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.

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.