Sunday, July 28, 2013

Embodied Cognition - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This is an older entry (2005) in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy . . . and yes, I read encyclopedias for fun, dictionaries, too. This entry focuses on one of my favorite topics, and is the foundation of my understanding of mind, consciousness, self-sense, and even mental illness.

Basically, this school of cognitive science/consciousness studies argues that the "cognitivist/classicist view of the mind, which conceptualizes cognitive functions in terms of a computer metaphor," is not only incomplete, but reductionist [or isolationist, meaning that they believe "cognition can be understood by focusing primarily on an organism’s internal cognitive processes (that is, specifically those involving computation and representation)"]. As Patricia Churchland likes to argue, the mind is the brain.

In the embodied cognition (or embodied mind) school of thought, "theorists favor a relational analysis that views the organism, the action it performs, and the environment in which it performs it as inextricably linked." Rather than the mind being reduced to the brain, it is seen as biological (the brain and electrochemical systems, including the body and its nervous system), subjective (what is it like to be you), intersubjective and interpersonal (the relational realm), and environmental (physical space, but also economic and political space, i.e., society).

I would also add that mind is temporal - it changes over time, both in the micro sense (a minute ago I was crying and now I am doing math) and the macro (for example, Piaget's and Kegan's developmental models). Further, mind is not a static entity, it is an activity, a verb - mind is constantly being created and recreated, including our sense of self, our identity, and our consciousness itself.

I am providing below the Introduction, the Table of Contents, the first section (the Motivation for the Embodied Cognition Movement), and the References for Further Reading.

Embodied Cognition

Embodied Cognition is a growing research program in cognitive science that emphasizes the formative role the environment plays in the development of cognitive processes. The general theory contends that cognitive processes develop when a tightly coupled system emerges from real-time, goal-directed interactions between organisms and their environment; the nature of these interactions influences the formation and further specifies the nature of the developing cognitive capacities. Since embodied accounts of cognition have been formulated in a variety of different ways in each of the sub-fields comprising cognitive science (that is, developmental psychology, artificial life/robotics, linguistics, and philosophy of mind), a rich interdisciplinary research program continues to emerge. Yet, all of these different conceptions do maintain that one necessary condition for cognition is embodiment, where the basic notion of embodiment is broadly understood as the unique way an organism’s sensorimotor capacities enable it to successfully interact with its environmental niche. In addition, all of the different formulations of the general embodied cognition thesis share a common goal of developing cognitive explanations that capture the manner in which mind, body, and world mutually interact and influence one another to promote an organism’s adaptive success.

1. Motivation for the Movement

Although ideas applied in the embodied cognition research program can be traced back to the seminal works of Heidegger, Piaget, Vygotsky, Merleau-Ponty, and Dewey, the current thesis can be seen as a direct response and, in some cases, a proposed alternative to the cognitivist/classicist view of the mind, which conceptualizes cognitive functions in terms of a computer metaphor. The cognitivist/classicist research program can be defined as a rule-based, information-processing model of cognition that 1) characterizes problem-solving in terms of inputs and outputs, 2) assumes the existence of symbolic, encoded representations which enable the system to devise a solution by means of computation, and 3) maintains that cognition can be understood by focusing primarily on an organism’s internal cognitive processes (that is, specifically those involving computation and representation). Although this research program is still prevalent, a number of problems have been raised about its viability, including the symbol-grounding problem (Searle 1980, Harnad 1990), the frame problem, the common-sense problem (Horgan and Tienson 1989), and the rule-described/expertise problem (Dreyfus 1992).

Embodied cognition theorists view cognitivist/classicist accounts as problematic for many reasons, but they are especially concerned that these accounts result in an isolationist assumption that attempts to understand cognition by focusing almost exclusively on an organism’s internal cognitive processes. Specifically, the concern is that if an isolationist assumption rests at the heart of the cognitivist/classicist research program, then the resulting explanations are inaccurate because they either underplay or completely overlook environmental factors that are essential to the formation of an accurate explanation of cognitive development. Consequently, this isolationist assumption is perceived to result in decreased explanatory power since it de-emphasizes two crucial factors that are needed to understand cognitive development: 1) the exact way organisms are embodied, and 2) the manner in which this embodied form simultaneously constrains and prescribes certain interactions within the environment. In its place, embodied cognition theorists favor a relational analysis that views the organism, the action it performs, and the environment in which it performs it as inextricably linked. Yet, before one can fully appreciate why embodied cognition theorists favor a relational over an isolationist analysis, it is necessary to discuss the theoretical assumptions that comprise the general embodied cognition framework.

5. References and Further Reading

  • Brooks, R. (1991). “Intelligence without representation.” Artificial Intelligence, 47, 139-159.
  • Clancey, W. (1997). Situated Cognition: On Human Knowledge and Computer Representations. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Clark, A. (1997). Being There: Putting Brain Body and World Together Again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Recommended.)
  • Clark, A. (1999). “Embodied, situated, and distributed cognition.” In W. Betchel and G. Graham (eds), A Companion to Cognitive Science, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. Analysis, 58, 7-19.
  • Cisek, P. (1999). “Beyond the Computer Metaphor: Behavior as Interaction.” In Nunez, R. and Freeman, W., Reclaiming Cognition: the primacy of action intention and emotion, Bowling Green, OH: Imprint Academic.
  • Dreyfus, H. (1972/92). What Computers Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. New York: Harper and Row. (Third edition: What Computers Still Can’t Do. 1992. Cambridge, MA: MIT)
  • Fauconnier, G. and Turner, M. (2002). The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  • Glenberg, A. (1997). “What memory is for: Creating meaning in the service of action.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 20, 1-55.
  • Glenberg, A. (1999). “Why Mental Models Must Be Embodied.” In Mental Models in Discourse Processing and Reasoning, Rickheit, G. and Habel, C. (eds). New York: Elsevier.
  • Harnad, S. (1990). “The symbol grounding problem.” Physica D, 42,335-346.
  • Horgan, T and Tienson, J. (1989). “Representations Without Rules.” Philosophical Topics, 17 (Spring), 147-174.
  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Recommended.)
  • Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy In the Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought. New York, NY: Basic Books. (Recommended.)
  • Mataric, M. J. (1992). “Integration of representation into goal-driven behavior based robots.” IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation, 8 (3): 304-312.
  • Searle, J. (1980). “Minds, brains, and programs.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 417-424.
  • Thelen, E.,and Smith, L. (1994). A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Thelen, E. (1995). “Time-scale dynamics in the development of an embodied cognition.” In Mind In Motion, ed. R. Port and T. van Gelder. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Thelen, E., Schoner, G., Scheier, C., and Smith, L.B.(2001). “The Dynamics of Embodiment: A Field Theory of Infant Perservative Reaching.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24: 1-86.
  • Varela, F., Thompson, E., Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Last updated: July 8, 2005 | Originally published: January/21/2004
Categories: Mind & Cognitive Science
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