Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Embodied Cognition (A New Book and Some Background)

Embodied cognition is the future of consciousness research and conceptualization. Our self and mind are not simple by-products of brain activity - our bodies are major contributors to cognition and awareness. Our mental states arise from the our physical interaction with the world, a domain George Lakoff has explored with his embodied metaphor work (most of our metaphors are based in our physicality, or bodies, not in abstractions).

In fact, I contend, along with the constructionist approach perspective, that mind and cognition extends into social/cultural contexts (social constructionism), as well as into technology and environment (extended mind). We are integrally embedded beings.

This new book looks good - below the book blurb, I'll post some information on just what embodied cognition looks like in psychology and philosophy.

Embodied Cognition

By Lawrence Shapiro.

Series: New Problems of Philosophy.

Amazon: $28.04 paperback (Also available for the Kindle or as a $140 hardcover)

Embodied cognition often challenges standard cognitive science. In this outstanding introduction, Lawrence Shapiro sets out the central themes and debates surrounding embodied cognition, explaining and assessing the work of many of the key figures in the field, including George Lakoff, Alva Noë, Andy Clark, and Arthur Glenberg.

Beginning with an outline of the theoretical and methodological commitments of standard cognitive science, Shapiro then examines philosophical and empirical arguments surrounding the traditional perspective. He introduces topics such as dynamic systems theory, ecological psychology, robotics, and connectionism, before addressing core issues in philosophy of mind such as mental representation and extended cognition.

Including helpful chapter summaries and annotated further reading at the end of each chapter, Embodied Cognition is essential reading for all students of philosophy of mind, psychology, and cognitive science.

Table of Contents

Introduction Chapter 1. Standard cognitive science Chapter 2. Challenging standard cognitive science Chapter 3. Conceptions of embodiment Chapter 4. Embodied cognition: the conceptualization hypothesis Chapter 5. Embodied cognition: the replacement hypothesis Chapter 6. Embodied cognition: the constitution hypothesis Chapter 7. Concluding thoughts Glossary Notes Bibliography Index


'Embodied Cognition is sweeping the planet and Larry Shapiro has just written the first comprehensive treatment of this exciting and new research program. This book is now and for years to come will be unquestionably the best way for students and researchers alike, to gain access to and learn to evaluate this exciting, new research paradigm in cognitive science.' – Fred Adams, University of Delaware, USA

'A must read for those who support the embodied program, those who question it, and those who are just trying to figure out what the heck it is. It's definitely on the reading list for my course in embodied cognition.' Arthur Glenberg, Arizona State University, USA

Embodied Cognition provides a balanced and comprehensive introduction to the embodied cognition movement, but also much more. Shapiro is careful to sift empirical results from broader philosophical claims, and the concise, simple arguments for cognition's embodiment that he articulates will help advanced students and researchers assess the diverse literature on this hot topic in cognitive science.’ – Robert A. Wilson, University of Alberta, Canada

Embodied Cognition is the first of its kind - a beautifully lucid and even-handed introduction to the many questions and issues that define the field of embodied cognition. Psychologists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, and philosophers should jump on this book. It promises to set the terms of debate in this exciting new enterprise for years to come.’ – Elliott Sober, University of Wisconsin Madison, USA

Embodied Cognition is an outstanding introduction to this increasingly important topic in cognitive science. Written in a clear and lively style, with a critical approach, it is a strong contender for the most useful introductory text on any topic in all of cognitive science, and a genuine contribution to the scientific and philosophical literature on embodied cognition.’ – Kenneth Aizawa, Centenary College of Louisiana, USA

Author Biography

Lawrence Shapiro is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, USA. His research currently focuses on the issues and debates around embodied cognition. He is editor (with Brie Gertler) of Arguing About the Mind (2007), also available from Routledge.

For those who want a little more background on what this model of cognition offers, here are a couple of good articles. The first one is a general overview from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is peer-reviewed, and the second article is from a recent Scientific American.

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.

Table of Contents

  1. Motivation for the Movement
  2. General Characteristics of Embodied Cognition
    1. Primacy of Goal-Directed Actions Occurring In Real-Time
      1. Developmental Psychology
      2. Robotics/Artificial Life
    2. Form of Embodiment Constrains Kinds of Cognitive Processes
    3. Cognition is Constructive
  3. Embodied Cognition vs. Classicism/Cognitivism
  4. Philosophical Implications of the Embodied Cognition Research Program
    1. The Compatibilist Approach
    2. The Purist Approach
  5. References and Further Reading

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.

2. General Characteristics of Embodied Cognition

Since the present embodied cognition research program is in its early stages, the general approach does not yet have hard and fast tenets that are agreed upon by all embodied cognition theorists. Consequently, this program is rather fluid, in that even the central researchers are striving to understand further exactly what is meant by embodied cognition. Yet, this should not prevent the characterization of the common assumptions found in most embodied cognition theories. The goal of this section is to highlight some of the most common theoretical assumptions shared by embodied accounts of cognition. The viewing of these assumptions together will provide a clearer picture of what embodied cognition roughly entails as a research program.

Once again, the central claim of embodied cognition is that an organism’s sensorimotor capacities, body and environment not only play an important role in cognition, but the manner in which these elements interact enables particular cognitive capacities to develop and determines the precise nature of those capacities. Developmental psychologist Esther Thelen (2001) further clarifies the central claim of this research program in the following passage:

To say that cognition is embodied means that it arises from bodily interactions with the world. From this point of view, cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capacities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of life are meshed. The contemporary notion of embodied cognition stands in contrast to the prevailing cognitivist stance which sees the mind as a device to manipulate symbols and is thus concerned with the formal rules and processes by which the symbols appropriately represent the world (xx).

Although embodied cognition accounts vary significantly across disciplines in terms of the specific ways in which they attempt to apply the general theory, a few common theoretical assumptions can be found in just about any embodied view one examines. These further theoretical assumptions help to flesh out the central thesis, and include 1) the primacy of goal-directed actions occurring in real-time; 2) the belief that the form of embodiment determines the type of cognition; and 3) the view that cognition is constructive. Each theoretical assumption will be explained by considering the work of a theorist whose research exemplifies the particular theoretical assumption under investigation. The first theoretical assumption, the primacy of goal-directed actions occurring in real time, is explained by considering research in robotics/artificial life and developmental psychology.

a. Primacy of Goal-Directed Actions Occurring In Real-Time

Embodied cognition theorists contend that thought results from an organism’s ability to act in its environment. More precisely, what this means is that as an organism learns to control its own movements and perform certain actions, it develops an understanding of its own basic perceptual and motor-based abilities, which serve as an essential first step toward acquiring more complex cognitive processes, such as language. Thus, goal-directed actions are described as primary for embodied theorists because these theorists argue that thought and language would not occur without the initial performance of these actions. In essence these low-level actions and movements are viewed as necessary for higher cognitive capacities to develop. In order to consider evidence in support of this initial theoretical assumption, one need only turn to the research of developmental psychologists Esther Thelen and Linda Smith (Thelen and Smith 1994, Thelen 1995). By briefly summarizing one of their numerous experiments on infant development, we can consider why many embodied cognition theorists characterize Thelen and Smith’s research as some of the most influential and convincing developmental evidence in support of this assumption that “thought grows from action and that activity is the engine of change” (Thelen 1995: 69). This discussion will highlight why the primacy of actions unfolding in real time is one of the defining theoretical assumptions of embodied accounts of cognition.

Read the whole entry.

And this one is also useful - a look at specifically the heart and how it impacts cognition and consciousness.

Psychology beyond the Brain

What scientists are discovering by measuring the beating of the heart

Image: David Marchal

The brain has long enjoyed a privileged status as psychology’s favorite body organ. This is, of course, unsurprising given that the brain instantiates virtually all mental operations, from understanding language, to learning that fire is dangerous, to recalling the name of one’s kindergarten teacher, to categorizing fruits and vegetables, to predicting the future. Arguing for the importance of the brain in psychology is like arguing for the importance of money in economics.

More surprising, however, is the role of the entire body in psychology and the capacity for body parts inside and out to influence and regulate the most intimate operations of emotional and social life. The stomach’s gastric activity , for example, corresponds to how intensely people experience feelings such as happiness and disgust. The hands’ manipulation of objects that vary in temperature and texture influences judgments of how “warm” or “rough” people are. And the ovaries and testes’ production of progesterone and testosterone shapes behavior ranging from financial risk-taking to shopping preferences.

Psychology’s recognition of the body’s influence on the mind coincides with a recent focus on the role of the heart in our social psychology. It turns out that the heart is not only critical for survival, but also for how people related to one another. In particular, heart rate variability (HRV), variation in the heart’s beat-to-beat interval, plays a key role in social behaviors ranging from decision-making, regulating one’s emotions, coping with stress, and even academic engagement. Decreased HRV appears to be related to depression and autism and may be linked to thinking about information deliberately. Increased HRV, on the other hand, is associated with greater social skills such as recognizing other people’s emotions and helps people cope with socially stressful situations, such as thinking about giving a public speech or being evaluated by someone of another race. This diverse array of findings reflects a burgeoning interest across clinical psychology, neuroscience, social psychology, and developmental psychology in studying the role of the heart in social life.

A key moment for the field came in 1995, when Stephen Porges, currently a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, put forth Polyvagal Theory, a theory that emphasized the role of the heart in social behavior. The theory states that the vagus nerve, a nerve likely found only in mammals, provides input to the heart to guide behavior as complex as forming relationships with other people as well as disengaging from others. A distinguishing feature of Polyvagal theory is that it places importance not on heart rate per se, but rather on the variability of the heart rate, previously thought to be an uninteresting variable or mere noise.

Since 1995, a broad spectrum of research emerged in support of Polyvagal theory and has demonstrated the importance of the heart in social functioning. In 2001, Porges and his colleagues monitored infants when they engaged in a social interaction with the experimenter (cooing, talking, and smiling at them) and when they encountered the experimenter simply making a still face—a frozen expression—toward them. Infants’ HRV not only increased during the social interaction, but also increases in HRV predicted positive engagement (greater attention and active participation by the infants) during this interaction. In adults as well, HRV appears to be associated with success in regulating one’s emotions during social interaction, extraversion, and general positive mood.

A number of recent findings converge on the role of heart rate variability in adaptive social functioning as well. One study by Bethany Kok and Barbara Frederickson, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, asked 52 adults to report how often they experienced positive emotions like happiness, awe, and gratitude and how socially connected they felt in their social interactions every day for a period of nine weeks. The researchers also measured the HRV of each individual at the beginning and end of the study by measuring heart rate during a two-minute session of normal breathing. HRV at the beginning of the study predicted how quickly people developed positive feelings and experiences of social connectedness throughout the nine-week period. In addition, experiences of social connectedness predicted increases in HRV at the end of the study, demonstrating a reciprocal relationship between heart rate and having satisfying social experiences.

Although high heart rate variability seems to have largely positive effects on people’s emotional state and their ability to adapt to their social environment, the story may soon become more complicated. For example, in unpublished research, Katrina Koslov and Wendy Berry Mendes at Harvard University have recently found that people’s capacity to alter—and in a sense regulate—HRV predicts theirsocial skills. In three studies, Koslov and Mendes measured this capacity to alter HRV during a task involving tracking the location of shapes on a computer screen (completely unrelated to anything social), and demonstrated that people’s capacity to alter HRV during this task subsequently predicted both their ability to judge others’ emotions accurately and their sensitivity to social feedback (how much they responded positively to positive feedback and negatively to negative feedback). These findings suggest that although high HRV at rest may be adaptive for social engagement, the capacity to modulate HRV also promotes social sensitivity.

Writers from Ovid to Stevie Wonder have used the heart as a convenient metaphor to convey emotional responses toward others. Emerging research suggests, however, that this metaphor is an oversimplification. The heart has complex interactions with how we treat and evaluate others, how we cope with social stress, and how we manage our emotions, and research has only begun to explore the relationship between cardiovascular processes and social life. Although philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know,” it is clear that psychological research is beginning to illuminate this mystery.

1 comment:

gregory said...

spreading out from the purely physical (the brain makes consciousness) into the body and the world around ... ok, cool

but you know where this is going ... the field

consciousness is omnipresent ...

maybe by the end of the century science will get what mystics have known for millenia