Seminar on the origins of the symbolic mind

I was invited to give a talk at UNAM’s Instituto de Investigaciones Filosoficas this Wednesday as part of the Rationality, Reasoning, and Cognition seminar series. The title of my contribution is “How did humans overcome the cognitive gap? On the origins of the symbolic mind”. Details in the flyer below:


Talk: Dynamics of Embodied Memory: Temporality, Spatiality, and Sociality

The Marsilius-Kolleg is organizing a conference series on the topic of comprehensive anthropology.

Next month the series will start with an International Conference on the Formation of Embodied Memory, which will take place at the University of Heidelberg, April 6-8. I was invited to give a talk:

Dynamics of Embodied Memory: Temporality, Spatiality, and Sociality

Tom Froese

This talk presents a dynamical systems analysis of the temporal processes that contribute to the constitution of embodied memory. Three kinds of extra-neural processes will be considered: 1) physiological dynamics, 2) movement dynamics, and 2) social interaction dynamics. Their potential to serve as forms of memory will be illustrated on the basis of three simple agent-based models. These examples help to demonstrate the problems faced by a purely brain-based account of the self and its capacities. They also support the adoption of a broader notion of forgetting, which takes into account the cognitive effects of undergoing changes in one’s relationship to the spatial and social environment, for example displacement from one’s home and separation from one’s acquaintances.

Editor-in-Chief of Adaptive Behavior

After many years of service to the community, Ezequiel Di Paolo​ 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! 🙂

Course on the enactive approach and its contributions to psychotherapy

This Friday and Saturday I will give a two-day course entitled “La aproximación enactiva y sus aportes para la psicoterapia” at the Centro de Psicoterapia de Premisas in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

Living systems: chaotic, stochastic, and/or indeterministic?

I was invited to lead the discussion in a session of the Seminar of Science and Society at the Centre for the Sciences of Complexity. I will focus on the relationship between autonomy and uncertainty. Details can be found in the flyer below:

C3 seminar

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.

Talks at Hokkaido University

This week I was invited by Prof. Hiro Iizuka, on behalf of the Department of Information Science and Technology at Hokkaido University, to continue collaborations with the Laboratory of Autonomous Systems Engineering.

During my stay I will also give two public seminars:

15:00 on Tuesday, Feb. 21, Department of Information Science and Technology:

“Using big data to study the social mind: brain, language, and urbanism”

17:15 on Thursday, Feb. 23, Graduate School of Letters:

“The mysterious origins of the symbolic mind”

International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan

It has been 5 years since I moved to Mexico to create a computational model of the sociopolitical organization of ancient Teotihuacan. I am happy to report that this project has matured. I am involved in the organization of the International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan, which will bring together the world’s leading experts working on this topic.


At the symposium I will I gave talk on the latest results of the model. The title and abstract are as follows:

A computational model of Teotihuacan’s collective government: New insights into role of the city’s division into districts

Tom Froese

Experts remain divided about the nature of the sociopolitical system of ancient Teotihuacan, which was one of the earliest and largest urban civilizations of the Americas. Excavations hoping to find compelling evidence of powerful rulers, such as a royal tomb, keep coming away empty-handed. But the alternative possibility of a corporate or collective government still remains poorly understood. There is a lack of evidence of a powerful bureaucracy, such as durable record keeping, but a decentralized network limited to the level of neighborhood representatives seems susceptible to problems of collective action.

Previously we used a computational model to show that in principle this latter worry is unfounded, as long as we assume that the network’s topology could be transformed via community rituals and was not strongly subdivided. Here we extend this model to investigate whether increased social hierarchy could mitigate the negative effects of strong divisions. We found a special synergy between hierarchy and community ritual in that only their combination improved the extent of cooperation, which is consistent with portrayals of the elite as religious specialists serving the public good and with the apparent absence of extensive secular institutions.

Current work is investigating whether a reduction in the city’s number of districts could reduce the necessity for this kind of centralized hierarchy.

Cognitive science course next semester

Here is the information about the course I will teach at UNAM next semester.

The course will introduce ongoing debates in cognitive science about our changing understanding of the mind. Instead of being thought of as a digital computer inside the brain, mind is now widely considered to be an embodied, embedded and extended activity in the world. These ideas will be illustrated based on case studies of research in agent-based models, complex systems and human-computer interfaces, with special emphasis on demonstrating how social interactions and technologies shape our mind.

Students are not expected to program models nor to design interfaces, but to understand the implications of the new cognitive science and to apply them to their own research interests.

The course will be taught mainly in English to better prepare students for the special terms used by leading researchers in cognitive science.

For an introduction to this field, see this video:

Here is the official course information:

Posgrado en Ciencia e Ingeniería de la Computación (PCIC)

Plan: Maestría en Ciencia e Ingeniería de la Computación (Clave 80-4014)
Actividad académica: Temas Selectos de Inteligencia Artificial
Tema: Agentes autónomos y multiagentes (o: “Agentes Autónomos, Sistemas Sociales, y la Nueva Ciencia Cognitiva”)
Horarios: Lunes y Miércoles, 11:30 – 13:00
Profesor: Dr. Tom Froese

The course program can be downloaded here.

New paper on the irreducibility of social interaction dynamics

Exciting new paper written by members of the 4E Cognition Group…

4E Cognition Group

In an upcoming publication in the journals Frontiers in Psychology we present a couple of findings that challenge the prevalent idea that properties of social interaction can be explained in terms of individual properties alone.

Time series analysis of embodied interaction: Movement variability and complexity matching as dyadic properties

Leonardo Zapata-Fonseca, Dobromir G. Dotov, Ruben Y. Fossion, and Tom Froese

There is a growing consensus that a fuller understanding of social cognition depends on more systematic studies of real-time social interaction. Such studies require methods that can deal with the complex dynamics taking place at multiple interdependent temporal and spatial scales, spanning sub-personal, personal, and dyadic levels of analysis. We demonstrate the value of adopting an extended multi-scale approach by re-analyzing movement time series generated in a study of embodied dyadic interaction in a minimal virtual reality environment (a perceptual crossing experiment).

Reduced movement variability revealed an interdependence between social…

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