Article in support of life-mind continuity

Prof. Dr. Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Dr. Robert Lowe guest-edited a special issue of the journal Entropy on the topic “Information-Processing and Embodied, Embedded, Enactive Cognition” to which I contributed an article with Michael Kirchhoff.

Where There is Life There is Mind: In Support of a Strong Life-Mind Continuity Thesis

Michael D. Kirchhoff and Tom Froese

This paper considers questions about continuity and discontinuity between life and mind. It begins by examining such questions from the perspective of the free energy principle (FEP). The FEP is becoming increasingly influential in neuroscience and cognitive science. It says that organisms act to maintain themselves in their expected biological and cognitive states, and that they can do so only by minimizing their free energy given that the long-term average of free energy is entropy. The paper then argues that there is no singular interpretation of the FEP for thinking about the relation between life and mind. Some FEP formulations express what we call an independence view of life and mind. One independence view is a cognitivist view of the FEP. It turns on information processing with semantic content, thus restricting the range of systems capable of exhibiting mentality. Other independence views exemplify what we call an overly generous non-cognitivist view of the FEP, and these appear to go in the opposite direction. That is, they imply that mentality is nearly everywhere. The paper proceeds to argue that non-cognitivist FEP, and its implications for thinking about the relation between life and mind, can be usefully constrained by key ideas in recent enactive approaches to cognitive science. We conclude that the most compelling account of the relationship between life and mind treats them as strongly continuous, and that this continuity is based on particular concepts of life (autopoiesis and adaptivity) and mind (basic and non-semantic).

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

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.

Enaction and biology of cognition

Back in 2010 John Stewart and I published a paper on Life after Ashby, in which we argued that the concept of autopoiesis is experiencing some growing pains within the paradigm of enaction, because the concept was originally conceived and expressed within an abstract systems framework that was already familiar from Ashby’s work.

This was followed in 2011 by a commentary by Maturana, in which he distances himself from what we had called the Ashbyan interpretation of autopoiesis and offers some additional clarifications about his work.

John and I wrote a response to Maturana’s commentary, Enactive Cognitive Science and Biology of Cognition, in which we clarify our position and offer some further reflections on the similarities and differences between Maturana’s biology of cognition and the enactive approach to cognitive science. We agree that Maturana’s work is an improvement over Ashby’s approach to biological function, but we also suggest that the enactive approach is in important respects an improvement over the biology of cognition.

Our response will be published in the next issue of Cybernetics & Human Knowing, which will also include another commentary on our original 2010 article by Bich and Arnellos. Like us and Maturana, these authors also reject the Ashbyan interpretation of autopoiesis, and they draw on the work of a number of other theoretical biologists in order to suggest that it is nevertheless possible to devise a notion of autopoiesis that can better deal with our initial criticisms.