Embodiment: Six Themes

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I’m writing this from Zürich airport, on my way back to England after an excellent sojourn at the Dharma Sangha Zen Centre (www.dharma-sangha.de) on the German/Swiss frontier.  I was there for a cosy meeting of the Society for Mind-Matter Research (www.mindmatter.de) on the topic of embodiment. My talk gave a brief overviews of six ways in which my research has investigated the role of embodiment in mind and computation.  You can view my slides here: prezi.com/view/TLzIVu5YT

Aaron Sloman on the Extended Mind – in 1978

It’s easy to be unaware of the fact that notions similar to, if not identical with, the concept of the “extended mind” were in circulation before, say, 1998. Yet there were writers advocating active (as opposed to philosophical) externalism before that date. I have noted before that Tuomela 1989 is one such source:

“The main arguments in [this] paper are directed against the latter thesis, according to which internal (or autonomous or narrow) psychological states as opposed to noninternal ones suffice for explanation in psychology. Especially, feedback-based actions are argued to require indispensable reference to noninternal explanantia, often to explanatory common causes.” — Methodological Solipsism and Explanation in Psychology, Raimo Tuomela, Philosophy of Science Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1989) , pp. 23-47.

But there is an even clearer statement of the thesis dating back a decade before that, in Aaron Sloman’s The Computer Revolution in Philosophy (available for free here): Continue reading

Multi-sensory integration without consciousness

This morning, Tad Zawidzki drew my attention to the publication on Tuesday of this paper: Multisensory Integration in Complete Unawareness. What Faivre et al report there is exactly the kind of phenomenon that Ryan Scott, Jason Samaha, Zoltan Dienes and I have been investigating. In fact, we have been aware of Faivre et al’s study and cite it in our paper (that is currently under review).

Their work is good, but ours goes further. Specifically, we show that:

  • a) Cross-modal associations can be learned when neither of the stimuli in the two modalities are consciously perceived (whereas the Faivre et al study relies on previously learned associations between consciously perceived stimuli).
  • b) Such learning can occur with non-linguistic stimuli.

Together, a) and b) really strengthen the case against accounts that assert that consciousness is required for multi-sensory integration (e.g., Global Workspace Theory). Some defenders of such theories might try to brush aside results like that of Faivre et al by revising their theories to say that consciousness is only required for higher-level cognition, such as learning; and/or by setting aside linguistic stimuli as a special case of (consciously) pre-learned cross-modal associations which can be exploited by unconscious processes to achieve the appearance of multi-sensory integration. Our results block both of these attempts to save (what we refer to as) integration theories.

A holistic defence of the Knowledge Argument?

It was mentioned in the most recent set of updates that I have been thinking about Jackson’s Knowledge Argument, with some ideas coming up in the UG seminar I recently led on the topic. One idea seems to be a holistic defence of Jackson. Here’s what I was thinking:

People like Lewis and Nemirow reply to Jackson’s Knowledge Argument by claiming that knowing what it is like to see red is an ability (such as the ability to recognise or imagine red), and therefore the fact that Mary gains this knowledge after seeing red for the first time casts no aspersions on physicalism.

People like Tye reply that this objection doesn’t work, since we can have an experience of, say, red35, and thus know what such an experience is like, without being able to re-identify, recognise, imagine, etc. that shade. That is, colour experience “outstrips” our abilities.

In the seminar, a student (Nicholas Courtney) proposed that the relevant abilities might not (only) be offline, recognitional ones, (like all those Tye considers, I believe, though I haven’t checked), but rather online, discriminative ones. Unlike the offline abilities, it is hard to make sense of having an experience of red35 without having these online abilities. This argues against Tye, and thus against Jackson.

He’s my idea: “Perhaps,” the holist defender of Jackson reasons, “we do have these discriminative capacities, and perhaps they are even necessary for certain kinds of colour experience. Nevertheless, our experience of red35 on its own (RED35-SOLO) is not the same as our experience of it in the context of red34, say (RED35-CONTRAST-RED34). So the above response to Tye fails. That discriminative capacities may be necessary for having the experience RED35-CONTRAST-RED34 does not show that they are necessary for having the experience RED35-SOLO. So it may still be maintained that at least some of our experiences outstrip our abilities, and thus the Ability response to Jackson fails – Mary acquires something other than an ability when she first sees red (on its own) for the first time.”


Arguments against internal representations

In a few weeks, Zoltan Dienes will give his excellent COGS Open Lecture in defence of the notion of sub-personal representation. He and I were chatting about this, and I volunteered to provide him with a list of the arguments against internal representations that I have encountered. Here’s what I came up with. If you have any additions/corrections/questions, please comment!

Internal representations…

…Get in the way/are a bottleneck; the world is its own best model (Brooks)
…Are homuncular (Harvey)
…(the term) means so many things to so many people that it is meaningless/useless (Harvey)
…(the concept) is incoherent; our only clear notion of representations are public ones (Harvey)
…Are static, whereas cognition is dynamic (van Gelder)
…Are observer-relative (syntax) (Searle)
…Are observer-relative (semantics) (Searle)
…Require an indirect theory of perception, which is false
…Are not explanatorily necessary
…Are not computationally/mechanically necessary
…Are not found in the brain
…Have externally-individuated content, but computation/mechanism must be local
…Presuppose a sharp divide between subject and object, mind and world, whereas subjects enact their worlds. (Varela)
…Suffer from the frame problem
…Require an untenable sense-model-plan-act cycle
…Are disembodied, whereas cognizers are embodied
…Assume a sharp subject-world boundary, but there is no such boundary
…Must be grounded to do explanatory work, but cannot be
…Are based on a technological metaphor
…Cannot account for: qualia, emotion, pain, intransitive consciousness, etc.
…Are inert: representing the world to be P cannot ever cause someone to do something
…Are discrete/atomistic, while real mental content/propositional attitudes are holistic
…Can give enabling explanations of mental states, but not constitutive accounts of them (McDowell)
…Require an algorithmic/formal account of mind, whereas Gödel proved the mind is non-algorithmic/non-formal
…Are sub-personal and thus only have “as-if” content, whereas mental states have genuine content (McDowell)

For what it’s worth, I don’t think any of the above show that the notion of internal representation is not a valuable one for explaining the mind.

Exchange with Fodor on Darwinism, University of Maryland, College Park, November 8th 2007

On November 7th and 8th, Jerry Fodor gave a series of lectures entitled “Against Darwinism” at the University of Maryland.  The text upon which the lectures were based can be found at:

Click to access Fodor_Against_Darwinism.pdf

I attended the lectures and had a few exchanges with Fodor during the discussion.  What follows is a transcript of our exchange on November 8th.  It gets a bit repetitive, so I’ll summarise:  Fodor argued that natural selection explanations are not causal; rather, they are historical.  I claim that there are non-causal explanations that are nevertheless non-historical (they appeal to general principles rather than only particular events).  My evidence for this is the ability of Darwinist explanations to render certain data non-mysterious, even if they do not do so by providing a causal explanation (in Fodor’s sense).

Continue reading