Sunday, 11 May 2014

Why do we Applaud?

"If nothing else, there's waves of love pouring over the footlights and wrapping you up"
Eve Harrington.

Clapping or Applause is the most common human body noise that others are meant to hear that doesn’t involve the vocal chords. It is a collective social gesture that we use in groups, usually done an act of acknowledgement of something that has been performed well. We show approval by applause, the question is why do we do this? It has been suggested, by psychologists, that ‘clapping’ arises as a human behaviour from infancy, babies reach out to touch objects but in failing to do so, engage in the next best option, smacking their hands together. An alternative theory, proposed by Desmond Morris in his book 'People Watching, a guide to body-language', is that applause is a symbolic ‘Pat on the back’ for the performer, with one hand representing the others persons back whilst the other does the patting.

The Extended Mind

The extended mind hypothesis was developed by Clark and Chalmers. The central argument of the hypothesis is that cognitive processes assisted by entities external to an inidividual's mind should equally be regarded as cognitive. If an external artefact is used to aid a cognitive process or to expedite a process that can be completed mentally, then that process, too, should be considered cognitive. For example, recording information in a notebook could be considered a source of memory that is external to the individual's physical 'mind'. Traditional accounts of cognition are constrained by an a priori commitment to confining cognition within the physical boundary of the individual. In this respect the extended mind hypothesis is not particularly controversial, people very often use available tools to offload cognitive work. 

Where the hypothesis comes under scrutiny is its treatment of cognitive processes. The hypothesis assumes an understanding of cognition that is pre-existing and confirmed. Cognitive processes are processes that are rely on cognition, whatever those might be. It unclear as to where the original boundaries of cognition are drawn before the authors set out to move the goalposts. Moreover, the extended mind hypothesis is more a theory of extended cognition rather than a theory of an extended mind.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Art as a Juncture

Pamela Lyon and Fred Keijzer present an interesting extension of sense making in their 2007 article. Sense making is a term found at the core of enactive based approaches. Broadly speaking these approaches are a reinterpretation of the traditional psychological approaches to cognition, with a more embodied ideal at their core. In Lyon’s and Keijzer’s article they attempt to extend the existing sense making infrastructure to the social domain.

Social factors are, of course, a massive influence on all of us. The social however is a very difficult thing to quantify and perhaps even escape; even in our isolation we are impacted by the social through thoughts of others and indeed even some thoughts themselves. Lyon and Keijzer put forth a sort of spectrum. On this spectrum individual sense making falls on one end and joint, or communal, sense making falls on the other.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Sum of our Parts

"And that's what I've done. Maintained it for 20 years. This old brooms had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time."
"How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?"
"Theres the picture. What more proof do you need?"

Triggers Broom Paradox raises some interesting questions in the light of the extended mind and embodiment topics that we have looked at in the last few weeks. OK I'm being a little facetious here, I should give this scenario its more respectful moniker - Theseus Paradox. However the question remains as relevant. If we replace the constituent parts of an object piece by piece (and unlike Trigger we only need to consider a single instance of replacement), would it still be the same object. And if that object theoretically was a human or other biological creature would we still believe this to be the case?

These Eyes These Eyes

Emotional labour is a term which refers to the use of body and facial expression to convey emotion. Most of us have worked with the general public at some point in our lives and can relate to the drain that these forms of employment can put on an individual, particularly in terms of emotion. The embedded video here depicts a recent device which is attempting to address this drain. Dr. Hirotaka Osawa has developed a set of glasses which enhance the emotional response of the wearer: the glasses blink, change angle and prolong gaze depending on the action of the person interacting with the wearer. 

While the device itself is fascinating, it is the future of this technology which is of major interest to the field of cognitive science. Dr. Osawa hopes that this technology will lead to the development of similar devices which mimic human smiles and ultimately to the development of whole android faces. The interpretation of meaning from a face is largely dependent upon gestural elements from the eye and mouth areas. Speech interpretation is typically dependent on the sound content of speech but visual gestural elements are also a major part of speech interpretation. In order to develop an emotional android we need to get a better grasp on the gestural elements of speech perception.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Brain Says Pretty/Ugly

The relatively new field of neuroaesthetics has been described as' the study of the neural basis of beauty perception in art'.  Situated within cognitive neuroscience neuroaesthetics endeavors to  uncover the 'neural underpinnings' of the aesthetic response of the perceiver to the features of an artwork. Predominantly focusing on visual art or fine art.  With more recent research efforts  extending  to other art forms such as dance and music. Neuroaesthetics begins with the assertion that any theory of aesthetics must account for it's 'neural underpinnings', seeing kindred the goals of  the nervous system and of artists as seeking to understand essential visual attributes of the world. Semir Zeki who coined the term, claims that artists are like neuroscientists and that all art aims at providing knowledge. 

Can neuroaesthetics ameliorate theories of art and aesthetic experience? Advocates of this field  readily admonish that aesthetic experience of visual art only begins with the visual analysis and description of the properties of the artwork, that it is a new field and there is a lot of work yet to be done regarding other art forms.  By  adopting a bottom up approach neuroaesthetics focuses  on the importance of the nervous system in breaking down and isolating visual features such as colour, luminance and motion thus highlighting how art makes us aware of the complexities of our perceptual and sensory experience.  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Talking Plants

'The Happening' is possibly the worse film, I have ever seen at the cinema. The story-line, without giving away too many plot spoilers, is that the trees,decide that they have had enough of humankind pushing them around and destroying the ecosystem, so they decide to fight back. This fight back involves the releasing of a neurotoxin that induces people to immediately commit suicide, so long periods of the film involve people running away from trees. It is dross. But what about the science behind this idea, that plants can identify humans as guilty of crimes against the environment and so pass sentence on them, that too is dross. But the notion that plants communicate with one another and release chemicals, that does hold some truth. The issue though, is that if this could be considered sufficient to say that the plants are intelligent?