Tag Archives: 4EA cognition

New paper published: Consciousness, Plasticity, and Connectomics

The paper I co-authored with Micah Allen is finally out! It is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology (special topic issue on neuralplasticity and consciousness in the subsection Frontiers in Consciousness Research). Download it for free here:

Consciousness, Plasticity, and Connectomics: The Role of Intersubjectivity in Human Cognition

The paper is a hypothesis and theory article, meaning that we develop a new operational definition of consciousness in addition to postulating novel hypotheses about the neural substrate of consciousness. The paper is a synthesis of diverse research traditions in the field of consciousness studies. We borrow equally from sensorimotor enactivists like Alva Noe and Evan Thompson,”Global workspace” theorists like Bernard Baars, higher-order theorists like Rosenthal, Lycan, and Armstrong, social-constructivists in the tradition of Vygotsky, and recent developments in the study of “mind wandering” or “meta-awareness” in the cognitive neurosciences. We take the best of all approaches and discard the worst.

How is this paper different from all the other articles on consciousness being published today? Besides our novel theoretical synthesis of diverse research traditions, we also take the time to map out a comprehensive mental taxonomy based on both phenomenological and empirical evidence. We also take the time to define exactly what we mean by the term “consciousness”. Our most basic idea is that there is a difference between prereflective and reflective consciousness. We claim that almost all animal are restricted to prereflective consciousness whereas language-using adult humans are capable of this mentality plus reflective consciousness. Here is a table showing the qualitative differences between prereflective and reflective consciousness:


(click for full image)

We contend that we prevailing theoretical spectrum in consciousness studies has often conflated these two phenomena and/or focused on one at the expensive of the other. For example, we think that the Higher-order Representation (HOR) theorists have been trying to use reflective consciousness to explain prereflective consciousness, the “what-it-is-like” of an organism. In contrast to the higher-order theorists, we think that there are phenomenal feels (“what-is-is-likeness” or “qualia”) independently of whether there are any higher-order representations active in the brain. So although the HOR people are definitely on the right track insofar as they are interested in meta-awareness (rather than just awareness), we think they have been barking up the wrong tree by explaining “what-it-is-likeness” in terms of HORs.Micah and I contend that what-is-is-likeness is shared by all living organisms insofar as they have organized and unitary bodies. This mind-in-life thesis is taken directly from the enactivist sensorimotor tradition.

However, in contrast to the enactivist tradition, we don’t think that sensorimotor connectivity exhausts the phenomena of consciousness. In fact, we believe that an over emphasis on embodied sensorimotor connectivity is likely to overlook or downplay the significance of reflective consciousness, which we argue is grounded by language and learned through exposure to narrative practice in childhood. We contend that HORs, although not the origin of what-it-is-likeness, do significantly change the phenomenal quality of what-it-is-likeness, giving rise to new forms of narratological subjectivity. As I mentioned in a previous post , there is good reason to believe that reflective consciousness gives rise to entirely new forms of phenomenal feeling such as sensory quales (e.g. the experience of gazing at a pure red patch). Conscious pain itself could plausibly be seen a side-effect of reflective consciousness feeding back into prereflective consciousness, allowing for conscious suffering (meta-awareness of pain). In this respect, we think that the HOR theorists are perfectly right to insist that meta-awareness or meta-consciousness of lower-order mental states allows for the emergence of special forms of subjectivity. However, we side with HOR theorists like Peter Carruthers (and against van Gulick) in arguing that this meta-consciousness is not widespread in the animal kingdom, and is perhaps restricted only to those animals capable of language. As Andy Clark says,

“[T]hinking about thinking” is a good candidate for a distinctively human capacity – one not evidently shared by the non-language using animals that share our planet. Thus, it is natural to wonder whether this might be an entire species of thought in which language plays the generative role – a species of thought that is not just reflected in (or extended by) our use of words but is directly dependent on language for its very existence. (1997, p. 209)

So the philosophical significance of our paper lies in our synthesis of Higher-order Representationalism and sensorimotor theorists of consciousness. Moreover, we synthesize HOR theory with Global Workspace Theory and Dan Hutto’s Narrative Practice Hypothesis, which emphasizes the importance of embodied narrative learning as the substrate for complex folk psychological attitudes and social cognitive processing.

But this is just the philosophical significance of the paper. There is also empirical significance. Micah developed a novel understanding of the “Default Mode Network” and synthesized a great deal of current data in the cognitive neurosciences in terms of our distinction between prereflective and reflective consciousness. The devil is in the details here, so I highly recommend reading the paper for a full overview of the empirical novelty of our paper. Needless to say, we feel like our paper marks a theoretical breakthrough on both philosophical and empirical fronts. Our theory of consciousness is complex and multifaceted, which is appropriate given the target of what we are trying to explain.


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Some thoughts on the coupling-constitution fallacy and the mark of the cognitive

In Adams & Aizawa’s (A&A) recent paper in Menary’s anthology The Extended Mind (2010), they put put forward a relatively straightforward (and by now, well-rehearsed) objection to the extended mind argument:

[The coupling-constitution fallacy] is the most common mistake that extended mind theorists make. The fallacious pattern is to draw attention to cases, real or imagined, in which some object or process is coupled in some fashion to some cognitive agent. From this, one slides to the conclusion that the object or process constitutes part of the agent’s cognitive apparatus or cognitive processing. If you are coupled to your pocket notebook in the sense of always having it readily available, use it a lot, trust it implicitly, and so forth, then Clark infers that the pocket notebook constitutes a part of your memory store. If you are coupled to a rock in the sense of always having it readily available, use it a lot, trust it implicitly, and so forth, Clark infers that the rock constitutes a part of your memory store. Yet coupling relations are distinct from constitutive relations, and the fact that object or process X is coupled to object or process Y does not entail that X is part of Y . The neurons leading into a neuromuscular junction are coupled to the muscles they innervate, but the neurons are not a part of the muscles they innervate. The release of neurotransmitters at the neuromuscular junction is coupled to the process of muscular contraction, but the process of releasing neurotransmitters at the neuromuscular junction is not part of the process of muscular contraction…

So, if the fact that an object or process X is coupled to a cognitive agent does not entail that X is a part of the cognitive agent’s cognitive apparatus, what does? The nature of X , of course. One needs a theory of what makes a process a cognitive process rather than a noncognitive process. One needs a theory of the “mark of the cognitive.” It won’t do simply to say that a cognitive process is one that is coupled to a cognitive agent, since this only pushes back the question. One still needs a theory of what makes something a cognitive agent. This is another weakness of extended mind theories. Yet, in all fairness to Clark and other extended mind theorists, it must be admitted that one of the shortcomings of contemporary cognitive psychology is that there is no well-established theory of just exactly what constitutes the cognitive.

A&A’s objection is clear enough, but does this spell disaster for Clark and friends? I don’t think so.

First, I think that the recent Extended Mind literature has, for some reason, forgotten about the debates about anti-representationalism in the 90s that focused, I think, on the “mark of the cognitive” in terms of Heideggerian Cognition (embodied doing) versus Classic Cognition (explicit symbol manipulation). In light of these debates, I think Clark has already given a modest sketch of the mark of the cognitive. However, it seems like Clark does not like to self-consciously engage in this particular exercise of concept construction since in most of his responses to A&A he seems skeptical of the very idea of coming up with a “mark of the cognitive”. This puzzles me, because I am of the opinion that Clark has ample philosophical resources at his disposal for coming up with a mark of the cognitive that would adequately deter A&A from making their above objections. I am thinking of one paper in particular: Clark and Toribio’s “Doing without representing?” Here is a nice passage that, I think, can be construed as laying out a sketch of the mark of the cognitive:

On our account, the notion of Representation is thus re-constructed not as a dichotomy but as a continuum. At the non-representational end of that continuum we find cases in which the required responses can be powered by a direct coupling of the system to some straightforwardly physically specifiable parameters available by sampling the ambient environment in some computationally inexpensive way (eg. a toy car with a ‘bump’ sensor). Moving along the continuum we start to find cases in which the system is forced to dilate and compress the input space : to treat as similar cases which (qua bare input patterns) are quite unalike and to treat as different cases which (qua bare input patterns) are pretty similar. At this point, the systems are trafficking in ‘modest representations’. In addition, where such dilation and compression is achieved by the creation of a systematically related body of intermediate representations (as in the connectionist learning of such representations at the hidden unit level (see eg., P.M.Churchland, 1989) we begin to witness the emergence of full-blooded representational ‘systems’, albeit ones which remain quite unlike the classical vision of such systems as loci of moveable symbols capable of literal combination into complex wholes. (It is this classical vision of moveable symbols prone to engage in text-like recombinative antics which corresponds most closely to the vision of explicit representation which is, we claim, the proper target of many of the ‘antirepresentationalist’ arguments). And at the far end of the continuum we find cases in which the system is able to invoke various kinds of intermediate representations even in the absence of ambient environmental stimuli (ie as a result of ‘top-down’ influences.). At this point, we find systems capable of reasoning about the spatiotemporally remote etc.

Here, Clark and Toribio are giving a layercake mental taxonomy that starts with simple sensorimotor cognition, ramps up with moderate representational cognition, and achieves maturity with full-fledged representations that allow for “mental time timetravel”. I am particularly interested in the first layer: the powering of responses. This seems to me compatible with my earlier thoughts about the mark of the cognitive, where I said “I think it is reasonable to first define cognition as a regulatory or coordinating process that serves to select effective neural pathways out of internal variability.”

What do “effective neural pathways” do? First and foremost, they subserve the control of motor responses. Why should we accept this as true? Michael Wheeler asks us to consider “a compelling evolutionarily inspired thought: biological brains are, first and foremost, systems that have been designed for controlling action” (2005, p. 12). A fine example of this principle is the life cycle of the famous sea squirt. During the larval stage of its development, the sea squirt’s cerebral ganglion (the equivalent of its brain) is used to coordinate motor control for the task of finding a suitable resting place on a rock. Once attached to the rock, the sea squirt does not need its brain for controlling action and promptly digests it for sustenance and crucial energy savings. We thus have an answer to the question, “If brains are so costly to develop and maintain, what is their evolutionary usefulness?” The answer is that brains allow for a higher degree of what Wheeler calls online intelligence. “A creature displays online intelligence just when it produces a suite of fluid and flexible real-time adaptive responses to incoming sensory stimuli” (ibid.).

Accordingly, we can interpret the first layer of “powering responses” in terms of online intelligence. I believe this represents an adequate sketch of the mark of the cognitive. Coming back to A&A’s objection to the Extended Mind thesis then, I think we can plausibly argue that some of the typical case examples in the Extended Mind literature can be seen as helping regulate the production of fluid and flexible real-time adaptive responses to sensory stimuli. Otto’s notebook, for example, helps regulate his behavioral responses in a fluid and flexible way. Pen and paper helps the mathematician regulate and control his production of mathematical work. My laptop helps me regulate and control my adaptive behaviors (as a student, I must do research and write papers in order to be adaptive).

A&A’s response to these examples is that they are mere crutches, but do not constitute the cognitive process. But this objection only works if our proposed mark of the cognitive excludes the cases. I am of the opinion that these cases of extended cognition are compatible with our fundamental mark of the cognitive: the powering of responses in a functionally adaptive manner. If anything helps regulate and control the powering of behavioral responses in a reliable and automatic way, then it should be considered part of the cognitive system. The “control” criterion excludes “mere causal couplings” such as our reliance on oxygen in the air around us, since this does not control the cognitive system, but rather, causally supports its existence. I believe this criterion adequately stops worries about “cognitive bloat”. This neobehaviorist-functionalist definition of cognition is compatible with the Heideggerian paradigm of cognition. However, given the 2nd and 3rd layers of the cake that invoke representational prowess, any mature science of mind must also talk about how representations qua representations also help to regulate and control the powering of responses. In modest cases, this might involve topographic representations modulating and regulating sensorimotor connections in semisophisticated perceptual cognition. In more extreme and human-specific cases, this would involve the integration of linguistic-cultural representations into the cognitive system to help modulate and control sociocognitive behaviors. This would be a case of narratological cognition (See Dan Hutto’s Narrative Practice Hypothesis).

It seems to me then that 4EA theorists shouldn’t shy away from trying to define the mark of the cognitive. I think there are significant philosophical resources at hand sufficient for such a conceptual enterprise. My recent paper in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences defending Julian Jaynes could be seen as an attempt to lay out a mark of the cognitive, starting with what I call “the reactive mind” and ending with what I call “Jaynesian consciousness”, which Jaynes defines as ““[T]he development on the basis of linguistic metaphors of an operation of space in which an ‘I’ could narratize out alternative actions to their consequences”.

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Some thoughts on materialism, ontology, and the philosophy of mind

In my estimation, materialist or physicalist philosophy of mind has always occupied a rather strange place in the hierarchy of ideas since its coming to force in the 20th century and peaking with the “hard nosed” scientific reductionism and mind-brain identity theories in the 1950s. The strangeness arises because so many well respected scientific types accept  materialism and scientific reductionism dogmatically, yet it has a more problematic reputation in the philosophy of mind. David Chalmers is but one example of the sustained philosophical attack on the philosophical coherency of materialistic philosophy of mind. Of course, Chalmers would certainly consider himself to be a scientific monist of some sort and no doubt accepts the edicts of neuroscience without hesitation. Yet when it comes right down to it, he thinks materialism will fail as an explanation of certain mental phenomena, namely, qualia. The essence of these qualities is simply irreducible to materialistic ontology, and that’s that. Moreover, the dialectic in philosophy of mind has branched into a thousand debates about type vs token materialism, supervenience, emergentism, reductionistic physicalism vs nonreductionistic physicalism, identity theory, functionalism, and, of course, qualia, subjectivity, consciousness, experience, thoughts, beliefs, personal identity, action, and so on.

Reflecting on this twisted tangle of ideas is dizzying.  One feels as if in a labyrinth constructed entirely of neatly typed philosophy articles, all disagreeing with each other in very nuanced ways. The lack of consensus is overwhelming and, frankly, quite dispiriting. There are always revolutions within revolutions, counter-revolutions, and temporary intellectual victories, but, inevitably, the younger generations find “devastating flaws” in all preceding philosophical work. Every ten years you hear the great battle cry of “Start over!” and “Shake up the foundations!” It seems the mind sciences have always been this way.The radical shift between Jamesian psychology and Watsonian behaviorism is but one example to illustrate the “revolutionary” cliche that has crippled philosophy of mind. The once popular enterprise of exploring “deep generative grammar” is another example of rapid intellectual shifts that inevitably oversell themselves and overgeneralize their models at the expense of capturing genuine phenomena being discovered in rival labs (Chomsky’s hubris at trying to formally prove learning theories false is  embarrassing)

Everywhere we turn in the philosophy of mind we see various talk of “revolution”. I admit that I have, at times, given into the easy temptation to “turn the rugs over” and declare a sweeping intellectual coup, having at least grasped “what is truly the case”. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that a lot of “underbrush” needs to be swept away from our Cartesian and ontotheological heritage. We need to, for example, thoroughly expunge homuncular thinking, no easy task given that ontotheology is built into our linguistic forms of life. It is hard conceptual work to develop theoretical vocabularies that move away from that heritage, yet make enough sense as to be understood and accepted by the mind that is constructed by that heritage (since it is precisely  that mind which is faced with the task of consciously understanding the world around it).

Philosophy of mind then can be seen as a kind of exercise in conceptual experimentation or concept construction. Science investigates reality and philosophy generates the conceptual framework to talk about and understand that investigation. This is not an original statement. Thinkers before me (such as Deleuze) have accepted similar conceptions of what philosophy can and should do for science. When asked about his research in an interview, it is reported that Deleuze answered by saying “Bergson lamented that modern science lacked a metaphysics. I want to provide that metaphysics, and hence, I think of myself as a pure metaphysician.”

Metaphysics has a bad rap because of its historical associations with ontotheology and speculative pseudoscience. But I agree with Deleuze that we need to rehabilitate metaphysics. The classic essentialist ways of thinking simply cannot handle the complexity and dynamical properties being discovered in modern science, especially the life sciences. It seems that life has formed a brilliant habit of breaking all previous habits in the way it sustains itself through time. I contend, along with Deleuze and other developmentally oriented thinkers, that the problem of speciation and morphogenetic individuation is a paradigm model for thinking about the philosophy of mind. Deleuze helps us avoid problematic questions like, “What is the essence of the mind?”. Rather than talking about necessary and sufficient conditions, Deleuze wants to ask, “How did the mind evolve over time? What were the singularities and highest points of intensity that pushed/pulled humans into our contingent historical pathway?”

Some of my favorite points of highest intensity in human history include bipedalism, opposable thumbs, joint attention, tool construction, singing and music, symbolic thinking (systematicity in reference and compositionality), meta-awareness, introspection, theory of mind, philosophy, the scientific revolution, the information age, and, last but not least, the internet: the very tool that is allowing you, the reader, to hopefully receive these words as a stimulus for the development of interesting ideas in your brain many miles away. What do my readers think? What are the highest points of intensity for human evolution?


Filed under Consciousness, Philosophy

Link machine: Check out Andy Clark's critical review of A&A, Rubert

Since this link is being passed around the blogosphere, I thought I would share as well since it is such a great read.

Andy Clark’s double review of Adams & Aizawa’s The Bounds of Cognition and Rubert’s Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind.

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John Protevi on Alva Noe

Protevi has put up some nice comments on Alva Noe’s book Out of Our Heads over at his new blogging home (new APPS):

But I also worry about Noë’s reading of maturity as “growing comfortably into one’s environmental situation,” or as “integration” (51). Many people grow up and become mature but precisely into social situations that are disempowering for them, because they belong to disempowered political categories. It’s not that this disempowering experience is limited to immigrants, as Noë seems to imply; it’s right here at home that many people never quite feel at home, if you see what I’m getting at. Even though it’s a great advance to talk about the embodied, embedded, extended, enactive, affective subject (4EA), we shouldn’t talk about “the” 4EA subject, but about populations of subjects, many of whom suffer disempowering subjectification practices.

I think an account of “subjectification practices” is largely missing from the enactive approach these days. Protevi is right to emphasize the radical social-cultural subjectification process that happens in childhood, where we literally learn to become a person. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Daniel Hutto’s Narrative Practice Hypothesis as well as Julian Jaynes’ account of narritization and the cultural scaffold of consciousness represents the path forward for cognitive science. Protevi’s work on political affect and “bodies politic” also provides an important stepping stone for understanding the nature of cultural subjectification processes.

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Response to Fred Adams' latest critique of "Embodied Cognition"

Fred Adams has a new article out online in Phenomenology and the Cognitive sciences entitled “Embodied Cognition”. Adams is renowned for being skeptical of the 4E movement in philosophy of mind (embodied, embedded, extended, enacted). He wrote a book with Ken Aizawa called “The Bounds of Cognition” that challenges the core claims of embodied cognition. However, given his familiarity with the literature, I am very puzzled by the paper. He starts off the paper talking about Varela and Gallagher as exemplars of the embodied cognition thesis, but then spends most of the paper talking about how to reduce sentential belief-symbols to literal simulations of motor output. He writes as if sentential comprehension is the main explanatory target of EC theorists when they say “cognition is embodied”.

Anyone who has read Varela and Maturana’s work on autopoiesis would be very confused about this formulation of the problems that embodied cognition sets out to study. Varela says, for instance, that “Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with and without a nervous system.” Varela thinks that even the unicellular organism “cognizes” in virtue of its emergent self-organization of autopoiesis. This is the actual claim of embodied dynamic systems approaches to cognition, a far cry from the thesis that:

In the embodiment literature, we find the empirical step consisting of empirical correlations between certain kinds of cognitive processing and sentence comprehension and certain kinds of perceptual/motor performance.

Gibson was never concerned with “sentence comprehension”. While an admirable explanandum, Gibson thought we need to first better understand the more basic cognitive processes before we attempt to theorize about higher cognitive processes. He was almost always concerned with the cognition that we share with our animal cousins, not sentence comprehension or symbolic cognition. Many EC theorists actually propose a dual-level or dual-process model of reasoning wherein there exists a primordial, nonsymbolic level of cognitive processing shared by all animals (online processing) and a evolutionary recent and sententially grounded level of rational, serial processing (offline processing). I don’t know of any serious theorist proposing these two levels of distinctions  who makes the absurd claim that offline processing must be explained strictly in terms of online processing. Once external representations are taken up and integrated with the functioning of the cognitive system, there is no reason to suppose that the mechanism is only that of “simulation”. For example, Gibbs claims that representational (propositional) reasoning depends heavily upon analogical reason, which needs to be analyzed at the appropriate level of abstraction, not that of neurons firing. In all likelihood, it will require different explanatory tools and and terminology to explain both offline processing and online processing. Most EC theorists would simply emphasize the importance of recognizing that propositional reasoning comes after or “out of” online processing on both the phylogenetic and ontogenetic scales.

Accordingly, there seems to be a strange disconnect between Adams’ picture of EC and what the majority of serious theoreticians (that I know of) are proposing. The more I think about it, the more I think that this is a result of a widespread misunderstanding of what EC is, particularly in respect to the original formulations of Merleau-Ponty and Gibson. Some EC critics think that when we say “cognition is embodied” we are claiming that their conception of “cognition” is embodied. In actuality, we are trying to redefine what we mean by “cognition” and move away from definitions of cognition focused on sentential understanding. This is why Evan Thompson follows Varela in saying that all lifeforms exhibit cognition. Cognition is no longer manipulation of symbols, but regulation and coordination of emergent autonomous animacy/agency. This forces us to think about representations in terms of control and coordination of intrinsic movement rather than in terms of mirroring or “belief-formation”. Cognition is not sentence comprehension nor mastery of propositional concepts. We need to come up with a different concept to capture such higher-level processes.

I follow Julian Jaynes in making a distinction between what we can call cognition and narrative-consciousness. Narrative-consciousness enables the type of sentential mastery and understanding that Adams spent most of his time in the paper talking about. Giving the unique representational medium of sentential symbols, I see no reason why there cannot be an abstract analysis of such narrative mastery in terms that do not reduce to “sensori-motor simulation”. Which isn’t to say that we can make no progress on learning about the underlying functional circuitry which enables offline processing. Researching into resting state connectivity and anti-correlated functional networks is now opening up new vistas in understanding the neural distinction between online and offline processing.

This brings me to my next point: the misunderstanding of “meaning” and “affordances”. Adams follows Glenberg and Kaschak in defining affordances as “a set of actions available to the animal.” In this view, Adams seem to suggest that affordances are those cognitive systems which enable and support interaction between animal and environment. But this is exactly wrong. Affordances are not within the animal and they do not “arise” or “emerge” out of the interaction or “relation” between the animal and the environment. Affordances are real and objective. Meaning is external to the animal. For example, the ground affords support to all animals whether or not any particular one of them utilizes it for support. The affordance-property of support is embedded into the actual nature of the ground. What it really is determines what it means for the animal.

Accordingly, meaning is not generated by the interaction by the animal and environment, it is sought out and utilized. I get the feeling many EC supporters make this mistake as well. Meaning is external to the animal and needs to be found and used. For animals with the appropriate bodily capacities then, the process of finding the affordances can be decoupled from the process of using the resource. I therefore have problems with Zwaan and Madden, who Adams quote as saying “…there are no clear demarcations between perception, action, and cognition.”

I think this is stated poorly. For many higher animals, there is a clear distinction between the processing of detecting affordance-information (what Gibson calls “stimulus” or “ecological” information) and the utilization of that information for means of adaptive behavior. The is the distinction that Gibson makes between exploratory behavior and performatory behavior. However, it would be a mistake to conclude from this that the input-output model of perception is therefore right. The fact that the physical stimulus does not equate with the informational stimulus supports that idea that perception is but a perturbation upon an intrinsic dynamic network not a specific input which is mechanically read-off and used to send specific commands. As the frame-problem indicates, any concept of the cognitive system which understands the input to be “raw” or “meaningless” is bound to fail to produce functional specificity across widely changing environment demands. For embodied cognition, the given is already valenced in terms of what kind of information the animal is seeking in accordance with its internal dynamics and regulatory demands. The is the only way to avoid the input-out model. Doing so also allows us to escape from the Myth of the Raw Input, otherwise known as the Myth of the Given.


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The Future of Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of mind is a lively field overflowing with competing theoretical frameworks. In my own estimation, most contemporary debate centers around the competition between computational representationalism and 4EA philosophy of mind. For those who don’t know, 4EA refers to the school of thought which claims that the mind is not a representing computer, but rather, an embodied, embedded, enacted, extended, affective, dynamic system. There is a lot to unpack in this mantra. Embodied refers to the phenomenological tradition of Merleau-Ponty and the emphasis on the lived body as the starting point for philosophical investigation of cognition. Embedded refers to the fact that the neural system is embedded or nested within a organized body and environment and cannot be analyzed independent of its behavior within both a physical environment and a social-cultural milieu. Enacted refers to the way in which action-control is not a matter of sensing-modeling-planning-acting, but rather, regulating the  intrinsic behavioral dynamics of autopoiesis (emergent self-organization) so as to effectively utilize resources in the environment. Extended refers to how the cognitive system actively offloads tasks onto external environmental props so as to free up limited cognitive resources (e.g. using a notepad as external memory storage). Affective refers to how the intrinsic behavioral dynamics of emergent self-organization are driven by an emotional attunement or affectivity that valences stimuli in terms of meaningful salience thresholds e.g. good/bad, inviting/threatening, etc. Such affectivity is grounded by what Damasio calls “background feelings” and what Ratcliffe calls “feelings of being-in-the-world” or “ways of finding oneself”.

In my (admittedly biased) opinion, 4EA philosophy is a superior philosophical/empirical paradigm for interpreting the vast majority of psychological research in a metaphysically respectable fashion.

But this is not the future of philosophy of mind.

In order to glimpse the future, we must take extension more seriously. We must look beyond the artificial thought experiments involving notepads and walking canes and instead develop an appreciation for how mind is extended and changed by propositional reasoning i.e. narrative practice, the giving and asking for reasons (rational stories) for actions and events (with implicit inferential commitments holding us responsible for the things we do/say). This is why I think people like Robert Brandom and Daniel Hutto are going to take us into the next generation of cognitive science: 4EAC. Embodied, embedded, enacted, extended, affective, constructed.

Julian Jaynes has already cleared the underbrush to prepare the way for social-linguistic constructivism. And not your Grandpa’s neutered Sapir-Whorf hypothesis either. I’m talking about the linguistic construction of consciousness and higher-order thought itself. In other words,Vygotsky, not Whorf. Indeed, “Saying that consciousness is developed out of language means that everybody from Darwin on, including myself in earlier years, was wrong in trying to trace out the origin of consciousness biologically or neurophysiologically. It means we have to look at human history after language has evolved and ask when in history did an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mindspace begin.”

The introduction of constructivism into 4EA philosophy of mind will provide a new intellectual trajectory for understanding the unique structure of human consciousness in distinction to our nonverbal animal cousins. Whereas Alva Noe and Evan Thompson have done an admirable job capturing the essence of animal consciousness (what I simply refer to as “nonconscious cognition” or “behavioral reactivity”), they have unwittingly conflated two distinct levels of mentality: primary and secondary consciousness, prereflective and reflective awareness,  cognition and metacognition, automatic and controlled processes, etc. As I put it in a footnote to my recent paper, “What Is It Like to Be Nonconscious? A Defense of Julian Jaynes“:

Unfortunately, even thinkers within the externalist paradigm for perception have overlooked this important point, placing the “mystery” of consciousness in terms of explaining the nonconscious what-it-is-like of phenomenal sensory experience. So while I agree with Alva Noë (2004, 2009) when he argues that visual perception is a process of enactive exploration of the world enabled by automatic sensorimotor skills, when he claims that this body-world interaction fully constitutes the conscious mind, he too is falling into the trap of confusing consciousness with cognition, mistakenly thinking that the latter subsumes the entirety of the former. Moreover, this conflation is so rampant that  even when Andy Clark (2009) argues against the notion that we can explain consciousness by recourse to an enactive account of perception, he still buys into the original claim that what needs explaining about the conscious mind is “the elusive ‘what-it-is-likeness’ that seems to characterize a subject’s experience of a certain kind of redness, of a certain voice, or of a pain in her stomach” (p. 1-2). If Jaynes is right, then such what-it-is-likeness is not what needs explaining in coming to terms with the “mystery” of consciousness. Instead, what needs explaining is narratizing within a functional mind-space through cultural-linguistic conditioning in childhood.


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