A dynamical approach to the phenomenology of body memory

A special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies is in the final stages of preparation, following on from last year’s conference on the “Formation of Embodied Memory” in Heidelberg.

I teamed up with my old colleague Eduardo to put together the following article:

A dynamical approach to the phenomenology of body memory: Past interactions can shape present capacities without neuroplasticity

Tom Froese and Eduardo J. Izquierdo

Body memory comprises the acquired dispositions that constitute an individual’s present capacities and experiences. Phenomenological accounts of body memory describe its effects using dynamical metaphors: it is conceived of as curvatures in an agent-environment relational field, leading to attracting and repelling forces that shape ongoing sensorimotor interaction. This relational perspective stands in tension with traditional cognitive science, which conceives of the underlying basis of memory in representational-internal terms: it is the encoding and storing of informational content via structural changes inside the brain. We propose that this tension can be resolved by replacing the traditional approach with the dynamical approach to cognitive science. Specifically, we present three of our simulation models of embodied cognition that can help us to rethink the basis of several types of body memory. The upshot is that, at least in principle, there is no need to explain their basis in terms of content or to restrict their basis to neuroplasticity alone. Instead these models support the perspective developed by phenomenology: body memory is a relational property of a whole brain-body-environment system that emerges out of its history of interactions.


Keynote at From Animals to Animats 15 (SAB 2018)

I will be a keynote speaker at FROM ANIMALS TO ANIMATS 15: The 15th International Conference on the Simulation of Adaptive Behavior (SAB 2018), which will take place 14-17 August 2018, in Frankfurt, Germany, and is organized by the International Society for Adaptive Behavior (ISAB).

Here is my title and abstract:

Searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity: From robotics to HCI

Tom Froese

Many our most valued experiences are experiences that we share with others. Yet the basis for this sense of we-ness remains mysterious. Could it really be possible that two people share one and the same experience? How so? Two lines of research are providing important insights. First, complex systems analyses of social robotics and agent-based models have demonstrated that there is nothing mysterious about the possibility of cognitive activity being distributed in a multi-agent system. Second, experimental investigations of real-time embodied social interaction mediated by human-computer interfaces demonstrate that co-regulation of interaction dynamics makes a difference to experience. This formal and empirical research on social interaction supports the possibility of genuine intersubjectivity: we can directly participate in the unfolding of each other’s experience.

Is there room for normativity in a dynamical world?

Tomorrow at 2pm I will be giving an online talk for the ENactive Seminars Online (ENSO) Series. Here are the title and abstract:

Is there room for normativity in a dynamical world?

Enactivism rejects the standard working hypothesis of cognitive science, according to which all cognition involves the unconscious manipulation of mental representations, and replaces it with a dynamical systems account. And yet enactivism resists other, purely dynamical approaches that see no role for any kind of subjectivity, because it appeals to the role of our lived phenomenology and claims that living beings behave with respect to norms directed at maintaining their viability.

So far, this middle way seems to be philosophically unsatisfactory: at best it allows us to claim that acting in accordance with experience or norms just is a certain kind of dynamic pattern. But this turns subjectivity into a mysterious difference that makes no difference as such with respect to the unfolding of those patterns, which is completely determined by the dynamics alone.

This calls for deeper philosophical reflection about how it is possible for subjectivity to play a role in an objective world while avoiding a regression to the untenable positions of either representationalism or eliminativism.

Watch the seminar live: http://www.ensoseminars.com/presentations/past17/

International Colloquium of Philosophy and Psychiatry

I have been invited as a plenary speaker to the International Colloquium of Philosophy and Psychiatry, which will take place August 31 – September 2 in Bogota, Colombia. The title and abstract of my talk are as follows:

Integrating phenomenology and systems theory: The case of embodied memory

I will give an introduction to dynamical systems analysis and use it to formalize and ground the phenomenology 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 computational thought experiments 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 psychopathology that takes into account the cognitive effects of undergoing changes in one’s body and in one’s relationship to the spatial and social environment.


Download the full program