Is there room for intrinsic normativity in a synthetic system?

I was invited to give a keynote talk at the workshop “The Synthetic Approach to Biology and the Cognitive Sciences (SA-BCS 2018): Developing an Epistemology for the Synthetic Sciences of Life and Cognition“, which will take place as part of ALIFE 2018 in Tokyo on July 25.

Here are the title and abstract of my contribution:

Is there room for intrinsic normativity in a synthetic system?

Tom Froese

Enactivism rejects the standard hypothesis of cognitive science, according to which all cognition involves the unconscious manipulation of mental representations, and instead replaces it with a dynamical systems account. And yet enactivism also resists 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 intrinsic norms directed at maintaining their self-produced 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 identical to a certain kind of dynamic pattern. But this turns subjectivity into a mysterious difference that makes no difference with respect to the unfolding of those patterns, which remain completely determined by the dynamical laws alone. This calls for deeper epistemological reflection about how it could be possible for subjectivity to play a role in an objective world, while avoiding a regression to the untenable positions of either representationalism or eliminativism. This debate has implications for the synthetic method, especially regarding longstanding discussions about the relative merits of software, hardware, and wetware.

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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/

4th International Colloquium of the Cognitive Sciences

Tomorrow starts the 4th International Colloquium of the Cognitive Sciences, which will be held Oct. 4-6 at the Centro Lombardo Toledano in Mexico City.

Several members of the 4E Cognition Group will participate in the colloquium and present their research. I was invited to give a talk and the title is “On the role of normativity in cognitive science”.