Book review of Fuchs’ Ecology of the Brain

In our group’s seminars we read Thomas Fuchs’ (2018) Ecology of the Brain: The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind by Oxford University Press. Here is the review that I wrote based on our discussions.

Book Review: Ecology of the Brain: The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind

Tom Froese

Fuchs (2018) book starts with a wake-up call. We are facing social and ecological crises that threaten the flourishing of future generations. Ideally, therefore, the sciences of the mind should help us to better understand on what basis a person can take responsible action, and thereby contribute to empowering people in their capacity to make a difference. Yet mainstream human neuroscience confronts us with the hypothesis that our self, free will, consciousness, and hence also our conscience, are nothing but internal fictions fabricated by patterns of nervous activity.

Fuchs’ book is a valuable reminder of the high price of this sort of reductionism, which realizes the ideal of naturalizing the mind at the cost of leaving no theoretical room for people to genuinely make a difference for others in the world. It is a scientific worldview that implicitly legitimizes todays widespread sense of isolation and apathy. A key motivation for Fuchs is to shore up resistance against this encroachment upon our personal lifeworld, but he wisely refrains from overplaying this appeal to our conscience. The book’s main contribution lies in demonstrating that doing justice to the complexities and ambiguities of human existence actually leads to a more mature cognitive science and a more coherent philosophy of mind.

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Review of “Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory”

ContemporarySensorimotorTheoryAs part of the Frontiers in Robotics and AI research topic “Re-enacting sensorimotor experience for cognition” we published a book review on this topic.

Book review: Contemporary sensorimotor theory

Tom Froese and Franklenin Sierra

Consciousness, with its irreducible subjective character, was almost exclusively a philosophical topic until relatively recently. Today, however, the problem of explaining the felt quality of experience has also become relevant to science and engineering, including robotics and AI: “What would we have to build into a robot so that it really felt the touch of a finger, the redness of red, or the hurt of a pain?” (O’Regan, 2014, p. 23). Yet a practical response still requires an adequate theory of consciousness, which brings us back to the hard problem: how can we account, from a scientific point of view, for the phenomenological character of experience? Over a decade ago, O’Regan and Noë (2001) proposed a new approach to these questions, the so-called sensorimotor approach to perceptual experience. How far has this approach come and what are its outstanding challenges? The volume Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory, edited by Bishop and Martin, takes stock of the current state of the field.