The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Summary of Seminar #2

Posted in Seminars by Ezequiel on November 16, 2006

Hi,

I’m posting some brief comments on the discussion led by Tom in seminar #2. I didn’t take any notes, so this will also be a test for my failing memory. Please, feel free to add/correct.

Tom’s concern was to question the role of AI in shifting paradigms in cognitive science. He briefly described the shift from cognitivism (understood broadly as a framework that sees the mind as computational/representational) towards embodied-embedded cognitive science (where cognition is understood as the engagement in appropriate coping through situated and embodied sensorimotor coupling). Tom’s first point was that developments in AI (e.g., Brooksian robotics) were principal factors in instigating a turn towards the embodied-embedded conception of cognition. During discussion on this point it emerged that it would also be proper to recognize that traditional AI was also instrumental in defining the cognitivist paradigm in the first place (eg Turing machines, von Neumann architecture; the picture of influences is blurred a bit when we remind ourselves that Turing’s machine is itself based on a cognitive theory of how a person would solve an algorithmic problem).

Tom later described the new shift that is starting to take place now, a shift towards enactivism. This perspective takes on the lessons of embodied-embedded cognitive science, but asks new questions such as the nature of agency, values, but most importantly in Tom’s view, the role of experience in informing, directing, or inspiring both theoretical and empirical research (eg first person approaches, neurophenomenology, etc).

It is unclear whether this shift is empirically-driven, eg, by the development of new methodologies in AI. It may be that stumbling blocks in embodied-embedded (and dynamical!) research in robotics may indicate the need for a new set of questions and methods. But, according to Tom, the main shift will probably be driven by the experiental element, by the need to take experience seriously in guiding research.

Tom presented a diagram where the interactions between experience/phenomenology, theoretical and empirical work were all present and bi-directional. Of course, questions emerged about the practicalities of such a view. When we talk about experience, are we talking only about humans? (for how can we know about other cases?). How does a phenomenological insight illuminate modelling research, say a new kind of robot? During discussion some people suggested that experience was not absent in current scientific methods, only very well regulated through experimental procedures and embodied practices that can be learned and replicated. The problem remains how to use more ineffable structures of experience that emerge from phenomenological (or other) methods a) in a learnable, communicable way and b) in a practical combination with theory and practice to produce new results. Tom suggested that this would be a real challenge because the structure of our scientific and academic communities do not facilitate such kinds of developments.

One general question that I have is how much of these paradigm shifts (the one that happened and the one that is coming) are real paradigm shifts or splits in the cognitive science communities. I’m always amazed at how much of what I would personally call GOFAI/cognitivism is still going on strongly throughout the world. So maybe there’s no shift happening at all? On the one hand, this is sign that we may indeed be dealing with a paradigm shift situation (because if we were talking about within-paradigm developments, then you would expect the within-paradigm community to follow the turn towards embodied-embedded and maybe even enactive perspectives). The fact that logical arguments do not seem to suffice to produce such a change in the practice of certain communities indicates that we are indeed dealing with a change of views which is more related to personal and emotional perspectives on the relative importance of some elements or some questions within cognitive science.

Ezequiel

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4 Responses

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  1. Edgar said, on November 16, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Tom,

    Could you please upload the slides from your talk? Cheers.

    An open and maybe naive question: is actually possible to consider the experiential element in empirical research? if so, how? could someone give/sketch a concrete example?

    It seems to me (maybe I am missunderstanding the point) that the experiential element would be limited to human based empirical research (ie we would be talking about ourselves experience?, which then seems to be limited to more theoretical research). Or, can someone clarify the first-person (experiential) approach?

  2. tomfroese said, on November 16, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Ezequiel,

    Thanks for the summary! I think that we should perhaps have a more focused seminar session sometime in the future which attempts to address more concretely, for example, how phenomenological (1st-person) insights and AI can mutually inform each other. This would be very important for pushing the work in the CCNR into another new and uncharted territory!

    Edgar,
    I’ve (hopefully) uploaded the slides successfully. And yes, you are right: the question of how 1st-person experience relates to our empirical work is one which needs to be addressed more fully. I think Ezequiel made one helpful suggestion along the lines of that (at least implicitly) being aware of the structures of our 1st-person experience can change the way we ask questions about empirical and theoretical research.

    For a more concrete example, I would have a look at Varela’s first paper on Neurophenomenology. In there he proposes a research project which combines experiential and empirical insights in a mutually informative manner.

    Hope this helps!

    Tom

  3. Fernando Almeida e Costa said, on November 17, 2006 at 12:03 am

    Ezequiel wrote:
    “One general question that I have is how much of these paradigm shifts (the one that happened and the one that is coming) are real paradigm shifts or splits in the cognitive science communities. I’m always amazed at how much of what I would personally call GOFAI/cognitivism is still going on strongly throughout the world.” (….)
    The fact that logical arguments do not seem to suffice to produce such a change in the practice of certain communities indicates that we are indeed dealing with a change of views which is more related to personal and emotional perspectives”

    Well, at least what we are witnessing fits nicely into some of the strong, if *controversial*, kuhnian criteria for a paradigm shift to occur in science, e.g.,
    a) different paradigms are incommensurable: accordingly, the GOFAI/cognitivist camp (with all its recent facelifts) and the embodied/embedded/dynamical camp seem to have “bored each other to silence”; (Wheeler quoting a p.c. of Harvey and Beer, AL, vol.11, p216). That would be a strong sign of “incommensurability”.
    b) besides the theory itself, a scientific paradigm contains “an entire constellation of beliefs, values and techniques, and so on, shared by the members of a given community”(Kuhn, SSR, 2nd ed. p.175). It seems to me that a lot of hors-science strictu-sensu stuff is strongly present in the divide between the GOFAI and EEDyn camps.

    So, if there is such a thing as a “paradigm shift” in the strong kuhnian sense, this one seems to be a very good candidate.

    As for the *second shift* (the turn towards the themes of agency, values or the role of experience etc.) a similar divide relatively to the EEDyn camp doesn’t seem to exist. I would avoid speaking of a paradigm shift here.

  4. Ezequiel said, on November 17, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    I agree with Fernando. I think it will be very important to be clear about what cases we describe as paradigm shifts. I think the shift from cognitivism to embodied-embedded-dynamical approaches is a good candidate. Whether enactivism is properly a new paradigm or a development within the embodied-embedded paradigm is less clear to me. I can only describe my personal views. I see myself as working within the embodied-embedded framework and concerned with the questions asked by enactivism. I don’t see big tensions or contradictions in holding to both of these.

    Ezequiel


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