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.

Interview on TV UNAM

Yesterday TV UNAM broadcast a conversation I had with Ezequiel Di Paolo during his recent visit to Mexico. It was shown in the context of a program called “Entrevistas (Im)posibles” and was entitled “Cerebro y Vida Artificial”.

The video of the interview is available online:

Video memory of ALIFE XV in Cancun

Some impressions from this year’s International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (ALIFE XV).

Launch of research group website

Since the beginning of last year I have been involved in the formation of a new research group dedicated to 4E cognition. We have finally launched our own website. Please click on the following link to know more about us:


International workshop on hallucinations

I was invited to give a talk at an international workshop on hallucinations, organized by Juan Gonzalez, at the Faculty of Humanities, UAEM, Cuernavaca.

Hallucinations: Inner fictions, outer realities, or something in between?

Tom Froese

Despite its stated intentions to the contrary, enactivist epistemology, especially in its early formulations, implicitly assumed the same kind of internalism about conscious experience that is inherent in the majority of approaches to cognitive science. On this view, there is no essential difference between a perceptual and a hallucinatory experience – at least not from the point of view of the subject. The difference lies in the external reality to which there is no access. More recently, enactivist epistemology has started to explicitly reject this view of consciousness in favor of a relational concept of consciousness, in which not only the brain but also body and environment shape our experiences. This view has the interesting consequence that perceptual and hallucinatory experience should in principle be phenomenologically distinguishable based on the status of the environment in relation to what is experienced. Conversely, a transformation of the subjective pole of this distributed subject-world relationship, for example during altered states of consciousness, would no longer be just internal and self-contained. In some cases it could therefore reveal otherwise hidden aspects of reality, which might be consistent with some shamanic interpretations of hallucinations.

Talk on History and Philosophy of Origins Research

I have been invited to give a talk at the EON Workshop on History and Philosophy of Origins Research, which will be held August 24-26 at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo.

The title and abstract of my contribution are as follows:

The concept of the individual in cognitive science and origins of life

Tom Froese

The field of cognitive science was inaugurated on the basis of the computational theory of mind. The metaphor of the digital computer had several implications: it restricted the field to understanding all of cognition in terms of the manipulation of symbols; it focused research on passive information processing; and it limited the scope of inquiry to processes taking place within the physical boundaries of the system. This concept of an individual, as a system engaged in passive internal symbol manipulation, seems to be implicitly shared by theories of the origins of life that are focused on encapsulated processing of informational molecules. Yet in cognitive science this concept of the individual has been undergoing a series of deep revisions, such that it is now replaced by its exact opposite: an individual is seen as primarily a system that is embodied, extended, and as actively engaged in direct relations with the physical and social environment. I analyze what origins of life research could learn from this shift in the history of cognitive science.

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

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”.

Clarification of English translation of job title

It has come to my attention that some people have interpreted my translation of my current official Spanish job title (“Investigador Asociado C”) as the English title “Associate Professor” as motivated by self-aggrandizement. Nothing could be further from my mind.

The fact of the matter is that there is no officially sanctioned translation from my university, and there are different translations in use. For example, in a job advertisement of the same category of position, we find it translated as “full-time tenure-track assistant / associate professor”, whereas the more literal translation of “Research Associate” has instead been used in the context of calls for postdoctoral appointments. Nevertheless, I now realize that there are also institutes of the university that have reserved the translation of “Associate Professor” for the Spanish job title “Investigador Titular B” and I do not want to give the impression that I share their job title.

Accordingly, I have removed my English job translations from this website and from my CV. Until the university gives an official statement on the matter of how to translate UNAM job titles I will henceforth simply describe myself as being a “tenure-track faculty member”.

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

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