Sunday, 7 February 2016

Extended minds and wisdom sits in places

Are minds extended?

This is a reaction piece to 'The Extended Mind Paper' (Clark and Chalmers, 1998) co-authored by Andy Clark and David Chalmers with references to some of the more recent work done in this area. I am sure that my impression might change next week but such is the nature of my 'mind'.

When reading the extended mind readings for this week I was intrigued and stumped, in equal measure, as it sat awkwardly with some of my intuitions, and comfortably with others. Are cases of people using memory aid tools such as diaries, other people, Evernote (in a reliably coupled systematic way) to function in their day to day activities, to be thought of as cases of minds being extended e.g. a protestant minister who can no longer form new memories, following brain damage, who employs Evernote to successfully go about his duties (Clark, 2014)?

I am not wholly convinced by the premise of minds as extended, though I am sympathetic to the views extolled. So is it something useful to think with, but little more, or are they genuine cases of cognition? There is an issue concerning the lax usage of the terms cognition and mind in this piece which reflects a more general problem in cognitive science which I will not be able to tackle today (that mind is a contested concept, not to mention that cognition is too). For some thinkers, minds are synonymous with cognition and that cognition only takes places within the brain, which is the classic cognitivist view, of which there many variants. For others it is the view that the mind is thought to be embodied, that the cognising agent is the brain and body in dynamic interplay with one another. Enactivist approaches go further noting the dynamic relationship between the agent and the environment that is integral to cognition. I do all of these diverse theoretical outlooks a great disservice by passing over them in this way but I'll leave it to the readers to explore these avenues. Is this simply a case of different definitions of the same term being used to describe radically divergent activities, for which Clark and Chalmers should be taken to task, for their muddying of the water? I suspect that the water has been muddied long before this. With no expectations of putting the 'what is mind', 'what is self' dilemma to rights let's explore the Extended Mind hypothesis (EMH) a little.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Why Brandom Thinks Analytic Philosophy Has Failed Cognitive Science

In anticipation for UCD's upcoming Summer Institute in American Philosophy entitled "The Reaches of Pragmatism," here is a piece by Robert Brandom called "How Analytic Philosophy Has Failed Cognitive Science."  Spoiler alert: the reason analytic philosophy has failed cognitive science is because, according to Brandom, "we have failed to communicate some of the most basic ideas, failed to explain their significance, failed to make them available in forms useable by those working in allied disciplines who are also professionally concerned to understand the nature of thought, minds, and reason" (Brandom, 2009, p. 121).  In this way, it reminded me of Abi's question related to the possibility/extent of interdisciplinary accounts of consciousness, cognition, etc.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Potential Space

The reading list from this module has seemed to me to be guiding us away from the brain centred attitude to the theories of action in the environment and its many influences on our cognition. And so I ask the question what of the space between human and object (what Buber would call the I-It) and Winnicott would term the "third space" (1996 p102) or the "potential space"?
Winnicott studied thousands of Mothers and babies and how these babies learned to endure separateness from Mother by sometimes using a transitional object (teddy bear or blanket) which becomes a symbol for the child of being able tolerate separateness through play with the symbolic object. This creative play Winnicott would suggest within the space between Mother and a Motherless space becomes the foundations for symbolic use, the creative process and our cultural life.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Death by Utopia

A few weeks ago I came across a curious study on influence of overcrowding on society. The experiment performed by John B Calhoun with mice and published in 1973. Calhoun designed a habitat for mice that had all the resources needed to survive, basically a “mouse paradise”. There was no need for looking for food, water and shelter as it was all there. There were also no predators, so mice did not need to invest in protection. Calhoun called his experiment “Mortality-Inhibiting Environment for Mice” and is also known as “Universe 25”.

Postcognitive Topics final post

During our post-cognitive topics module we have covered many different approaches to cognitive science from the Extended Mind to Enaction. Other approaches include Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuropsychology and Computational Cognitive Science. One thing all the approaches have in common is a tendency to produce long papers - like this post.

Elman et al., in Rethinking Innateness, describe development as an interactive process where ‘emergent form is the rule rather than the exception.’ They go on to describe development as taking place at multiple levels and in discussing innateness say ‘development is constrained at one or more of these levels. Interactions may occur within and also across levels. And outcomes which are observed at one level may be produced by constraints which occur at another level.’ They are describing development in emergent terms.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Different views of Affordances

Photograph taken with UV filter showing
possible view bees may have

I did some research on bees a few years ago for an art piece, looking at what is known about their social interaction as a hive or community It came to mind several times when reading through our reading list for this module. Von Uexull in his discussion of the "phenomenal world" of the varieties of life in the meadow.  Lyon and Keijzer because of their call to avoid our "species-centrisim"(p134) and acknowledge the insights that studying animal species can give us humans. And Harry Heft's discussion of Gibson's affordance theory "that seem most plausibly applied to features of the environment that have species-specific or transcultural significance" (p1).

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Beyond input-output mappings

In this post, a major paradigm shift in neuroscience from the last 20 years or so is described.  The move is from consideration of the activity of nervous systems as mapping from input to output (as in feed-forward neural networks) to a view whereby sensory input modulates the ongoing endogenous activity of the system (think of a recurrent network that is spontaneously generating activity before any input arrives) .  Sensory input is thus a perturbation to the system, whose effect will depend on the structure and activity of the system, rather than a stimulus producing a determinate response.