Wednesday, September 01, 2010

David Kirsh - How We Think with Bodies and Things

Cool talk from David Kirsh at Stanford University on the processes of embodied consciousness. There is some confusion as to what exactly "enactive" means in cognitive science, so I want to include a couple of paragraphs from an interesting paper (book chapter, actually) by Ezequiel Di Paolo, Marieke Rohde, and Hanneke De Jaegher (Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social
Interaction, and Play) that helps outline the discussion:
Fifteen years after the publication of The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991) – a book that advanced a new framework for understanding cognition, one that emphasizes the role of embodied experience, the autonomy of the cognizer and its relation of co-determination with its world – the term enactive has moved out of relative obscurity and has become a fashionable banner in many parts of cognitive science. It has found its way into the description of diverse areas, from education and human-computer interaction, to autonomous robotics and consciousness studies. On the surface, this acceptance measures the success of the ideas articulated by Varela and his colleagues. Their achievement was not only that of synthesizing a series of existing criticisms to a predominant computationalist paradigm, but also that of advancing a set of postulates to move the field forward. Indeed, the increasing use of enactive terminology could serve as an indication that the time is ripe for a new era in cognitive science. To a great extent we believe this to be so.

However, on closer inspection, a significant variety of meanings is revealed in the use of the word enactive (as it happens with closely associated terms such as autonomous, embodied, situated, and dynamical). Sometimes the label indicates only the partial adoption of enactive views, sometimes connections are vague, and in the worst cases we see the raising of implausible hybrids risking self-contradiction in their mixture of the old and the new. There is a lack of consensus about what constitutes enactivism and embodied cognitive science in general (Wilson, 2002). Enactive has sometimes been taken simply as synonymous of active, embodied as synonymous of physical, dynamical as synonymous of changing, and situated as synonymous of exchanging information with the environment, all properties that could be claimed by practically every cognitive theory, model and robot proposed since symbolic Artificial Intelligence (AI) first made its debut as the theoretical core of cognitive science 50 years ago. This situation can lead to confusion and eventually to the loss of meaning attached to these terms – indeed, a perceived ambiguity between revolution and reform has been noticed by early commentators such as (Dennett, 1993).
If you want a more in-depth look at the topic in this lecture, I recommend this paper.
(May 7, 2010) David Kirsh, Professor of Cognitive Science at University of California-San Diego, discusses the concept of enactive thought and provides data from extensive ethnographic studies and a few simple experiments to prove that it exists.

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