Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mirror Neurons and Self-Recognition

Last night I gave a talk at the University of Memphis at least nominally about mirror neurons, so I have been thinking about them a bit.  So, this post on a recent paper on mirror neurons and self-rcognition in Rhesus monkey caught my eye.

As an added benefit of my all around enjoyable and stimulating visit to Memphis, I has the surprise benefit of meeting Rick Dale.  The co-incidence is that he published his review of Chemero's book in the same issue of The Journal of Mind and Behavior as the one in which I published my reply to Justin Fisher.  Small world.

Cognitive Resources

One of the challenging features of coming to grips with the hypothesis of extended cognition is sifting through the many ambiguous claims that appear in the literature.  The most familiar, of course, is the claim that cognitive processes depend on bodily and environmental processes.  Is this dependence constitutive, as the EC folks maintain, or merely causal, as Rupert, Adams, Aizawa, and others maintain?

The term "cognitive resource" has an ambiguity as well.  This can be brought out through the  parallel case of "computational resource".  In a dual core processor of a standard desktop computer, each processor would be a computational resources and both would realize computational processing.  Computational processes take place in both CPUs.  But, note that the hard disk of a standard desktop computer is also a computational resource, but it is not one in which computational processes take place.  The process of computation takes place in the CPU(s).  So, you can have a computational resource in which computation does not take place, but which is merely a tool for the bona fide computational processes in the CPU.

So, return to the case of a cognitive resource.  The question is what kind of cognitive resource is, say, the non-neural parts of the body?  Are the non-neural parts of the body a cognitive resource in which cognitive processing takes place (as in the parallel case of a dual core processor) or are they cognitive resources that are mere tools for the bona fide cognitive processes in the brain (as in the parallel case of the computer's hard disk)?   This is yet another way of getting at what is at issue in the EC debate.  The use of the phrase "cognitive resource" threatens to mask the issue.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Extended Mind in The Philosophers Zone, 2 October 2010

As everyone knows, those Aussies are pretty cool.  The Zone.

103rd Annual Meeting of The Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology

New Orleans, Louisiana
March 10-12, 2011

First Call for Papers

The Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology invites submission of papers for its annual meeting March 10-12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The submission deadline is November 1, 2010.

Founded in 1904, SSPP promotes philosophy and psychology by facilitating the exchange of ideas among those engaged in these fields of inquiry.  Papers on any philosophical topic are welcome.  Topics that have cross-discipline appeal are especially suitable. For more information on the 2011 meeting see:
http://southernsociety.org/annualmeeting.htm

Presidential Speaker for 2011 will be:
Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin at Madison)

Invited Philosophy Speakers for 2011 include:
Terry Horgan (University of Arizona)
Michael Lynch (University of Connecticut)
Jonathan Weinberg (Indiana University)

Invited Symposia include:
Author Meets Critics on  Jason Baehr, The Inquiring Mind: Intellectual
Virtues and Virtue Epistemology (OUP, 2011)
Experimental Philosophy
Metaphysics and Applied Ethics
Neuroscience, Moral Psychology and the Virtues

Submissions exceeding 3,000 words will not be considered.  Submissions should include a word count, an abstract of less than 150 words, and be prepared so as to permit blind  reviewing; authors should indicate their identity only on the cover letter that accompanies their submission.  Please submit file as lastname.firstname.doc or lastname.firstname.rtf or lastname.firstname.pdf.

Papers, along with the Paper/Abstract Submission Form on the website, should be submitted electronically to:

            Dr. Robert Barnard
            Department of Philosophy and Religion
            University of Mississippi
            SSPP.phil.2011@gmail.com

SSPP Webpage: http://southernsociety.org/

Wilson's New Argument

(e) External cognitive resources often play the same or similar functional roles in the detection and creation of meaning as do internal cognitive resources, or complement, compensate for, or enhance those roles. External cognitive resources can replace internal cognitive resources (e.g., external memory) or can create capacities in agents that they would not otherwise have (e.g., Kanzi, the bonobo who has exhibited advanced linguistic capabilities). In either case, they are no less central to cognition than are internal cognitive resources. (Wilson, 2010, p. 175).


Note that the non-modal premise (e) is much stronger than the modal commentary about what external resources can do.  Rupert, Adams, and Aizawa have been pretty insistent over the years that we at least do not want to challenge the modal claims about the possibility of extended cognition; instead, we challenge the idea that external resources function in the same way as to internal resources.

Brain-Body-Environment at Indiana University

Graduate Traineeships at Indiana University

The Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University invites applications from outstanding students for its NSF-funded graduate training program in the dynamics of brain-body-environment systems in behavior and cognition.

The goal of the program is to train doctoral students to think across traditional levels of analysis in the cognitive, behavioral and brain sciences. In order to accomplish this goal, we have developed new courses in situated, embodied and dynamical cognitive science, a professional development seminar, summer research internships, an annual research showcase and a colloquium series offering extended opportunities for trainees to interact with visiting speakers.

Benefits for students entering this program include a $30,000 annual stipend, tuition, and coverage of additional fees and health insurance.

Our interdisciplinary training group includes cognitive science faculty from the Departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Physics, and History & Philosophy of Science, as well as from the School of Informatics and Computing. In addition, we have strong partnerships with top researchers in the fields of dynamical, embodied and situated approaches to behavior and cognition, both nationally and internationally.

Applications are due December 31.  Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible for funding through this training program. For more information, contact Dr. Randall Beer at rdbeer@indiana.edu or visit http://igert.cogs.indiana.edu

Our program promotes and values a diverse scientific community.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Weiskopf on Embodied Cognition

There is what I think is a very nice paper by Weiskopf dealing with embodied cognition in a slightly out of the way place, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.   Additionally, there is a reply to Weiskopf by Raymond Gibbs and Marcus Perlman and a rejoinder by Weiskopf.  I have not read the latter two, but I think it should be a useful exchange.

I remember the first time I heard Dan give this paper, I was sitting with Fred Adams, and Fred kept saying, "That's what I'm gonna say!"  So, there are commonalities between Fred's paper that has just appeared in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences and Dan's. 

Coincidentally, the volume of SHPS was edited by someone familiar to the EC crowd, Mark Sprevak.  It is a special issue on Computation and Cognitive Science.  That guy Aizawa has a paper in the collection as well.

Wilson's Premise (e)

In an earlier post, I did register the kind of objection one should probably explore against Wilson's premise (e), namely, that external cognitive resources do not often play the same or similar functional roles in the detection and creation of meaning as do internal cognitive resources.  I also noted some apparent shift of position between Wilson's statement of the premise and the accompanying text that would appear to be commentary.

Wilson adds this to his defense of (e) on the next page
Third, even those happy to make both of these concessions might well think that the final premise, (e), is indefensible, since there will always remain a crucial asymmetry between internal and external cognitive resources. Roughly speaking, the latter only gain purchase on cognitive activity via the former, and so internal resources remain fundamental to cognition in a way that vitiates the inference to externalism. (Wilson, 2010, p. 176).
Here I think that Rupert, Adams, and Aizawa have been pretty consistent in admitting that extended cognition is possible, hence that we do not maintain that there will always be a crucial asymmetry between internal and external resources.  Maybe there are other critics of EC who have maintained this.  The Rupert, Adams, and Aizawa view, at any rate, is that there will typically be an asymmetry.  (But, really, Adams and I don't really talk about this asymmetry kind of stuff anyway.  That's Rupert's, and others', spiel.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Miller's Review of Clark's Supersizing

At the Journal of General Evolution, here.

Minds are Semantic Engines


*

(a) Minds are intentional machines or semantic engines.
(b) Intentional machines or semantic engines detect and create meaning.
(c) Meaning detection and creation involve the sequestering and integration of internal and external cognitive resources. 
(d) Internal cognitive resources are part of the structure of the intentional machine that detects and creates meaning.
(e) External cognitive resources often play the same or similar functional roles in the detection and creation of meaning as do internal cognitive resources, or complement, compensate for, or enhance those roles.
Thus:
(f) External cognitive resources, like internal cognitive resources, are part of the structure of the intentional machine that detects and creates meaning.
Therefore:
(g) The extended mind thesis is true.
While Wilson takes this to be a new argument, and by some measures it surely is, one can see where the challenge will arise.  (e) is going to be challenged just as were claims that Inga and Otto are in all important respects alike.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

CFP: Debates on Embodied Social Cognition

PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES

CALL FOR PAPERS

SPECIAL ISSUE: DEBATES ON EMBODIED SOCIAL COGNITION

SPECIAL EDITOR: SHANNON SPAULDING


Rationale:
Embodied Cognition (EC) is a research program that challenges the basic tenets of Cognitivism, the standard position in philosophy of mind and psychology. EC rejects the view that cognition consists in computational, representational symbol manipulation. EC’s account of cognition emphasizes the embodiment of organisms as opposed to abstract symbol manipulation. Of particular interest here is the domain of social cognition, our ability to understand and interact with others. EC accounts of social cognition aim to explicate how our embodiment shapes our knowledge of others, and in what this knowledge of others consists. Although numerous diverse accounts fly under the EC banner, common to these accounts is the idea that our normal everyday interactions consist in non-mentalistic embodied engagements.

In recent years, several EC theorists have developed and defended innovative and controversial accounts of social cognition. These accounts challenge, and offer deflationary alternatives to, the standard cognitivist accounts of social cognition. As embodied social cognition accounts grow in number and prominence, the time has come for a dedicated, sustained debate on the contentious elements of EC accounts of social cognition.

The goal of this special issue is to host such a debate with the aim of bringing clarity to the discussion of social cognition. We welcome papers that explicate and evaluate embodied cognition’s innovative and controversial claims about social cognition. Topics of interest include (but are not limited to) phenomenology-inspired accounts of social cognition, non-mentalistic accounts of intersubjectivity, the role of narratives in coming to understand others, and the claim that natural language is necessary for thinking about others’ mental states. We encourage both critical and favorable papers on any of the above topics, or other related topics.

All submissions should be made directly to the journal's online submission website at www.editorialmanager.com/phen.   Authors will be asked to indicate type of submission; they should indicate Special Issue – Embodied Social Cognition
   
Practical information:

•    Word limit: 8,000 words (about 25 doubled-spaced pages)
•    Deadline for submissions: March 1, 2011
•    Publication: early 2012

So, Gibson's not *that* dismissive

Gibson writes,
I am also asking the reader to suppose that the concept of space has nothing to do with perception. Geometrical space is a pure abstraction. . . . Space is a myth, a ghost, a fiction for geometers. (Gibson, 1979, p. 3).
Ok.  Now that seems pretty dismissive of geometry to me, but I think that Andrew and Gary are probably right that this is a bit hyperbolic.  Gibson apparently does not want to go so far as to not use geometry in his scientific thinking.  After all, it looks as though he implicitly needs at least some geometry, and maybe even some Euclidean geometry (but not necessarily Cartesian co-ordinates), to determine how the ambient optic array changes when a person goes from sitting to standing.
From Gibson, 1979, p. Figure 5.4.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A New Argument for EC

In a previous post, I cited the following from Wilson's "Meaning Making":
... Adams and Aizawa (2001) on Clark and Chalmers (1998), Grush (2003) on Haugeland (1998), and, most recently, Rupert (2004) largely on Rowlands (1999). For the most part, these critiques have to reconstruct, sometimes quite imaginatively, the arguments that they critique, leaving one with the feeling that externalists must surely have something more up their sleeves than what their critics draw from the hat. (Wilson, 2010, p. 173).
I am perfectly open to a further explication of how the many passages Adams and I have cited regarding the C-C fallacy turn out to involve something that we have overlooked.  We've looked at many variations on the kinds of coupling that have been proposed in the literature and found them wanting.  So, even if one does have the feeling that externalists have something more up their sleeve, it would be good if they would bring it forth.  Let's get beyond that "coupled in the right way" stuff and let's see what they have up their sleeve.

But, rather than explicate the argument that Adams and Aizawa have mistakenly interpreted as the C-C fallacy, Wilson offers a new argument for EC.  Some commentary omitted, the argument is this:

(a) Minds are intentional machines or semantic engines.
(b) Intentional machines or semantic engines detect and create meaning.
(c) Meaning detection and creation involve the sequestering and integration of internal and external cognitive resources. 
(d) Internal cognitive resources are part of the structure of the intentional machine that detects and creates meaning.
(e) External cognitive resources often play the same or similar functional roles in the detection and creation of meaning as do internal cognitive resources, or complement, compensate for, or enhance those roles.
Thus:
(f) External cognitive resources, like internal cognitive resources, are part of the structure of the intentional machine that detects and creates meaning.
Therefore:
(g) The extended mind thesis is true.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Do we have a winner?

So, it is back to Wilson's "Meaning making ..." where I think we find an instance of the C-C fallacy.
Common to both active cognition and cyborg fantasy arguments for extended cognition is the idea that by examining just what is involved in the exercise of some particular cognitive capacity, one finds that it actually does or could well involve causal loops that extend beyond the body of the individual agent. In particular, these causal loops (do or may) pass through objects and other entities in the agent's environment, and it is only the whole, functioning, beyond-the-head causal system that constitutes the matter in motion that realizes the exercise of the capacity. (Wilson, 2010, p. 173).
So, first of all, it's nice to have another example of the advocates of EC invoking the language of causation and constitution.  Further support for my contention that Ross and Ladyman should be directing their critique not just at Adams and Aizawa, but at least at a large number of advocates of EC.

Second, in the second sentence, it looks to me as though Wilson is moving from an observation about the causal contribution of some extracortical processes to cognitive processing to a conclusion about the constitutive contribution of these extracortical processes. What else could be going on?
... Adams and Aizawa (2001) on Clark and Chalmers (1998), Grush (2003) on Haugeland (1998), and, most recently, Rupert (2004) largely on Rowlands (1999). For the most part, these critiques have to reconstruct, sometimes quite imaginatively, the arguments that they critique, leaving one with the feeling that externalists must surely have something more up their sleeves than what their critics draw from the hat. (Wilson, 2010, p. 173)
And I agree that one has to use some imagination to try to figure out what the EC arguments are supposed to be.  But, the only thing that seems to me to make sense of the text is the C-C fallacy.  Of course, that's not a good argument, which is a defeasible reason to think that the reading is incorrect.

But, then again, "philosopher makes mistake" is not news, right?  Yes, it would be great to think that the EC folks have something more up their sleeves, but what is it?  Adams and I have also taken into consideration the stuff about loops, "trust and glue", etc., etc.  I feel as though we are still waiting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Runeson's Polemic

Most of the time, Runeson seems to be pretty fair in describing what is going on in debates over perception, but not here:
At times it may seem that Gibson accepted static-view ambiguity (e.g., 1966. pp. 198-199) and even gave nodding recognition to the reasonableness of the invocation of assumptions (Gibson, 1979, p. 167). However, it would be wrong to take this as his definite position on static information. A circumspect reading reveals that Gibson's admissions of static-view ambiguity were of a temporary nature, made in the context of his all-out war against the dogma of universal equivocality in proximal patterns. Because, strictly speaking, the demonstration of a single counter instance would decide the basic issue in his favor, there is a premium in giving priority to nonstatic conditions, in which case specificity is less difficult to demonstrate (Runeson, 1988, p. 298).
"dogma of universal equivocality"?  "the demonstration of a single counter instance would decide the basic issue in his favor"?  It seems that Gibson and Runeson are near the other extreme claiming that there is no ambiguity at all.

Personally, it seems a more middle of the road view that there is some ambiguity sometimes is a pretty likely view.  And, if that is true, then it seems as though we would need a vision science framework that hypothesizes something like "presuppositions".  That was what I was driving at in trying to find out what Gibsonians say about static viewing of the Ames Room.

This is so hard to interpret, it could be philosophy

Although I like Runeson's paper, there are times when it seems to me he can be equivocal.  Here's a sample:
Not even for static monocular viewing conditions does the notion of equivalent configurations capture the relevant conditions for perception. It is therefore without necessary consequences for the nature of perceptual systems. Granted, the analysis of equivalent configurations can help in constructing and analyzing illusory demonstrations. In such cases, perception can yield outcomes that are erroneous in at least some respects. This is to be expected from the view of perception as information-based and functioning through inherent compatibility with environmental constraints.  (Runeson, 1988, p. 302).
Now, in the first sentence, he could be implicitly limiting himself to "static monocular viewing conditions in the Ames Room", or not.  It's clear he doesn't think that there are equivalent configurations in the Ames Room.  Natural physical constraints, he proposes, rule that out. But, does he think this holds more generally?  There are times when he suggests that we can't rule this out.  He thinks it's hard to confidently conclude that "There exist no equivalence breaking evidence"; that would proving a negative existential.

In the next sentence, he suggests that equivalent configurations have no necessary consequences for the nature of perceptual systems, which sounds kind of dismissive of the enterprise of studying them.

But, then, in the third sentence, he suggests that there could be some use for the analysis of equivalent configurations.  Then, continues to suggest that sometimes there could be equivalent configurations, so that there could be somewhat erroneous perceptions and that, in fact, this is to be expected.  This seems to me to run counter to Andrew's occasional hints that there is always univocal information.


It's tough.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Runeson, Nomic Constraints, and Coincidences

Runeson's appeal to physical constraints seems to me not entirely foreign to cognitivist approaches.  Perhaps that is another reason I find it so congenial, even if I am not convinced about its robustness.

In his discussion of the Ames Room, Runeson writes "Geometrically, the chances that an equivalent configuration would occur by random is therefore only 1 in a 100 million and that is for a very simple, barren case. For a room without the size restriction or with furniture and structured surfaces, the chances are many orders of magnitude smaller yet"  (Runeson, 1988, p. 299) and "One must then ask, do prevailing physical and ecological constraints suffice to exclude the kind of room shapes that would be projectively equivalent with normal rooms?  (ibid.)


At least some cognitivist accounts of amodal completion appeal to things like image statistics to account for the completion of the thing on the left and the non-completion of the thing on the right.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gibson, Runeson, Physics and Affordances

Andrew sometimes comments that ecological psychology has moved along, in some respects, since Gibson.  And Chemero argues that for a diversity of interpretations of affordances.  (Chemero manuscript here.)  Actually, the other papers in that issue of Ecological Psychology probably attest to a diversity of opinion as well.

So, once we get to the point where we recognize that Ecological Psychology is not a single, monolithic body of theory, we can move on to spelling out the differences.  And, some of those differences might concern how physical and geometrical quantities are to be used, or not, in Ecological Psychology.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Memory Studies

The other day, John Sutton drew my attention to a new journal, Memory Studies.  Among the most read articles there is one by Henry Roediger, III, and James Wertsch, entitled "Creating a New Discipline of Memory Studies".  One might think that this development challenges the crudely-stated Adams-Aizawa view that there is unlikely to be a science of memory.

But, really, I think this merely prompts a clarification.  What the creation of a journal, PhD program, undergraduate major, interdisciplinary major, interdisciplinary department shows is merely some degree of organizational unity. Organizational unity, however, is distinct from theoretical unity.  This is clear when we think about, say, the American Philosophical Association or the American Psychological Association, or even large philosophy departments or large psychology departments.  There is at least some measure of theoretical diversity within these large organizational units.

What A&A are skeptical about is the prospects of a unified theory of memory that covers all the things that currently go under the rubric of "memory studies".  Indeed, Roediger and Wertsch describe the many different methods and conceptions of memory that are to be found in the area. 
Considering just the scientific study of memory, we can list nearly a dozen different approaches. Students of animal learning and behavior have a long and honorable tradition of studying animal learning and memory, both in conditioning paradigms (e.g. classical or Pavlovian conditioning) and under more naturalistic, ethological conditions (e.g. how birds and squirrels retain and find the food they have hidden; how fish and eels, among other animals, are able to return to their spawning grounds, often after many years). Neurobiologists consider changes in the nervous system as a function of experience, particularly changes in synaptic plasticity. Cellular biologists examine these changes at the cellular level. Systems neuroscientists examine brain networks and structures that underlie various forms of memory. Behavioral neuroscientists use animal models to study the contributions of various structures (e.g. the hippocampus and surrounding tissue). Cognitive neuroscientists use techniques of brain imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, event-related potentials) to chart the course of neural activity while human subjects encode and remember events. Neuropsychologists study  memory disorders caused by diseases of the brain (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) or from tumors or head injury. Cognitive psychologists study learning and memory using behavioral experiments in which people are given memory-related tasks and their performance (correct recall or recognition; speed of responding; errors in responding) is measured. Clinical psychologists consider remembering of traumatic episodes as a source of disturbance of functioning, and some therapies are intended to alleviate these traumatic memories. Forensic psychologists design experimental and other research as it pertains to issues in the legal system. Scientists interested in artificial intelligence also analyze memory as they design computer programs to exemplify intelligent behavior. The approach of cognitive science considers computer models of memory.
     All the issues sketched above fall under the general heading of scientifi c approaches, but of course they begin with different starting assumptions, use different paradigms and examine different issues. (Roediger & Wertsch, 2008, p. 10).
So, our skepticism concerns the prospects for the development of a unified theory of these diverse things that have been called "memory".  Humans can sometimes be brought together in to more or less coherent organizational wholes, but nature is often less agreeable.

As an illustration of the potential for the parting of the ways of organizational and theoretical unity, I am reminded of Gentner's history of the cognitive science society.  An image tells the story:


The cognitive science society has apparently not created a unified AI-Anthro-Ling-Neur-Phil-Psych theory of cognition.  Instead the society is apparently becoming a psychology society.

But, anyway, I'm interested to read some of the articles in Memory Studies.

Runeson and Affordances

Here is how Runeson describes the information one uses in static viewing of the Ames room in order to perceive a rectangular room.
Geometrically, the chances that an equivalent configuration would occur by random is therefore only in a 100 million and that is for a very simple, barren case. For a room without the size restriction or with furniture and structured surfaces, the chances are many orders of magnitude smaller yet.
Physical constraints. Solid chunks of matter can not be distributed arbitrarily in space, especially not in a gravitational field. Hence, out of the total set of geometrically possible configurations, only a subset can be physically realized (Todd, 1985). The subset that can be realized through more or less natural shaping processes is even smaller. The physical constraints that apply to the manufacture of roomlike enclosures include gravity and other load forces, strength and weight of materials, methods for shaping and joining parts, economy of space, materials, and labor. One must then ask, do prevailing physical and ecological constraints suffice to exclude the kind of room shapes that would be projectively equivalent with normal rooms?  (Runeson, 1988, p. 299).
Part of why I like this is that it seems to me to be talking about the good old-fashion geometry and physics I learned in college and before.  I get that.

But, it also makes me wonder how one fits the talk of affordances and the ecologically meaningful into the story.  Affordances and ecological meaning here seems to me to be superfluous.  So, I don't really see how Runeson needs the kind of thing that Gary describes in comments on this earlier post:
I think the best way to get a grip on ecological information is to forget about the complexities of higher mammalian perception and look at the bacterium as the exemplar of detecting ecological information.

If you put a bacterium in a sucrose solution, the bacterium is able to detect or discriminate the differential sucrose gradients and orient itself such that its propulsion will maximize the exposure to sucrose. For ecological psychology, *this* is the paradigm case of successful perception. The ecological information in this example is the nutritional properties of the sucrose. There is nothing intrinsic to the sucrose molecule that makes it "ecological information" or "nutrition". Rather, it is ecological information only in relation to the nature of the bacterium's specific metabolism. But this doesn't make it "subjective".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gibson and Turvey/Carello versus Runeson on Physics and Perception

In The Ecological Approach, Gibson is keen to move away from the concepts and quantities of physics, and perhaps geometry, as useful theoretical apparatus for vision science.  So, for example, in the summary for Chapter 1, he writes,

SUMMARY
The environment of animals and men is what they perceive. The environment is not the same as the physical world, if one means by that the world described by physics.
     The observer and his environment are complementary. So are the set of observers and their common environment.
     The components and events of the environment fall into natural units. These units are nested. They should not be confused with the metric units of space and time.
     The environment persists in some respects and changes in other respects. The most radical change is going out of existence or coming into existence.
Turvey & Carello, 1986, say similar sorts of things:
Fig. 1.1. In conventional discussions of space perception, 'space' is a mathematical concept. Theory and experiments focus on how an observer perceives points, distances between points and motions of points localized by triplets of values in a Cartesian coordinate system. The mathematical conception of space is traditional and, perhaps, convenient but it has little bearing on what animals (including humans) need to perceive in order to get around successfully in their cluttered environment. (Turvey & Carello, 1986, p. 133).
Runeson, for his part, however, does not seem to abide by this prohibition on the concepts and quantities of physics and geometry.  For example, he writes,
Geometrically, the chances that an equivalent configuration would occur by random is therefore only in a 100 million and that is for a very simple, barren case. For a room without the size restriction or with furniture and structured surfaces, the chances are many orders of magnitude smaller yet.
Physical constraints. Solid chunks of matter can not be distributed arbitrarily in space, especially not in a gravitational field. Hence, out of the total set of geometrically possible configurations, only a subset can be physically realized (Todd, 1985). The subset that can be realized through more or less natural shaping processes is even smaller. The physical constraints that apply to the manufacture of roomlike enclosures include gravity and other load forces, strength and weight of materials, methods for shaping and joining parts, economy of space, materials, and labor. One must then ask, do prevailing physical and ecological constraints suffice to exclude the kind of room shapes that would be projectively equivalent with normal rooms?  (Runeson, 1988, p. 299).
Personally, I like Runeson's approach, because it is more familiar to me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Runeson's Disambiguation of the Ames Room

So, simplifying, Runeson claims that the reason that the static aperture viewing of the Ames room leads to the perception of a rectangular room is that, in the real world, the trapezoidal room is so unlikely to exist.  The trapezoidal case is, as Dretske and those armchair philosophers might call it, not a "relevant alternative".

Ok.  Now, this solution would not seem to me to help with the amodal completion of the pac-man to a circle.  We univocally see a circle even though the pac-man is not a lawfully improbably entity.  The laws of physics/geometry do not make it highly unlikely that the world will contain a pac-man.  Indeed, free dynamic viewing reveals it to be a pac-man. (And, really, one gets a lot of different things to be amodally completed to a circle, e.g. a tear drop shaped thing with the pointy end occluded.  Is the circle really more probable than any of these?  Or maybe is it more probable than all of the others put together?)

[Incidentally, the dynamic free viewing of the pac-man doesn't make the illusion go away. This is apparently unlike what happens with dynamic viewing of the Ames Room.  The Ames Room illusion apparently fades considerably with free movement away from the aperture.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Empirical Psychologists vs Armchair Philosophers 2


Some weeks ago in this post at his blog, Andrew was complaining about philosophers threatening to be irrelevant with their out-of-this world thought experiments and imaginary scenarios and the like.  So, being the small-minded person that I am, I'm pleased to find Runeson, of whom Andrew appears to have a decent opinion, has borrowed to some degree from philosophical work.
In a philosophical analysis of the information in signals, Dretske (1981) is explicit on this:
The fact that we can imagine circumstances in which a signal would be equivocal, the fact that we can imagine possibilities that a signal does not eliminate, does not, by itself, show that the signal is equivocal .... To qualify as a relevant possibility, one that actually affects the equivocation of (and therefore information in) a signal, the possibility envisaged must actually be realizable in the nuts and bolts of the particular system in question. (p. 131) (Runeson, 1988, p. 298)
In truth, I think that this relevant alternatives idea might have begun with an Oxford don, J.L. Austin, a chap who was, I think, not very much interested in science.

J. L. Austin, Runeson's Hero?
As an essentially irrelevant aside, my frequent partner in crime, Fred Adams is a Dretske student.  (He's even mentioned in the front matter of Knowledge and the Flow.)

Tomorrow I'll try to get back to some serious posts on Runeson.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Andrew Wilson's "Book Review" Post on The Bounds of Cognition

Andrew has a lengthy post on Bounds here at "Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists". The discussion proceeds within the context of a Gibsonian approach to perception.

Empirical Psychologists vs Armchair Philosophers 1

Some weeks ago in this post at his blog, Andrew was complaining about philosophers threatening to be irrelevant with their out-of-this world thought experiments and imaginary scenarios and the like.  So, being the small-minded person that I am, I'm pleased to find Runeson, of whom Andrew appears to have a decent opinion, has a somewhat less hostile take on out-of-this-world thought experiments
In the ecological perspective an interesting empirical problem follows: How would we fare perceptually if we were placed in a world that was less constrained-for instance, one in which some of the above constraints on room shape were relaxed? An Ames' room viewed from noncanonical points would instantiate such a condition. Those (as yet unspecified) motion-independent invariants whose validity is conditional on normal shape constraints would be specifying the wrong spatial layout. To the extent that those invariants remained perceptually relied upon, the perceiver would be in trouble. Could perceptual leaming effect reliance on only the types of information that remain fully valid (motion perspective, binocular disparity, fine texture gradients, etc.)? If it could, how efficiently, comfortably, and confidently the perceiver could function in that environment appears an open question of both theoretical and applied relevance. (Runeson, 1988, p.302).
What if we lived in a world with different laws of physics?  When is that going to happen?  Yet, such a scenario is one that might have theoretical and applied relevance?  Would Andrew have a (spherical) cow thinking about these questions? =)

Maybe the divide here is not between philosophers and psychologists (as Andrew seems to suggest), but those who are and who are not open to hypothetical reasoning.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Future Posts 9/13/2010

So, I have a few more posts on Runeson's paper for the next few days.  It's pretty interesting, but far from answering all my questions.

I'll get back to "Meaning making ..." eventually.

I had forgotten about this study

In recent discussions of aperture vision, Gary appears to have been articulating a view according to which studying aperture vision is not doing ecological psychology.

He writes,"So Gibson would respond to Ken by saying that in the aperture experiment, there is mere sensation going on, but no perception, because perception is defined as the discrimination of meaningful ecological information and there is none available in the ambiguity of the aperture experiment."

But, there is this study:
The Distorted Room Illusion, Equivalent Configurations,
and the Specificity of Static Optic Arrays

Sverker Runeson
Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

The distorted room illusion (DRI) and the attendant argument for perceptual ambiguity is critically analyzed from a Gibsonian/ecological point of view. The notions of multiple specification, conflicting information, and perceptual skill are invoked in showing how the ecological approach can accommodate illusion effects that may remain under mobile binocular viewing conditions. Static optic arrays are shown not to be ambiguous. So-called equivalent configurations
are found to be analytic artifacts, appearing when the problem of information is treated in geometrical terms without regard for constraints due to physical and ecological regularities. The relative importance of motion-based and motion-independent information is discussed.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 1988, Vol. 14, No. 2, 295-304

Meaningless Aperture Vision?

In an earliest post, I wrote " something is going on during episodes of so-called "aperture vision" and a scientist might well want to know what.  So, why not have a scientific study of aperture vision along with a scientific study of "the actual binocular vision system"?

In the comments, Gary wrote the following

What he meant was that mere sensory stimulation falls shorts of *meaningful* perceptual awareness i.e. an awareness of an affordance. It isn't like when you look through an aperture your vision fades to black or anything, *it just doesn't mean anything*. Gibson liked to talk about the Ganzfeld experiments wherein subjects looked at an undifferentiated visual field (you can try this with cut-open pingpong balls; it's fun). When you perceive an undifferentiated visual field (such as when looking at the pure sky), there is *sensory stimulation* but no available *stimulus information* and thus no perception an affordance, which is defined in terms of stimulus information (the information discrimination of which can help effectively regulate your changing relationship with the environment).

So Gibson would respond to Ken by saying that in the aperture experiment, there is mere sensation going on, but no perception, because perception is defined as the discrimination of meaningful ecological information and there is none available in the ambiguity of the aperture experiment.
I hope that clarifies things. 
So, here's a claim: in aperture vision there is no discrimination of meaningful ecological information.

I don't understand why that is true.   Don't the windows, or children, or balloons give me meaningful ecological information? Don't the windows afford something like "see-out-ability"?

And don't the doors in the version of the Ames room belong afford "walk-through-ability?"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Active Cognition Arguments

Active cognition arguments are so called because they all appeal to the active exercise of cognitive capacities in the real world ...
     These arguments all focus on determinate forms of a particular cognitive ability (e.g., memory, attention, problem solving) as they are exercised by individual agents. They view the integration of individuals with both their biological and artificial environments as critical to their status as cognitive agents with these particular capacities. With this focus on actual agents and the abilities they act on, active cognition arguments try to preempt the objection that "the extended mind" is merely a conceptual possibility or a far;on de parler. The chief aim of active cognition arguments has been to show directly that much of cognition as we know it is extended; the real question for their proponents is just which aspects of cognition are extended, and in what ways. (Wilson, 2010, p. 172).
The first thing to be on the look out for in what follows, I think, is an instance of the coupling-constitution fallacy.  When an argument begins by drawing attention to the "important" contribution some bodily or environmental process makes to cognition, one can expect the fallacy to arrive sooner or later.  Similarly, when an argument begins by drawing attention to how one actively exercises one's cognitive capacities in the world, one is drawing attention to the way one is causally connected to the world, hence probably lining up to commit some version of the coupling-constitution fallacy.

But, that aside, it is important to note that Wilson, at least, is not merely arguing that EC is possible.  He wants to argue that something closer to the view that EC is a prevalent feature of the human condition ... kind of like saying that we are natural born cyborgs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What's Wrong with Rhodopsin?

Looking up info for another blog post, I see that Adams and Aizawa gave another example trying to indicate what the coupling-constitution distinction might be (rather than trying to give a philosophical account of what the distinction might be).   The process is the isomerization of rhodopsin upon photon capture.
    Both Rockwell, (2005), and Hurley, (forthcoming), express skepticism about the coupling-constitution distinction, although neither express serious reasons for doubting the distinction.  There is, it seems to us, some reason for their suspicion, namely, that it is hard to make out this distinction for the case of cognition.  What is the difference between things that merely cause cognitive processes and things that constitute cognitive processes?  If we restate the question slightly, the source of the difficulty should be clear.  What, we should ask, is the difference between things that merely cause cognitive processes and things are cognitive processes?  The problem lies in the uncertainty about what exactly cognitive processes are. In support of this diagnosis, consider a case where we do have a well-established theory of what a given type of process is.  Consider again the process of nuclear fission.  The process of nuclear fission is constituted by the process of a large atomic nucleus being broken into smaller atomic nuclei.  Nuclear fission can be caused by bombardment of the nucleus with neutrons.  The process of neutron bombardment causes nuclear fission, but does not constitute nuclear fission.  Consider the isomerization of the retinal component of rhodopsin in the human eye.  This process is constituted by a change in the molecular structure of the retinal component from 11-cis retinal to all-trans retinal.  It is typically caused by absorption of a photon.  Now the distinction is intuitively clear, although possibly difficult to explicate philosophically.  Where we have a clear theory of the nature of a process, we have a very fair idea of the difference between what might cause it and what might constitute it. (Adams & Aizawa, 2008, p. 101).
They object to the nuclear fission example because "the literal description of nuclear fission is mathematical and incorporates no such simple intuition".  (Ross and Ladyman, 2010, p. 163).  Ok.  So, what's the problem with the rhodopsin example?

Another slow news day in Shreveport ...

Here in the Shreveport Times, they can publish a blurb on a philosophy professor and give the copy editor the day off.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Meaning making ..." can wait

Over the past few days, I've been enjoying some great exchanges on ecological psychology with Andrew Wilson (Thanks, Andrew!), which is consuming all of my usual blogging time and more.  That and teaching and the usual work tell me I should put my "Meaning making ..." posts on hold for a bit.  I know everyone is crying.

Gibson on Aperture Vision

In The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Gibson speaks rather disparagingly of what he calls "aperture vision":
The eye is easily deceived, and our faith in the reality of what we see is therefore precarious. For two millenniums we have been told so.
     The purveyors of this doctrine disregard certain facts. The deception is possible only for a single eye at a fixed point of observation with a constricted field of view, for what I called aperture vision. This not genuine vision, not as conceived in this book. Only the eye considered as a fixed camera can be deceived. The actual binocular visual  system cannot. (Gibson, 1979, p. 281)

Ok.  So, grant that aperture vision is not genuine vision as Gibson conceives it.  Concede, just for the sake of argument, that only the eye considered as a fixed camera can be deceived and that the actual binocular visual system cannot.  Still, something is going on during episodes of so-called "aperture vision" and a scientist might well want to know what.  So, why not have a scientific study of aperture vision along with a scientific study of "the actual binocular vision system"?

Just be sure, I guess we can add, not to simply assume that what one learns from aperture vision applies to "genuine vision".  What's wrong with that?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What's the "trick" here?

In some comments over at "Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists" here and here, I have been wondering about the Gibsonian claim that "Only the eye considered as a fixed camera can be deceived. The actual binocular visual  system cannot. (Gibson, 1979, p. 281)"  and that "all illusions are tricks".  I am curious about the snake illusion and certain auditory illusions.  What's the trick in these cases?

But certain cases of amodal completion raise the same problem.  The illusion is that some occluded object looks circular, when it is not.  What's the "trick" in these cases?

Now, I know that Gibsonians often worry about 2D drawn illusions, but at least some of the problematic amodal completion cases seem not to depend on the 2D character of the illusion.  Readers can verify this for themselves by creating circular "tiles" with parts cut out and see for themselves.  

Seeing, however, as I learned how to use Windows Moviemaker for my appearance on Philosophy TV, I thought I would venture to add some video showing the "tile" I made.  The video is not meant to replace doing the demo for one's self, but it was fun for me to make. How many philosophers add video to their blogs?  (It's a good thing I'm not dreaming of going to film school, but that's another matter.)


video

EC: Wild or Mild?

A while back, Gary Williams was proposing that we should understand EC as something other than a radical claim.  I'm sure that there are non-radical elements and takes on EC.  (Indeed, as I have posted before, I think that edgy ambiguity is almost a modus vivendi of EC.)  For example, it is not radical to claim that the body and environment play an important role in the life of the mind.  If that's all one wants out of extended cognition, then to my mind everyone but Leibniz and a few of his sympaticos is on board.

Do you like your EC mild or wild?

But, there are those who do intend to have EC be a radical claim.  Wilson is one of them:
Locational externalism, environmentalism, and the extended mind thesis are radical forms of externalism in at least two ways. First, they do not rest on claims and intuitions about whether the content of a pair of states of two individuals in different environments (or one individual in two such environments over time) is the same or different, about how particular intentional states are taxonomized, or about the role of the physical or social environments in individuating such states. Instead, they appeal to the nature of psychological processing, to the arbitrariness of the head (or the skin) for bounding cognitive systems, and to what happens in real-life, online cognitive activity in the world. Thus, if the extended mind thesis is true, it is true in virtue of something implementationally deep about cognition, rather than some debatable view of mental content. Second, locational externalism is not simply a view of how we "talk about" or view cognition and the mind-about the epistemology of the mind, one might say-but about what cognition and the mind are-about the ontology of the mind.  (Wilson, 2010, p. 171).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Andy Clark comes to Dallas, TX!

So, this is pretty cool.  Andy will be giving a talk within 150 miles of where I live.  Almost nothing ever happens around here!  I should probably play hooky and go just because, for once, I can.

Details here.

Extended Cognition and Epistemic Action

Extended Cognition and Epistemic Action (with A. Clark & K. Vaesen), special issue of Philosophical Explorations (forthcoming).

This is probably worth keeping an eye out for.

Epistemology and Extended Cognition Workshop

Oooh.  This sounds cool.  http://www.philosophy.ed.ac.uk/events/EpistExtendedCog.html.  Another reason I wish in lived closer to Edinburgh.

That Leverhulme Trust sounds like a fine group.  They also sponsored the Causality in the Sciences workshop as well.

The Big 80's

During the 1980s, many philosophers of mind, and even the occasional cognitive scientist, were very exercised about something called "the problem of intentionality." The problem was something like this. There are certain things in the world that appear to possess, through their operation and functioning, a special kind of property: intentionality. This is the property of being about something, of having content about that thing, of carrying information about that thing. The problem of intentionality was threefold: to explain what intentionality was; to delineate which things had intentionality (and so which things didn't); and to provide an account of just why they had not only intentionality, but the particular intentionality they had-their content. The third of these chores was the core one, the task of specifying in virtue of what certain things in the world were about the particular things they were about. (Wilson, 2010, p.167).
I'm glad that Wilson recounts this bit of history of the profession.  In fact, I like the entire set up of the paper.  Adams and I were both interested in this literature, even to the point of contributing (if you can call it that) to it.  So, in our 2001 paper, "The Bounds of Cognition," we just assumed that everyone knew what we we talking about when we said that cognition requires intrinsic content.  Very roughly, it's the content one is theorizing about in Wilson's third chore.

Some have complained that nothing can have content intrinsically, but I think Adams and I said enough to have avoided that confusion.  Moreover, "intrinsic content" was a bit of jargon from that literature.  We have since given up using the term.  Yet, even the term to which we have moved, namely, "non-derived content" has not been without criticism.  See, for example, Fisher's review of The Bounds of Cognition in the Journal of Mind and Behavior.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

EC or not EC?

Deric Bownds here suggests that this research in which emotional negativity was reduced for participants who placed a written recollection of a regretted past decision or unsatisfied strong desire inside an envelope provides a case of embodied cognition.

What do you say if your are Andy Clark?
What do you say if you are Rob Wilson?

My guesses: No. Yes.  Andy, I think, (as I've posted before) thinks that one has to have informational resources in order to have extended cognition, but Rob, I think, does not have this requirement.  (Why I think this about Rob will only come out in my forthcoming posts on his "Meaning making the and the mind of the externalist".  Please stay tuned.

Carman on Merleau-Ponty on Perception

Hurley, Ross & Ladyman, and others, have objected to Adams and myself drawing attention to a distinction between causation and constitution that we take to be implicit, and sometimes explicit, in the EC literature.  Moreover, I have sometimes been taken to task for misreading Noë on the role of action in perception.


Reading through a new text on Merleau-Ponty, by Taylor Carman, however, makes me feel a bit better that we have not simply imagined this distinction and Noë's view on the matter.
Merleau-Ponty maintains that perception is not an event or state in the mind or brain, but an organism’s entire bodily relation to its environment.  Perception is, as psychologist J. J. Gibson puts it in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, an “ecological” phenomenon.  The body consequently cannot be understood as a mere causal link in a chain of events that terminates in perceptual experience.  Instead, it is constitutive of perception, which is the most basic—and in the end, inescapable—horizon of what Merleau-Ponty, following Heidegger, calls our “being in the world” (être au monde).  Human existence thus differs profoundly from the existence of objects, for it consists not in our merely occurring among things, but in our actively and intelligently inhabiting an environment.  (Carman, 2008, p. 1)
Obvious caveats apply.  Perhaps Carman has gotten M-P wrong.  Perhaps Noë doesn't buy this part of M-P's view.  My point is that plausibly conscientious readers can come to the view that a causation-constitution distinction is in play in at least some segments of the literature.  (I think that Mike Wheeler, for one, has moved away from this way of thinking about EC.)  Moreover, plausibly conscientious readers can come to the conclusion that Noë, under M-P's influence, thinks (at least at times) that perception requires bodily action.

Philosophy TV Live!

Here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Karina Vold Weighs in on EC

Now Toronto undergrad Karina Vold supports EC.  Congratulations on your publication, Karina.

Another sign of things going bad for me?

Benighted Methodology

I'm kind of surprised at the popularity of replies to the Adams and Aizawa that are based on attributing to us some benighted methodology.  According to Rob Wilson, with our concern for the mark of the cognitive, we are doing conceptual analysis.  According to Tony Chemero, we are doing a priori metaphysics.  According to Susan Hurley, with drawing attention to the role of causation versus constitution, we are doing metaphysics in advance of looking to actual scientific practice.  According to Ladyman and Ross, by drawing attention to the c-c distinction, we are doing primitive analytic metaphysics.

But, as I see things, the debate over EC involves both conceptual issues and empirical issues.  So, suppose you think that physical actions are constitutive of perceptual experiences, rather than mere causal influences on perceptual experiences.  Then, there is a need for some conceptual clarity regarding causation versus constitution.  It's a distinction that is found in actual cognitive science, rather than stylized cognitive science.  It's more than just a philosopher's fiction.  Moreover, there is plenty of empirical evidence that bears on the claim that physical actions are constitutive of perceptual experiences.  The Bounds of Cognition, Chapter 9, bears this out by mixing both conceptual matters and empirical matters.

I think that working through philosophical issues in cognitive science in a serious way involves both conceptual/theoretical and empirical issues.  I don't see that I differ from Wilson, Chemero, Hurley, Ladyman, or Ross very much at all when it comes to a philosophical methodology of taking cognitive science seriously.  Where we seem to find real differences is in the consequences we draw from taking cognitive science seriously.