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.

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.

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.

Norbert Wiener and the origins of cybernetics

Following on from the special issue of Ciencia dedicated to the work of Wiener, I’ve been invited to participate in the following event, which will take place March 9 at UNAM.


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.

Two presentations on the role of destabilization

Last week I gave a poster presentation during the conference Complejidad y multidisciplina: El Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad de la UNAM, which took place November 4-6, 2013 at Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City.

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” A dynamical systems account by Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and David A. Rosenblueth

I also gave the opening talk of the Segundo Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas, which took place November 7-8, 2013 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Can altered states of consciousness be adaptive? Two proofs of concept by Tom Froese

Click on the titles of the presentations for PDFs of the poster and the technical report of the talk.

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.

The shaman as cybernetician: Explaining the efficacy of shamanic healing

I was kindly invited to give a talk by the Cognitive Science research group at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The talk will take place at 1pm on the 6th of December in the Sala de Conferencias.

The title and abstract of the talk are as follows:

The shaman as cybernetician: Explaining the efficacy of shamanic healing

The structure of experience during shamanic initiation and healing is typically characterized by various kinds of transformations of personal identity: the self is experienced as being capable of new abilities such as flight, moving underground or breathing under water; as being situated in other worlds, places and times; as being embodied as other persons, spirit entities, animals and inanimate things; as dying, being decomposed, and then reassembled and reborn afresh.

Are these transformations of identity merely anomalous products of altered consciousness, or do they perhaps constitute an important element of the efficacy of shamanic rituals? In this talk I will argue that transformations of identity play a functional role. By drawing on the conceptual and practical relationship between the first wave of cybernetics and psychiatry, I will outline a possible mechanism that can help to explain why changes in identity can lead to increased adaptation to the challenges and demands of life.