Talk on dynamics, phenomenology, and development

Next week I will give a talk at the 18th Herbstakademie: The Circularity of Mind and Body, which will take place in Heidelberg, Germany, March 26-28. The title and abstract are as follows:

Investigations of the interactively extended embodied mind: Dynamics, phenomenology, and development

Tom Froese

I will present the latest results deriving from many years of interdisciplinary investigations of the socially extended embodied mind. The upshot is that the process of understanding another person is best studied as primarily consisting of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful mutual coordination of bodily interaction. There are many theoretical reasons for accepting this position, and a series of agent-based models of bodily interaction show that the emergence of a dynamically extended embodiment spanning two agents is possible in principle. In fact, the mathematics of nonlinear interactions leads us to expect that such mutual incorporation should be found in actuality. But can it?

We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As predicted, behaviors became entrained during interaction, and there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. Intriguingly, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of a genuinely shared experience. But was this moment experienced from a second-person perspective? And if so, did it develop as a skill?

To answer these questions we performed a qualitative study of free-text phenomenological descriptions of the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn how to perceive the other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of social awareness, starting with more dyadic forms of self-directedness. Our preliminary results indicate that this was indeed the case.

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