Article in support of life-mind continuity

Prof. Dr. Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Dr. Robert Lowe guest-edited a special issue of the journal Entropy on the topic “Information-Processing and Embodied, Embedded, Enactive Cognition” to which I contributed an article with Michael Kirchhoff.

Where There is Life There is Mind: In Support of a Strong Life-Mind Continuity Thesis

Michael D. Kirchhoff and Tom Froese

This paper considers questions about continuity and discontinuity between life and mind. It begins by examining such questions from the perspective of the free energy principle (FEP). The FEP is becoming increasingly influential in neuroscience and cognitive science. It says that organisms act to maintain themselves in their expected biological and cognitive states, and that they can do so only by minimizing their free energy given that the long-term average of free energy is entropy. The paper then argues that there is no singular interpretation of the FEP for thinking about the relation between life and mind. Some FEP formulations express what we call an independence view of life and mind. One independence view is a cognitivist view of the FEP. It turns on information processing with semantic content, thus restricting the range of systems capable of exhibiting mentality. Other independence views exemplify what we call an overly generous non-cognitivist view of the FEP, and these appear to go in the opposite direction. That is, they imply that mentality is nearly everywhere. The paper proceeds to argue that non-cognitivist FEP, and its implications for thinking about the relation between life and mind, can be usefully constrained by key ideas in recent enactive approaches to cognitive science. We conclude that the most compelling account of the relationship between life and mind treats them as strongly continuous, and that this continuity is based on particular concepts of life (autopoiesis and adaptivity) and mind (basic and non-semantic).

Editor-in-Chief of Adaptive Behavior

After many years of service to the community, Ezequiel Di Paolo‚Äč has stepped down as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Adaptive Behavior.

I will take over the reins from the current issue onward.

It’s going to be a tough act to follow, but I hope that I will be able to further consolidate the journal as a truly interdisciplinary forum for current research in the mind sciences.

For more information, please read the editorial we co-authored to mark this transition.

Please consider sending us your latest work! ūüôā

Life is precious because it is precarious

I was invited to contribute a chapter to the book Representation and Reality in Humans, Animals and Machines edited by Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Raffaela Giovagnoli to be published by Springer.

Life is precious because it is precarious: Individuality, mortality, and the problem of meaning

Tom Froese

Computationalism aspires to provide a comprehensive theory of life and mind. It fails in this task because it lacks the conceptual tools to address the problem of meaning. I argue that a meaningful perspective is enacted by an individual with a potential that is intrinsic to biological existence: death. Life matters to such an individual because it must constantly create the conditions of its own existence, which is unique and irreplaceable. For that individual to actively adapt, rather than to passively disintegrate, expresses a value inherent in its way of life, which is the ultimate source of more refined forms of normativity. This response to the problem of meaning will not satisfy those searching for a functionalist or logical solution, but on this view such a solution will not be forthcoming. As an intuition pump for this alternative perspective I introduce two ancient foreign worldviews that assign a constitutive role to death. Then I trace the emergence of a similar conception of mortality from the cybernetics era to the ongoing development of enactive cognitive science. Finally, I analyze why orthodox computationalism has failed to grasp the role of mortality in this constitutive way.

And with kind help of Laura Rodríguez Benavidez a Spanish version is also available.

Chapter on the enactive philosophy of embodiment

imagesMog Stapleton and I collaborated on a chapter that has just been published by Springer in Biology and Subjectivity: Philosophical Contributions to Non-reductive Neuroscience, edited by García-Valdecasas, Murillo, and Barrett.

The enactive philosophy of embodiment: From biological foundations of agency to the phenomenology of subjectivity

Mog Stapleton and Tom Froese

Following on from the philosophy of embodiment by Merleau-Ponty, Jonas and others, enactivism is a pivot point from which various areas of science can be brought into a fruitful dialogue about the nature of subjectivity. In this chapter we present the enactive conception of agency, which, in contrast to current mainstream theories of agency, is deeply and strongly embodied. In line with this thinking we argue that anything that ought to be considered a genuine agent is a biologically embodied (even if distributed) agent, and that this embodiment must be affectively lived. However, we also consider that such an affective agent is not necessarily also an agent imbued with an explicit sense of subjectivity. To support this contention we outline the interoceptive foundation of basic agency and argue that there is a qualitative difference in the phenomenology of agency when it is instantiated in organisms which, due to their complexity and size, require a nervous system to underpin their physiological and sensorimotor processes. We argue that this interoceptively grounded agency not only entails affectivity but also forms the necessary basis for subjectivity.

Perspectives on open-ended evolution

I gave a talk at the first workshop on open-ended evolution that was held in association with the European Conference on Artificial Life in 2015. A report about that workshop has now been published in the Artificial Life journal.

Open-ended evolution: Perspectives from the OEE workshop in York

Tim Taylor, Mark Bedau, Alastair Channon, David Ackley, Wolfgang Banzhaf, Guillaume Beslon, Emily Dolson, Tom Froese, Simon Hickinbotham, Takashi Ikegami, Barry McMullin, Norman Packard, Steen Rasmussen, Nathaniel Virgo, Eran Agmon, Edward Clark, Simon McGregor, Charles Ofria, Glen Ropella, Lee Spector, Kenneth O. Stanley, Adam Stanton, Christopher Timperley, Anya Vostinar, Michael Wiser

We describe the content and outcomes of the First Workshop on Open-Ended Evolution: Recent Progress and Future Milestones (OEE1), held during the ECAL 2015 conference at the University of York, UK, in July 2015. We briefly summarize the content of the workshop ľs talks, and identify the main themes that emerged from the open discussions. Two important conclusions from the discussions are: (1) the idea of pluralism about OEE‚ÄĒit seems clear that there is more than one interesting and important kind of OEE; and (2) the importance of distinguishing observable behavioral hallmarks of systems undergoing OEE from hypothesized underlying mechanisms that explain why a system exhibits those hallmarks. We summarize the different hallmarks and mechanisms discussed during the workshop, and list the specific systems that were highlighted with respect to particular hallmarks and mechanisms. We conclude by identifying some of the most important open research questions about OEE that are apparent in light of the discussions.

The York workshop provides a foundation for a follow-up OEE2 workshop taking place at the ALIFE XV conference in Canc√ļn, Mexico, in July 2016. Additional materials from the York workshop, including talk abstracts, presentation slides, and videos of each talk, are available at

Proceedings and introduction of ALIFE XV

Proceeding_Artificial_Life_XV_Cover_1_lowThe Proceedings of the Artificial Life Conference 2016, which I co-edited, have been released by MIT Press on an open access basis.

I also co-wrote the Introduction to the proceedings. We showed that the prehistoric Maya had already conceived of the possibility of artificial life, which made the Riviera Maya a fitting place for the conference.

They not only saw the potential usefulness of living technology, but also warned of the devastating consequences of a society’s blind reliance on its technology.

Their concerns therefore nicely introduced the conference’s special theme of “Artificial Life and Society”.

Translation of perceptual crossing analysis

A Spanish translation of the perceptual crossing study of the development of social awareness has been published in the 2016 book Cognición: Estudios Multidisciplinarios by the Centro de Estudios Filosóficos, Políticos y Sociales Vicente Lombardo Toledano in Mexico City.

Interfaces humano-computadora mínimas para el estudio del desarrollo interactivo de la conciencia social

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami

De acuerdo al enfoque enactivo de las ciencias cognitivas, la percepci√≥n es esencialmente una forma habilidosa de abordar al mundo. Aprender como abordarlo mediante interfaces humano-computadora, (IHC) puede por lo tanto ser visto como una forma de desarrollar un nuevo modo de experiencia. De forma similar, se ha teorizado que la percepci√≥n social est√° constituida por una forma h√°bil de abordarse entre personas, lo que implica que es posible investigar los or√≠genes y desarrollo de la conciencia social utilizando IHCs multiusuario. En el presente art√≠culo analizamos los cambios objetivos y subjetivos ensayo-a-ensayo en la socializaci√≥n que tuvo lugar durante un experimento de cruce perceptual, en el cual, la interacci√≥n corporeizada entre pares de adultos fue mediada por una IHC h√°ptica minimalista. Dado que el estudio requiri√≥ que los participantes reaprendieran impl√≠citamente c√≥mo abordarse entre s√≠ para percibir las presencias el uno del otro, hipotetizamos que habr√≠a indicaciones de que los estadios iniciales de la conciencia social eran de hecho recapitulados. Resultados preliminares revelan que, pese a una carencia de retroalimentaci√≥n explicita sobre el desempe√Īo de la tarea, hab√≠a una tendencia de la conciencia social a incrementar a trav√©s del tiempo. Discutimos los desaf√≠os metodol√≥gicos implicados en evaluar si esta tendencia fue causada por distintos estadios del desarrollo de conducta objetiva y experiencia subjetiva.

Cognición - Estudios Multidisciplinarios

Publication in Economic Botany

Based on critical responses to my ritualized mind alteration hypothesis of the origins of symbolic cognition in early human evolution, I was led to consider the possible availability of psychoactive substances in African and European prehistory. This led to a fruitful collaboration with Guzm√°n and Guzm√°n-D√°valos, who are experts on the genus Psilocybe. The result of our work has just been released in Economic Botany (click on title below for a preprint PDF).

On the origin of the genus Psilocybe and its potential ritual use in ancient Africa and Europe

Tom Froese, Gastón Guzmán, and Laura Guzmán-Dávalos

The role of altered states of consciousness in the production of geometric and figurative art by prehistoric cultures in Africa and Europe has been hotly debated. Helvenston and Bahn have tried to refute the most famous hypothesis, Lewis-Williams’ neuropsychological model, by claiming that appropriate visual hallucinations required the ingestion of LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline, while arguing that none of these compounds were available to the cultures in question. We present here mycological arguments that tell another story. A prehistoric worldwide distribution of the mushroom genus Psilocybe, and therefore of psilocybin, is supported by the existence of endemic species in America, Africa, and Europe, the disjunct distribution of sister species, and the possibility of long-distance spore dispersal. It is more difficult to point to instances of actual prehistoric ritual use in Africa and Europe, but there are a growing number of suggestive findings.

Selva Pascuala mural

Selva Pascuala mural, Spain

Game theoretic model of Maya warfare and the royal court

In collaboration with Roberto Ulloa we modeled the effects of Maya warfare on elite social network topology. The paper will be presented at this year’s ALIFE 2016 conference and will be published in its proceedings by MIT Press.

Nobility-targeting raids among the Classic Maya: Cooperation in scale-free networks persists under tournament attack when population size fluctuates

Roberto Ulloa and Tom Froese

Cooperation in scale-free networks has proven to be very robust against removal of randomly selected nodes (error) but highly sensitive to removal of the most connected nodes (attack). In this paper we analyze two comparable types of node removal in which the removal selection is based on tournaments where the fittest (raids) or the least fit (battles) nodes are chosen. We associate the two removals to two types of Maya warfare offences during the Classic period. During this period of at least 500 years, political leaders were able to sustain social order in spite of attack-like offences to their social networks. We present a computational model with a population fluctuation mechanism that operates under an evolutionary game theoretic approach using the Prisoner’s Dilemma as a metaphor of cooperation. We find that paradoxically battles are able to uphold cooperation under moderate levels of raids, although raids do have a strong impact on the network structure. We infer that cooperation does not depend as much on the structure as it does on the underlying mechanism that allows the network to readjust. We relate the results to the Maya Classic period, concluding that Mayan warfare by itself cannot entirely explain the Maya political collapse without appealing to other factors that increased the pressures against cooperation.


Special issue has been released!

It’s been a long time in the making, but finally it has come out: a special issue of Constructivist Foundations dedicated to a comprehensive reflection on the relationships between enaction and other alternative approaches to cognitive science! It is the biggest issue of the journal yet.

For a small donation you can get a print version of the special issue delivered to you! Please help to support this free online journal. Click the link for details:


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