus toward consciousness is a necessary consequence of the internal logic of a science which has conquered the external world, noticed the role of the observer, and is now seriously beginning to understand the conditions of possibility for its own existence. But here, at its very core, science is currently facing a void which its traditional methods cannot fill. What does it mean to be an observer? For the first time since the scientific revolution took hold of the Western imagination, we can feel a genuine need for innovative philosophers to provide the necessary foundations. Hume, Husserl and others have attempted this in their own way, but they were too early to achieve their ambitions – the sciences were not ready yet.

I think that there will be a growing need for principled first-person methods, strongly driven by the natural trajectory of further scientific development. If we rise to this historical occasion then we are in a very good position to lay the foundations for what is still to come. More generally, I would like to suggest that this movement toward a self-reflective science can be seen as an indicator of a more global shift in awareness. Indeed, it is again becoming acceptable to ask the big questions in all seriousness: What is life? What is consciousness? What is reality? I propose that we are witnessing the first signs of a radical shift in our understanding of what it means to be human. Without a doubt these are exciting times: how much uncertainty, yes, but how much freedom!

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