The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience

The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience

by Francisco J. Varela

The authors argue that only by having a sense of common ground between mind in Science and mind in experience can our understanding of cognition be more complete.

  • Category: Philosophy
  • Rating: 4.11
  • Pages: 328
  • Publish Date: November 13th 1992 by The MIT Press
  • Isbn10: 0262720213
  • Isbn13: 9780262720212

Read the Book "The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience" Online

But while there has been some success in mimicking certain cognitive functions (to some degree), providing an unproblematic account for representation, for intelligence and for consciousness has remained elusive(there's also problems to do with learning, as well as what's known as the frame problem). These theories are radical departures from standard cognitive science, rejecting the fundamental assumption in cognitive science that the brain is basically an information processing device, and instead focusing on the embodied sensorimotor coupling of a dynamic system (whether biological or not). Below are two quotes I pulled out of the book that I think do the best job of summarizing their basic points: Embodied action: by using the term embodied we mean to highlight two points: first, that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context. By using the term action we mean to emphasize once again that sensory and motor processes, perception and action, are fundamentally inseparable in lived cognition. Their basic criticisms of representation are indeed well grounded, but only given certain naive (albeit historically dominants) conceptions of representation, where representation is viewed as the "act of re-presenting pregiven features of the world through a process of recovery of information from sensory signals". Their criticism hinges on the mistaken notion that there is an optimal fit correspondence between a pregiven world and our representation of it. - there is an object world, sensory signals hit us, our brain processes the information, and re-presents it accurately. In fact, they seem to assume that all the theories of representation out there don't account for the possibility of error, don't even think they need to. Now, if they had argued that no popular theories successfully account for the normativity of representation, I would agree. What they argue against is the notion of evolution as resulting in organisms that have an optimal fit for their environment, and thus against the notion that our sensory systems can accurately represent the environment since they themselves are not optimally fit for representation. Again, I found this really frustrating to read because most of their criticisms against an "optimal fit" theory of evolution are also correct. It means that representation isn't "of things", but emerges from an internal process facilitated by "contact" with things. It means these insights into how cognition actually works themselves need to be accounted for in a theory of representation. Just keep in mind when you're reading their embodied action section that what they are saying should be input for theories of representation, not arguments against it.

Motiva-me a identificação daquilo que suporta a nossa experiência, da sua construção e variabilidade, para assim poder conceber modelos de interação humano-computador no campo do design de narrativa interativa (com propriedades de agência, jogo ou procedimentais) mais efetivos, ou seja, mais consentâneos com as propriedades ótimas do ser-humano.

Given the increasingly integrative nature of fields of study pertaining to the science of human experience (or is the experience of human science?) previously conceptualized as separate and distinct (i.e neurobiology, cognitive psychology, buddhism, philosophy etc), it was initially of historical interest that I picked up this book. Here via the focussed introspective study of experience and in particular expressed by the concept of the 12 aggregates of dependent arising, it is shown that groundlessness need not lead to nihilism.

Most of the explanations felt incomplete, inadequate, and unconvincing (especially their exposition on the no-self, critique of adaptationism in evolution, and presentation of Nagarjuna's logic in refuting independent existence), the diagrams were unhelpful and useless (esp. those on cellular automata, which I felt lacked enough explanation), and they seemed to take Buddhist views for granted (because, apparently, they have been again and again confirmed by meditation practitioners) when those views had to be argued for, ESPECIALLY in the context of cognitive science and in making the case for the fusion of cognitive science and the mindfulness/awareness tradition (which they do, but failed to convince).

In this book Eleanor Rosch who developed Prototype theory in concept based learning explores Buddhist traditions of mindfulness to suggest a new way of studying the mind that avoids the "objective world" and "mind as computer" naivety of cognitivism, and also the rather solipsistic subjectivism of the extremes of idealism and skepticism. Her earlier work identified 'taxa' or 'natural prototypes' that seems to emerge across cultures to identify objects in the world based upon: 1) Are used or interacted with , by similar motor actions 2) have similar perceived shapes and can be imaged 3) have identifiable humanly meaningful attributes 4) are catagorised by young children 5) have linguistic primary This links with the work of Mark Johnson on basic catagorisation and also Larkoff whose book I recently reviewed. Her point in this text is that the next step of realising that in Wordsworth's words we "half create, And what perceive" the world, is to make the link to Heidegger and Buddhist traditions of mindfulness.

Highlighting the difference between descriptions (science's main output) and experience (our daily, direct experience given through our perception and mind) the authors assert that the latter has been largely, and unfortunately, ignored by Western scientific knowledge. But that is not the case for the tradition of mindfulness/awareness meditation hailing from centuries-old Buddhism: indeed, the open-ended study and exploration of perception and consciousness is at the heart of meditation practices of many schools of Buddhism, and -as the authors explain- has some things in common with a few Western practices such as psychotherapy (e.g. Klein's object relations theory and, I'd say, the present-day "mindfulness" fad) and, especially, phenomenologists Husserl's and Mearleau-Ponty's forays on systematic explorations of perception and experience. The authors' declared goal is to attempt and build a bridge between these two disconnected but complementary, traditions, specifically cognitive science and mindfulness/awareness. Varela builds upon his previous work with former partner Humberto Maturana (see Tree of Knowledge) and, from the perspective of cognitive science, develops a theory of mind dubbed "enactivism" ( Instead of following through such theories to their conclusion - namely, in the authors' view, the lack of an ultimate 'Self' -, philosophers and scientists do not follow their conclusions unto experience, insisting that though science and philosophy point to the inexistence of a self, humans cannot help but to cling to the illusion that we exist; that, somehow, we are something. - is just that, i.e. a messy aggregate of things our minds desperately grasp to in order to feel 'existent,' needs not lead to madness or anxiety. Traditional Western thought, however, fixed as it is on language, words, on descriptions of experience, has mostly missed this point (analytic philosophy in special).

Being a tech geek and having academic background in the IT/CS field I had already quite a decent familiarity with IA and cognitive sciences and such subjects, and the fact that this domain had always fascinated me was the reason I picked this book. Touches the philosophy of being and the self. Examines, different philosophies related to cognition and the nature of being and first person understanding of the experience itself. Of course, you have to do your little wikipedia researches throughout the course of the read in order to make sense of basically anything but yea like I said in the beginning, once you finish reading this book you know A LOT more about cognitive science than before.

I understand that the authors wanted to provide more of a practical guide the lived experiences, but if that was the case then they did not need to be highly critical of western thought on that matter.