Book review: Embodiment, enaction, and culture

Here is my little book review of this big edited book on enactive approaches to culture!

Book Review: Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World

Tom Froese

This MIT Press volume edited by Durt et al. (2017) is concerned with investigating how people bring about a shared sociocultural world through participatory and broader collective sense-making processes, while at the same time highlighting how the participants in these social processes are themselves transformed by the world they help to bring forth. The key insight that runs through this interdisciplinary collection of 20 chapters is the irreducible nature of this interdependence between individual and collective processes: participation in, and hence the cultural reproduction of, patterned practices of the social world is only realizable via a thorough transformation of individual embodied minds.

New article: Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics

This is the latest installment in my efforts to show that there is nothing mysterious about the possibility that some mental processes are realized by more than one individual.

Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics: A Minimal Agent-Based Simulation Model

Madhavun Candadai, Matt Setzler, Eduardo J. Izquierdo and Tom Froese

The concept of social interaction is at the core of embodied and enactive approaches to social cognitive processes, yet scientifically it remains poorly understood. Traditionally, cognitive science had relegated all behavior to being the end result of internal neural activity. However, the role of feedback from the interactions between agent and their environment has become increasingly important to understanding behavior. We focus on the role that social interaction plays in the behavioral and neural activity of the individuals taking part in it. Is social interaction merely a source of complex inputs to the individual, or can social interaction increase the individuals’ own complexity?

Here we provide a proof of concept of the latter possibility by artificially evolving pairs of simulated mobile robots to increase their neural complexity, which consistently gave rise to strategies that take advantage of their capacity for interaction. We found that during social interaction, the neural controllers exhibited dynamics of higher-dimensionality than were possible in social isolation. Moreover, by testing evolved strategies against unresponsive ghost partners, we demonstrated that under some conditions this effect was dependent on mutually responsive co-regulation, rather than on the mere presence of another agent’s behavior as such. Our findings provide an illustration of how social interaction can augment the internal degrees of freedom of individuals who are actively engaged in participation.

Chapter for OUP Handbook of 4E Cognition

Here is a pre-print version of my contribution to The Oxford Handbook of 4E Cognition, edited by Newen, de Bruin, and Gallagher.

Searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity: From agent-based models to perceptual crossing experiments

Tom Froese

Enactivists are searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity. Theory of mind approaches to social cognition have come a long way from folk psychological theorizing by paying more attention to neuroscientific evidence and phenomenological insights. This has led to hybrid accounts that incorporate automatic processing and allow an instrumental role for perception and interaction. However, two foundational assumptions remain unquestioned. First, the cognitive unconscious: explanations assume there is a privileged domain of subpersonal mechanisms that operate in terms of representational personal-level concepts (belief, desire, inference, pretense, etc.), albeit unconsciously. Second, methodological individualism: explanations of social capacities are limited to mechanisms contained within the individual. The enactive approach breaks free from these representationalist-internalist constraints by integrating personal-level phenomenology with multi-scale dynamics occurring within and between subjects. 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.

Keynote at “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition”

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to an autumn school on “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition” organized by the Horizon 2020 project Socializing sensorimotor contingencies (socSMCs).

The event will take place in Boltenhagen by the Baltic Sea, Germany, October 11-17, 2015. My title and abstract are as follows:

Enactive and phenomenological approaches to social cognition

Tom Froese

One of the most central and also controversial claims of the enactive approach is that embodied social interaction is constitutive of social cognition. Evolutionary robotics modeling and dynamical systems theory demonstrate that at least in principle there is nothing mysterious about this claim. But can it also be verified experimentally? The most promising results so far are based on the “perceptual crossing” paradigm, in which pairs of participants interact haptically in real-time via a minimalist human-computer interface. They try to locate each other in the virtual space while avoiding distractor objects. It has repeatedly been shown that individuals’ actions become interactively self-organized in a way that collectively enhances task success. However, until recently there was no evidence that this sensorimotor self-organization was also experienced from the point of view of the participants, thereby calling into question whether it constitutively affected their social cognition. I will present the latest studies in which an accompanying phenomenology of intersubjectivity was clearly reported and quantified, thereby enabling us to identify the specific pattern of sensorimotor coupling underlying the emergence of a consciously shared moment of experience. This is some of the first evidence supporting the concept of a genuine and irreducible second-person perspective that is mutually enacted via joint actions. Intriguingly, the process of its emergence shares similarities with the first stages that are hypothesized to occur during the development of social awareness in pre-verbal infants.