This Friday and Saturday I will give a two-day course entitled “La aproximación enactiva y sus aportes para la psicoterapia” at the Centro de Psicoterapia de Premisas in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
I am happy to report that my application for the 2017 call for research projects issued by UNAM’s “Programa de Apoyo a Proyectos de Investigación e Innovación Tecnológica” (PAPIIT) was successful.
The project is entitled “Explorando los alcances de la auto-organización social: desde la cultura hasta la célula” (IA104717). Its overarching aim is to support the activities of the 4E Cognition Group.
The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City is holding an international meeting on the topic “La otredad en sociedades transculturales: Identidad, Alteridad y Languaje“, September 23-25, 2015.
I have been invited as a keynote speaker to present my recent research. The title of my talk is “La ciencia cognitiva de la identidad y alteridad: Teorías, Modelos y Experimentos”.
At the end of the month the “3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas” will be held in Durango, Mexico, August 26-28. I have been invited as a speaker. My title and abstract are as follows:
When ‘you’ and ‘I’ transform ourselves into ‘we’ – and back again
There are a growing number of cognitive scientists trying to overcome orthodox methodological individualism. In contrast to standard Theory of Mind accounts, they argue that social understanding primarily consists of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful coordination of bodily interaction. We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As hypothesized, there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. In addition, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of one genuinely shared experience. We also performed a qualitative study of free-text descriptions of the experience during the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn the bodily skill of how to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of infancy, starting with more dyadic forms of social awareness, which develop into a more differentiated self-other awareness. Our preliminary results indicate that such a recapitulation occurred in some cases.
One of the next issues of Behavioral and Brain Sciences will include a discussion of Pessoa’s (2013) book The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration by MIT Press. I wrote the following short piece as part of the peer commentary that will be published with Pessoa’s précis.
Pessoa’s The Cognitive-Emotional Brain (2013) is an integrative approach to neuroscience that complements other developments in cognitive science, especially enactivism. Both accept complexity as essential to mind; both tightly integrate perception, cognition, and emotion, which enactivism unifies in its foundational concept of sense-making; and both emphasize that the spatial extension of mental processes is not reducible to specific brain regions and neuroanatomical connectivity. An enactive neuroscience is emerging.
I am giving two invited talks at this year’s meeting of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior (AISB 2015), which is being held in Canterbury, April 20-22. Titles and short abstracts are as follows:
The enactive theory of social cognition: From theory to experiment
For over a decade I have been working on applying an evolutionary robotics approach to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of social interaction. At the same time I have been developing the enactive theory of social cognition by drawing on the phenomenological philosophy of intersubjectivity. Recently I was able to test the predictions deriving from this research on the basis of a psychological experiment using a new variation of the perceptual crossing paradigm. The empirical results support a genuinely enactive conception of social cognition as primarily grounded in embodied intersubjectivity.
The behavior-based origin of life and the problem of genetic representation
Traditionally, there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first during the origin of life. While the metabolism-first approach focuses on chemical self-constitution of an individual, the replicator-first approach focuses on generational self-replication of a population of informational molecules. Yet both implicitly agree that the first forms of life were isolated, passive, and static individuals. Both ignore the intermediate timescales of activity between chemical self-constitution and population evolution: no mention is made of behavior and development. These assumptions are challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, which emphasize that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start. I consider how this behavior-based approach to the origin of life can inform our thinking about a number of traditional problems.
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Next week I will give a talk at the 18th Herbstakademie: The Circularity of Mind and Body, which will take place in Heidelberg, Germany, March 26-28. The title and abstract are as follows:
Investigations of the interactively extended embodied mind: Dynamics, phenomenology, and development
I will present the latest results deriving from many years of interdisciplinary investigations of the socially extended embodied mind. The upshot is that the process of understanding another person is best studied as primarily consisting of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful mutual coordination of bodily interaction. There are many theoretical reasons for accepting this position, and a series of agent-based models of bodily interaction show that the emergence of a dynamically extended embodiment spanning two agents is possible in principle. In fact, the mathematics of nonlinear interactions leads us to expect that such mutual incorporation should be found in actuality. But can it?
We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As predicted, behaviors became entrained during interaction, and there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. Intriguingly, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of a genuinely shared experience. But was this moment experienced from a second-person perspective? And if so, did it develop as a skill?
To answer these questions we performed a qualitative study of free-text phenomenological descriptions of the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn how to perceive the other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of social awareness, starting with more dyadic forms of self-directedness. Our preliminary results indicate that this was indeed the case.
I was invited to give a talk as part of the seminar series organized by the project “Racionalidad, razonamiento, y cognición” at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas of UNAM.
Putting the Enactive Theory of Social Cognition to the Test
Dr. Tom Froese
Wednesday, October 15
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas
In this talk I will argue that the enactive approach to social interaction is the most promising contender among the variety of recent embodied and extended accounts of social cognition and philosophy of mind. It has the virtue of making specific predictions that can be experimentally evaluated. I will present a couple of studies we have conducted and whose results support the enactive approach. I will focus in particular on a psychological experiment about social awareness.
It’s been many years since first I started working on agent-based models to demonstrate that social interaction dynamics can constitute individual behavior. I’m very happy and excited to announce that we finally managed to verify some of the predictions that we generated on the basis of the models, as well as of enactive theory more generally, in an actual psychological experiment. I think this is perhaps the strongest empirical evidence we have yet for the interactive constitution of individual cognition, including of intersubjective experience!
Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami
Scientists have traditionally limited the mechanisms of social cognition to one brain, but recent approaches claim that interaction also realizes cognitive work. Experiments under constrained virtual settings revealed that interaction dynamics implicitly guide social cognition. Here we show that embodied social interaction can be constitutive of agency detection and of experiencing another’s presence. Pairs of participants moved their “avatars” along an invisible virtual line and could make haptic contact with three identical objects, two of which embodied the other’s motions, but only one, the other’s avatar, also embodied the other’s contact sensor and thereby enabled responsive interaction. Co-regulated interactions were significantly correlated with identifications of the other’s avatar and reports of the clearest awareness of the other’s presence. These results challenge folk psychological notions about the boundaries of mind, but make sense from evolutionary and developmental perspectives: an extendible mind can offload cognitive work into its environment.
The article is also available for open access here:
I was asked by the editors of Avant to write an introduction to an interview they had conducted with Ezequiel Di Paolo and Hanne De Jaegher. It was an interesting challenge to write something that had both personal and academic relevance. Here it is:
The work of Ezequiel Di Paolo and Hanne De Jaegher has helped to transform the enactive approach from relative obscurity into a hotly debated contender for the future science of social cognition and cognitive science more generally. In this short introduction I situate their contributions in what I see as important aspects of the bigger picture that is motivating and inspiring them as well as the rest of this young community. In particular, I sketch some of the social issues that go beyond mere academic debate, including how the methods and assumptions that inform orthodox cognitive science are intrinsically related to the critical state of affairs in our world today. I conclude with some personal recollections in order to give an idea of the context in which their ideas, and mine as well, came to fruition.
Keywords: enactive approach; cognitive science; social cognition; theory of mind.