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.


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:


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.

New commentary on the origins of the symbolic mind

Since the publication of the Turing patterns paper in 2013 I have been involved in several exchanges in order to clarify and expand my ideas. The latest exchange of commentaries has just been published in the Rock Art Research, the official organ of the Australian Rock Art Research Association and the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations.

Helvenston, P. A. (2015a). Psilocybin-containing mushrooms, Upper Palaeolithic rock art and the neuropsychological model. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 84-89

Froese, T. (2015). The ritualised mind alteration hypothesis of the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 90-97

Helvenston, P. A. (2015b). Suppositions of psilocybin-mushroom incorporation as the main driver of human cognitive and symbolic evolution. Rock Art Research, 32(1): 98-109

At the core of this debate is the question over whether rituals involving altered states of consciousness could have played a role in human prehistory, and whether these states necessarily would have required the presence of certain psychoactive substances, and if these substances would have even been available at the time. In essence, my answers are yes, no, but yes.

In this post I previously remarked about my disagreements with the way in which the commentaries about my work had been presented. But I prefer to advance the scientific debate itself, so I will highlight one aspect of Helvenston’s last response that I find intriguing. She notes how it is difficult to explain the presence of extreme rituals, especially those involving partially disabling substances, from an evolutionary perspective.

This ties in with current debates in the science of religion, which tries to explain costly rituals in a variety of ways such as honest signaling and pro-social psychological effects. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is likely that such rituals would have had to have biologically adaptive advantages from the start, perhaps related to a form of neural self-optimization similar to the model presented in Woodward, Froese and Ikegami (in press). This could be a topic of future work.

Beyond neurophenomenology: A review of Colombetti’s The Feeling Body

My review of Giovanna Colombetti’s book The Feeling Body has been accepted for publication in New Ideas in Psychology. Title and abstract are as follows:

Beyond neurophenomenology: A review of Colombetti’s The Feeling Body

Tom Froese

I review The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind by Giovanna Colombetti (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2014, 288 pages, $40.00 hardcover). In this book Colombetti draws on the enactive theory of organismic embodiment and its key concept of sense-making in order to critically evaluate various aspects of mainstream affective science, including basic emotions and alternative constructionist approaches, as well as the cognitivist approach to emotion and appraisal theory. She defends and develops a dynamical systems approach to emotions and emphasizes the need for including more first-person methods of consciousness science in mainstream affective neuroscience. These are valuable contributions to affective science, and they also advance enactive theory. Colombetti’s proposal goes further than standard neurophenomenology in that she appeals to the bodily basis of feeling, thereby requiring a new sort of neuro-physio-phenomenology. Even more radically, she allows that all living beings are essentially affective beings, even those without a nervous system, and that emotional forms could be co-constituted by more than one person.

Article: Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies

The latest issue of The Journal of Sociocybernetics has just been released. It includes a contribution that arose from this year’s collaboration with my Colombian colleagues. I thank the many Colombian archaeologists and anthropologists who kindly took the time to meet with us and who provided many helpful comments and insights.

Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies: Learning how to Address Contemporary Global Challenges

Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, Tom Froese, Nelson Fernández

As hierarchically and centrally controlled computational systems, contemporary political systems have limitations in their information processing and action capacities to face the current social crises and challenges. In contrast, some older cultures whose political structure was more heterarchically organized, such as found in pre-Hispanic Colombia, were adaptive even without advanced scientific knowledge and without powerful top-down control. In this context, we propose that creating and analyzing computer models of their decentralized processes of management can provide a broader perspective on the possibilities of political organization. In terms of self-optimization, this approach seeks the promotion of social systems with a balance of flexibility and robustness, i.e., systems that do not rely on the current ideal of rule-based control of all systemic aspects.

Tayrona vessel
Vessel produced by the Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta between 900 and 1600 AD showing a ritual scene. (Photo courtesy of Museo de Oro, Bogotá)

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