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.

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.

Workshop on the origins of the symbolic mind

Please see information about this week’s workshop below:

Workshop on the origins of the symbolic mind

Wednesday 16th November 2016
Northfield’s Campus, University of Wollongong
14:00-18:00, Research Hub (19.2072), Building 19

Dates for the first appearances of crucial technological innovations and symbolic material culture are continually being pushed back in time. This trend contradicts the theory that a mutation related to brain function caused a sudden and relatively recent cognitive revolution in our lineage. However, the alternative theory of gradual biological evolution may not fit the archaeological record, either. Traditions within populations are discontinuous in time and space, while independent populations can converge on common practices. Accordingly, there is a growing consensus that changes in the archaeological record of human behavior are better explained by changes in local conditions, such as ecology, demography, and culture.

What does this consensus tell us about the origins of symbolic cognition? Given increasingly older dates for key innovations and the shift in explanatory focus from internal biology to external factors, the mainstream argument is that cognitive modernity must be much older than previously thought. The workshop will critically evaluate the assumed identification of biological continuity with cognitive continuity. It will also consider to what extent cognitive capacities are innate and context independent, and will explore the tensions between such a nativist theory of cognition and recent developments in cognitive science, which emphasize that cognition is scaffolded, extended, and even constituted by behavioral practices. Contributions to this workshop will consider possible explanations of distinctive features of symbolic minds – explanations that may depend not only or mainly on having the right kind of biological capacities but more pivotally on transforming them via interaction with the appropriate culturally created local conditions.

This workshop brings together archaeologists and philosophers working at the University of Wollongong (UOW) to explore the implications of these developments for cognitive archaeology and for cognitive science more generally.


Alex Mackay, Senior Lecturer, ARC DECRA Fellow, Centre for Archaeological Science, UOW
Sam Lin, Lecturer, Centre for Archaeological Science, UOW
Zenobia Jacobs, Professor, ARC QEII Research Fellow, Centre for Archaeological Science, UOW
Tom Froese, Vice Chancellor’s International Scholar, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW
Daniel D. Hutto, Professor of Philosophical Psychology, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW

All welcome.

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.

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.

Keynote on identity, alterity and language

socioligia2The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City is holding an international meeting on the topic “La otredad en sociedades transculturales: Identidad, Alteridad y Languaje“, September 23-25, 2015.

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to present my recent research. The title of my talk is “La ciencia cognitiva de la identidad y alteridad: Teorías, Modelos y Experimentos”.

3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas


At the end of the month the “3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas” will be held in Durango, Mexico, August 26-28. I have been invited as a speaker. My title and abstract are as follows:

When ‘you’ and ‘I’ transform ourselves into ‘we’ – and back again

Tom Froese

There are a growing number of cognitive scientists trying to overcome orthodox methodological individualism. In contrast to standard Theory of Mind accounts, they argue that social understanding primarily consists of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful coordination of bodily interaction. We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As hypothesized, there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. In addition, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of one genuinely shared experience. We also performed a qualitative study of free-text descriptions of the experience during the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn the bodily skill of how to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of infancy, starting with more dyadic forms of social awareness, which develop into a more differentiated self-other awareness. Our preliminary results indicate that such a recapitulation occurred in some cases.

The direct perception hypothesis in comparative psychology

After 4 years of effort, my take on comparative psychology has finally been published. Many thanks to my colleague Dave for his expert guidance and endless patience.

The direct perception hypothesis: perceiving the intention of another’s action hinders its precise imitation

Tom Froese and David A. Leavens

We argue that imitation is a learning response to unintelligible actions, especially to social conventions. Various strands of evidence are converging on this conclusion, but further progress has been hampered by an outdated theory of perceptual experience. Comparative psychology continues to be premised on the doctrine that humans and non-human primates only perceive others’ physical “surface behavior,” while mental states are perceptually inaccessible. However, a growing consensus in social cognition research accepts the direct perception hypothesis: primarily we see what others aim to do; we do not infer it from their motions. Indeed, physical details are overlooked – unless the action is unintelligible. On this basis we hypothesize that apes’ propensity to copy the goal of an action, rather than its precise means, is largely dependent on its perceived intelligibility. Conversely, children copy means more often than adults and apes because, uniquely, much adult human behavior is completely unintelligible to unenculturated observers due to the pervasiveness of arbitrary social conventions, as exemplified by customs, rituals, and languages. We expect the propensity to imitate to be inversely correlated with the familiarity of cultural practices, as indexed by age and/or socio-cultural competence. The direct perception hypothesis thereby helps to parsimoniously explain the most important findings of imitation research, including children’s over-imitation and other species-typical and age-related variations.

Free access to altered states of consciousness

Due to the publicity that was generated by the article on Turing patters and altered states of consciousness, the publisher of Adaptive Behavior has made it freely available online and has placed a special banner on the journal’s homepage.

Turing patters and altered states of consciousness

Click the image to access the article!

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.

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