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.


Jorge Campos receives 2018 ISAL Award for Outstanding Student Research

I am proud to announce that the International Society for Artificial Life (ISAL) has awarded the following conference paper, which was based on Jorge’s Master’s thesis, with the “2018 ISAL Award for Outstanding Student Research”:

Campos, J.I. & Froese, T. (2017). Referential communication as a collective property of a brain-body-environment-body-brain system: A minimal cognitive model. 2017 IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence (SSCI), Honolulu, HI: IEEE Press, pp. 863-870.

Out of the nominated papers this paper was chosen as the best in terms of its scientific rigor and clarity.

The award will be announced at the ALIFE 2018 conference in Tokyo this year. alife2018-logo-screengrab

Invited talk at the 3rd Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics

The 3rd Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates University and New York University Abu Dhabi during 4-7 February.

The title and abstract of my invited talk are as follows:

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? I will argue that enactivists are starting to identify the conditions of this kind of genuine intersubjectivity. To be fair, theory of mind approaches to social cognition have also 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 sub-personal mechanisms that operate in terms of representational personal-level concepts (belief, desire, inference, pretense, etc.), albeit unconsciously. Second, methodological individualism: such explanations of social capacities are limited to mechanisms contained within the individual.

The enactive approach has broken free from these representationalist-internalist conceptual constraints by directly integrating personal-level phenomenology with multi-scale dynamics occurring within and between subjects. 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. 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.

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.

Artificial Life XV in 2016, Cancun, Mexico

Next year’s International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (Artificial Life XV) will take place in beautiful Cancun, Mexico, July 4-8, 2016. I am part of the local organizing team, helping to make the first Alife conference in Latin America a memorable event.


For more information see the conference website: http://xva.life

New paper: The past, present, and future of artificial life

Frontiers in Robotics and AI As part of the inauguration of the new section on “Computational Intelligence” of Frontiers in Robotics and AI we wrote this introduction to the field of artificial life.

The past, present, and future of artificial life

Wendy Aguilar, Guillermo Santamaría-Bonfil, Tom Froese and Carlos Gershenson

For millennia people have wondered what makes the living different from the non-living. Beginning in the mid-1980s, artificial life has studied living systems using a synthetic approach: build life in order to understand it better, be it by means of software, hardware, or wetware. This review provides a summary of the advances that led to the development of artificial life, its current research topics, and open problems and opportunities. We classify artificial life research into 14 themes: origins of life, autonomy, self-organization, adaptation (including evolution, development, and learning), ecology, artificial societies, behavior, computational biology, artificial chemistries, information, living technology, art, and philosophy. Being interdisciplinary, artificial life seems to be losing its boundaries and merging with other fields.

DOI: 10.3389/frobt.2014.00008