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.

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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.

COLOQUIO INTERNACIONAL DE FILOSOFÍA Y PSIQUIATRÍA

Download the full program

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.