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)

New book on making sense of non-sense

MakingSenseOfNon-SenseCoverThis week was the official release of “Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making: Making Sense of Non-Sense”, which I co-edited with Max Cappuccio. Our general proposal is that the route from basic adaptive behavior to higher-level abstract cognition cannot be taken without addressing the way in which humans are able to appreciate and deal with non-sense as such.

Through the interdisciplinary contributions of the authors we are able to trace the role of non-sense in a wide variety of domains, including the psychology and philosophy of perception, psychiatry, immunology, physics, gender studies, anthropology, phenomenology, primatology, and so forth.

The book can be purchased directly from the publishers, Palgrave Macmillan. Digital versions are also available from their website. Individual chapters can be accessed via Palgrave Connect. It is also available from the usual distributers, such as Amazon.

Paper: A Mathematical Model of the Collective Social Organization of Ancient Teotihuacan

Ever since I first visited the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan several years ago, I wanted to learn as much as possible about its unique culture. Here is one of the products of that quest: a paper combining complex systems modeling with Mesoamerican archaeology and the anthropology of ritual.

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson and Linda R. Manzanilla

Teotihuacan was the first urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is widely believed that the city’s origin and growth was controlled by a lineage of powerful individuals. However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology. Yet this alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned in principle. We therefore devised a mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of representatives as a formal proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner. In the model, decisions become self-organized into globally optimal configurations even though local representatives behave and modify their relations in a rational and selfish manner. This self-optimization crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and it is impeded when sections of the network are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community-wide rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109966

Section of a mural painting of ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico

Here is a recording of a little news clip about the article that was rotated for a week on MVS Radio y Radio Fórmula in Mexico starting on the 10th of November:

New paper: The past, present, and future of artificial life

Frontiers in Robotics and AI As part of the inauguration of the new section on “Computational Intelligence” of Frontiers in Robotics and AI we wrote this introduction to the field of artificial life.

The past, present, and future of artificial life

Wendy Aguilar, Guillermo Santamaría-Bonfil, Tom Froese and Carlos Gershenson

For millennia people have wondered what makes the living different from the non-living. Beginning in the mid-1980s, artificial life has studied living systems using a synthetic approach: build life in order to understand it better, be it by means of software, hardware, or wetware. This review provides a summary of the advances that led to the development of artificial life, its current research topics, and open problems and opportunities. We classify artificial life research into 14 themes: origins of life, autonomy, self-organization, adaptation (including evolution, development, and learning), ecology, artificial societies, behavior, computational biology, artificial chemistries, information, living technology, art, and philosophy. Being interdisciplinary, artificial life seems to be losing its boundaries and merging with other fields.

DOI: 10.3389/frobt.2014.00008

Interactive development of social awareness

A study done with Hiro Iizuka and Takashi Ikegami about the recapitulation of the development of social awareness in pars of adults engaged in minimal embodied interaction.

Using minimal human-computer interfaces for studying the interactive development of social awareness

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka, and Takashi Ikegami

According to the enactive approach to cognitive science, perception is essentially a skillful engagement with the world. Learning how to engage via a human-computer interface (HCI) can therefore be taken as an instance of developing a new mode of experiencing. Similarly, social perception is theorized to be primarily constituted by skillful engagement between people, which implies that it is possible to investigate the origins and development of social awareness using multi-user HCIs. We analyzed the trial-by-trial objective and subjective changes in sociality that took place during a perceptual crossing experiment in which embodied interaction between pairs of adults was mediated over a minimalist haptic HCI. Froese 2014 - FrontiersSince that study required participants to implicitly relearn how to mutually engage so as to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be indications that the initial developmental stages of social awareness were recapitulated. Preliminary results reveal that, despite the lack of explicit feedback about task performance, there was a trend for the clarity of social awareness to increase over time. We discuss the methodological challenges involved in evaluating whether this trend was characterized by distinct developmental stages of objective behavior and subjective experience.

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01061

Neural coordination can be enhanced by occasional interruption of normal firing patterns

Several lines of evidence suggest that resetting your mind once in a while can have beneficial effects. Here we show how this can be so.

Neural coordination can be enhanced by occasional interruption of normal firing patterns: A self-optimizing spiking neural network model

Alexander Woodward, Tom Froese and Takashi Ikegami

The state space of a conventional Hopfield network typically exhibits many different attractors of which only a small subset satisfy constraints between neurons in a globally optimal fashion. It has recently been demonstrated that combining Hebbian learning with occasional alterations of normal neural states avoids this problem by means of self-organized enlargement of the best basins of attraction. However, so far it is not clear to what extent this process of self-optimization is also operative in real brains. Here we demonstrate that it can be transferred to more biologically plausible neural networks by implementing a self-optimizing spiking neural network model. In addition, by using this spiking neural network to emulate a Hopfield network with Hebbian learning, we attempt to make a connection between rate-based and temporal coding based neural systems. Heterosynaptic plasticityAlthough further work is required to make this model more realistic, it already suggests that the efficacy of the self-optimizing process is independent from the simplifying assumptions of a conventional Hopfield network. We also discuss natural and cultural processes that could be responsible for occasional alteration of neural firing patterns in actual brains.

Response to Helvenston

The journal Adaptive Behavior has published another round of short communications that were inspired by our paper on Turing patterns and altered states of consciousness. In her commentary, Helvenston raised a number of general concerns that, although somewhat unrelated to our original proposal, provided us with an opportunity to dig deeper into the literature in our response.

People in the Paleolithic could access the whole spectrum of consciousness: Response to Helvenston

Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward, and Takashi Ikegami

Three kinds of hallucinations have repeatedly been identified in the literature on altered states of consciousness (ASCs): visions of (1) geometric forms, (2) figures and objects, and (3) complete scenes. Lewis-Williams’ neuropsychological model draws on these reports to gain insights into the minds of Paleolithic people, on the basis of shared neurobiology and given comparative ethnographic data on ritualized ASCs. Helvenston has long rejected this model because in many ASCs hallucinations do not always adhere to a strict 1-2-3 sequence, because they do not always feature animals, and because people do not always lose their critical faculties. She is right, but she is attacking a straw man because these criteria are her own. Helvenston’s claims about the effects of psychoactive compounds and sensory deprivation are also questionable. It remains an open question how our Turing pattern model relates to more figurative forms of hallucinations.

New paper on the phenomenology of synesthesia

During my time as a postdoc at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science in Brighton I was conducting explicitation interviews to explore the experience of people with synesthesia. It was hard work to analyze the transcripts, but I’m happy that our perseverance has finally paid off.

An extended case study on the phenomenology of sequence-space synesthesia

C. Gould, T. Froese, A. B. Barrett, J. Ward and A. K. Seth

Investigation of synesthesia phenomenology in adults is needed to constrain accounts of developmental trajectories of this trait. We report an extended phenomenological investigation of sequence-space synesthesia in a single case (AB). We used the Elicitation Interview (EI) method to facilitate repeated exploration of AB’s synesthetic experience. During an EI the subject’s attention is selectively guided by the interviewer in order to reveal precise details about the experience. Detailed analysis of the resulting 9 h of interview transcripts provided a comprehensive description of AB’s synesthetic experience, including several novel observations. For example, we describe a specific spatial reference frame (a “mental room”) in which AB’s concurrents occur, and which overlays his perception of the real world (the “physical room”). AB is able to switch his attention voluntarily between this mental room and the physical room. Exemplifying the EI method, some of our observations were previously unknown even to AB. For example, AB initially reported to experience concurrents following visual presentation, yet we determined that in the majority of cases the concurrent followed an internal verbalization of the inducer, indicating an auditory component to sequence-space synesthesia. This finding is congruent with typical rehearsal of inducer sequences during development, implicating cross-modal interactions between auditory and visual systems in the genesis of this synesthetic form. To our knowledge, this paper describes the first application of an EI to synesthesia, and the first systematic longitudinal investigation of the first-person experience of synesthesia since the re-emergence of interest in this topic in the 1980’s. These descriptions move beyond rudimentary graphical or spatial representations of the synesthetic spatial form, thereby providing new targets for neurobehavioral analysis.

This paper is also available from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Introduction to making sense of non-sense

Recently we submitted the final manuscript of an edited collection for publication in Palgrave Macmillan’s series New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science.

Cappuccio, M. and Froese, T. (Eds.) (forthcoming). Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making: Making Sense of Non-Sense. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

The book is scheduled to appear at the end of this year / beginning of next year. Here is the blurb:

The enactive approach is a growing movement in cognitive science that replaces the classical computer metaphor of the mind with an emphasis on biological embodiment and social interaction as the sources of our goals and concerns. Mind is viewed as an activity of making sense in embodied interaction with our world. However, if mind is essentially a concrete activity of sense-making, then how do we account for the more typically human forms of cognition, including those involving the abstract and the patently nonsensical? To address this crucial challenge this collection brings together new contributions from the sciences of the mind that draw on a wide variety of disciplines, including psychopathology, phenomenology, primatology, gender studies, quantum physics, immune biology, anthropology, philosophy of mind, and linguistics. This book is required reading for anyone who is interested in how the latest scientific insights are changing how we think about the human mind and its limits.

I’ve made the introduction to the book (including the table of contents) available here:

Cappuccio, M. and Froese, T. (forthcoming). Introduction to making sense of non-sense. In M. Cappuccio, & T. Froese (Eds.). Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making: Making Sense of Non-Sense. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

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