Monday, February 28, 2011

Calvo on Plant Neurobiology

In preparation for the upcoming "Systematicity and the Post-Connectionist Era" workshop, I have been reading some papers by one of the organizers, Paco Calvo.  (Incidentally, I have seen a draft of the program and it looks great.)
Put bluntly, an information‑processing system counts as computational insofar as its state‑transitions can be accounted for in terms of manipulations on representations. The relation of representation refers to the standing in of internal states of a physical system for the content of other states. Cognitive activity is thus marked by the processing of representational states. We need nonetheless a more stringent definition of ‘representation’; a principled way to decide when a system manipulates representational states, beyond the somewhat trivial observation that one internal state ‘stands in’ for the content of another state. For present purposes, I propose to consider the following two principles. First, according to a principle of dissociation, for a physical state to become representational, the state must be able on occasions to stand for things or events that are temporarily unavailable. And second, according to a principle of reification, a system state can only count as representational if it can be detected and a parallel drawn between the state in question and the role it plays in the establishment of a connection between the system’s input and output states. That is, we must be able to identify specific physical states with the computational roles they are supposed to play.
     This framework can serve to assess the cognitive capacities of any information‑processing system whatsoever. Notice that it does not rely upon the existence of any specific brain tissue to perform computations. A physical state is contentful if it can be spatiotemporarily identified as causally efficacious in the connection of the system’s input and output states in such a way that the state in question ‘hangs in there’ while the input state it is tuned to decays or is no longer present.v That’s all that is needed. No restrictions in terms of implementation, neuronal or what may, are imposed. I propose therefore to adopt these two principles, taken together, as a condition on the possession of a cognitive architecture, and consider plants as candidates for its satisfaction. (Garzon, 2007, pp. 209-10).
So, Garzon is an embodied cognitionist of a representationalist stripe.  Nicely muddies the water about what embodied cognition people think.  I take it that there is a fair diversity of opinion among embodied cognitionists.

Now, I've long been keen to get on the table a "mark of the cognitive" for various reasons, but one is simply so we can at least get in the ballpark of what we are talking about.  Now, it seems to me that Paco has informed us what he is talking about.  So, given that, I can see how he can maintains that plants are cognitive systems.

But, I don't see that we are necessarily talking past one another.  It seems to me that we can have common ground in the view that the plant cognition he is talking about differs from the human cognition that I am talking about.

Garzon, Francisco Calvo, Plant Signaling & Behavior 2:4, 208-211; July/August 2007


  1. So, Garzon is an embodied cognitionist of a representationalist stripe. Nicely muddies the water about what embodied cognition people think. I take it that there is a fair diversity of opinion among embodied cognitionists.
    This caught my eye; I'm working through Chemero's book on the blog and did Chapter 2 last week. In it, Tony lays out a little history to place RECS in context, and one of the useful things he identifies is that embodied cognition is, generally, representational and computational. He thinks this is a bit of an error, in that it's trying to combine two essentially incommensurable flavours of psychology (structuralism and functionalism). So yes, the water really is quite muddy. I quite liked this analysis, actually; any thoughts?

    While I'm here, I'll mention Chapter 3 is coming up when I get time today; it's about theories of representations and I'd be interested in your thoughts there, too, on whether Chemero's set up a fair target.

  2. Hello,

    Very good site you have created. Plant neurobiology studies those aspects of plant physiology with perceived similarities to the neurobiological processes of animals. It concerns mostly the sensory adaptive behaviour of plants and plant electrophysiology.....