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 workshopʼs 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—it 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 Cancún, Mexico, in July 2016. Additional materials from the York workshop, including talk abstracts, presentation slides, and videos of each talk, are available at http://alife.org/ws/oee1.

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 percepción 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 percepción social está constituida por una forma hábil de abordarse entre personas, lo que implica que es posible investigar los orígenes y desarrollo de la conciencia social utilizando IHCs multiusuario. En el presente artículo analizamos los cambios objetivos y subjetivos ensayo-a-ensayo en la socialización que tuvo lugar durante un experimento de cruce perceptual, en el cual, la interacción corporeizada entre pares de adultos fue mediada por una IHC háptica minimalista. Dado que el estudio requirió que los participantes reaprendieran implícitamente cómo abordarse entre sí para percibir las presencias el uno del otro, hipotetizamos que habría indicaciones de que los estadios iniciales de la conciencia social eran de hecho recapitulados. Resultados preliminares revelan que, pese a una carencia de retroalimentación explicita sobre el desempeño de la tarea, había una tendencia de la conciencia social a incrementar a través del tiempo. Discutimos los desafíos metodológicos 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 Guzmán and Guzmán-Dávalos, 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.

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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: http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/subscriptions/voluntary.html

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De la cibernética a la nueva ciencia cognitiva

portadaThe official magazine of the Mexican Academy of Science, Ciencia, has just published a special issue on Norbert Wiener and the origins of cybernetics.

I was invited to contribute an article based on my research regarding the relationship between cybernetics and the new cognitive science.

Title and abstract are as follows:

De la cibernética a la nueva ciencia cognitiva

Tom Froese

El cibernético mexicano Rosenblueth y sus colegas Wiener y Bigelow argumentaban que el comportamiento dirigido a metas puede ser explicado por la retroalimentación negativa. Esta propuesta revolucionaria implicaba que nuestra experiencia al actuar intencionadamente podía hacerse compatible con una visión del mundo estrictamente científica, en la cual la naturaleza física no sigue ningún propósito. Años después, Wiener fundaría la cibernética bajo el principio de autogobierno, por ejemplo, con el uso de “bucles” de retroalimentación negativa para el control de máquinas. Sin embargo, los seres vivos no sólo son autogobernantes, sino que también, a través del metabolismo, son individuos físicamente autoproductivos. Esto es de importancia para el surgimiento de una nueva ciencia cognitiva que fundamenta el sentido de la existencia en el cuerpo biológico y, por lo tanto, en la mortalidad.

Review of “Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory”

ContemporarySensorimotorTheoryAs part of the Frontiers in Robotics and AI research topic “Re-enacting sensorimotor experience for cognition” we published a book review on this topic.

Book review: Contemporary sensorimotor theory

Tom Froese and Franklenin Sierra

Consciousness, with its irreducible subjective character, was almost exclusively a philosophical topic until relatively recently. Today, however, the problem of explaining the felt quality of experience has also become relevant to science and engineering, including robotics and AI: “What would we have to build into a robot so that it really felt the touch of a finger, the redness of red, or the hurt of a pain?” (O’Regan, 2014, p. 23). Yet a practical response still requires an adequate theory of consciousness, which brings us back to the hard problem: how can we account, from a scientific point of view, for the phenomenological character of experience? Over a decade ago, O’Regan and Noë (2001) proposed a new approach to these questions, the so-called sensorimotor approach to perceptual experience. How far has this approach come and what are its outstanding challenges? The volume Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory, edited by Bishop and Martin, takes stock of the current state of the field.

Commentary on The Cognitive-Emotional Brain

Pessoa2013One of the next issues of Behavioral and Brain Sciences will include a discussion of Pessoa’s (2013) book The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration by MIT Press. I wrote the following short piece as part of the peer commentary that will be published with Pessoa’s précis.

Enactive neuroscience, the direct perception hypothesis, and the socially extended mind

Tom Froese

Pessoa’s The Cognitive-Emotional Brain (2013) is an integrative approach to neuroscience that complements other developments in cognitive science, especially enactivism. Both accept complexity as essential to mind; both tightly integrate perception, cognition, and emotion, which enactivism unifies in its foundational concept of sense-making; and both emphasize that the spatial extension of mental processes is not reducible to specific brain regions and neuroanatomical connectivity. An enactive neuroscience is emerging.

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