XI: Chemero on Ecological and Embodied Cognitive Science

Our final pre-conference readings are a couple of short papers by Anthony Chemero.

‘Self-Organisation Writ Large’ (Ecological Psychology 20(3); available here) considers a view of nature as self-organising ‘all the way down’ – from animal/environment systems to autocatalytic chemical reactions – and argues that such a conception of nature would require reconceiving affordances and their role in the explanation of cognition. (The ideas from hyperset theory and the initial levels of self-organisation are worked through at a more leisurely pace in ‘Autonomy and Hypersets’, Biosystems 91(2), available here)

‘Sensorimotor Empathy’ (Journal of Consciousness Studies 23(5-6); available here) argues for a particular way of understanding the role of sensorimotor interactions in social coordination and conscious experience, and suggests how these interactions can be operationalised and studied.

Each paper engages with the question of what our cognitive science should look like if we are to understand cognition in terms of forms, structures and processes, as the Gestalt Psychologits and Phenomenologists we have been considering suggest. Penultimate drafts of each paper are available on Tony’s academia.edu page.

9 thoughts on “XI: Chemero on Ecological and Embodied Cognitive Science

  1. A couple of quick thoughts on ‘self-organisation, writ large’:

    Overarching caveat: as a philosopher who’s pretty scared of any kind of formalism, and doesn’t know much about philosophy of science, I felt on pretty shaky ground trying to think through these issues. I welcome the input of better informed colleagues!

    – I had trouble getting a clear picture of how the dilemma for extant conceptions of affordances arises. I get that (or at least trust the author that!) such conceptions don’t mesh with a construal of organism/environment systems as autonomous (with autonomy construed in hyperset theory terms). But I think some extra steps are needed to get from this to an incompatibility claim, and I wondered how TC is thinking of those steps. The first possibility that occurred to me is that the extra thought is something like ‘if nature is self-organising all the way down (and thus hyperset theory autonomous all the way down), and if the vocabulary of ecological psychology carves nature at its joints, then the affordances that are a key part of ecological psychology should also be autonomous’. But this doesn’t seem right. The rest of the paper seems to (rightly, I think) imply that it’s the organism/environment system, of which affordances are a property, that needs to be autonomous. And it also seems right that attending to (and perhaps modifying slightly) niche construction theories lets us see how this can be so. Once we’ve done this, why does it matter if we abstract away from the self-organising basis of affordances and talk about them in more static terms? Can’t we continue to talk about them in the old static ways, while acknowledging that this abstracts from underlying complexity, and that many explanatory tasks will require attending to (and modelling) that complexity?

    – I find the concluding marriage of enactivism and ecological psychology very appealing. But I don’t have a clear idea of the ‘further work’ required to show that this is the case, mentioned in the concluding paragraphs. Does this just consist of doing lots of work within this paradigm, and letting the sum total of that work inform an assessment of how fruitful the paradigm is? Or are there specific results (or explanatory fruits) whose failure to materialise would falsify the picture? I have trouble thinking of how the latter possibility might go. It seems like the explanatory vocabulary of the enactive/ecological synthesis is rich and flexible enough that any phenomenon can be described/redescribed in its terms – but perhaps this is a failure of imagination or understanding on my part?

  2. A couple of quick comments on ‘Sensorimotor Empathy’:

    – Do we really need to engage sensorimotor skills in order to perceive? If ‘engaging’ means actually moving around, I don’t think this can be right. Here’s an alternative picture that seems preferable to me: Even if we can’t tell the difference between a whole and half tomato without moving around it, it still *looks* like a whole tomato in a photo, or if viewed from a single vantage point. The sensorimotor story is that it looks this way in virtue of expectations I have about how it’s appearance will change, or how my experience will otherwise alter, as a result of my activity. Matching my sensorimotor expectations to reality is something I can (usually) do automatically, as a result of my history of embodied interactions. In this sense, it’s an embodied skill – but not one I have to move around to exercise. At the end of the paper TC emphasises that any experience of a perceptible quality takes time to unfold. But this doesn’t mean we must be actively exploring during that time (even if capacities to actively explore are nonetheless drawn on, by way of anticipation) – go and rest your hand lightly and motionlessly on a sponge, but don’t squish it. Doesn’t it still feel spongey?

    – The paper’s central idea – that there are sensorimotor synergies that can be formally described and empirically studied – should surely be grabbed with both hands by sensorimotor theorists. But I don’t think, as developed here, it provides materials to address one important sort of motivation for the ‘Kantian’ kind of sensorimotor approach. The point of Kant’s intellectualist architectonic of human knowledge is to show how our minds can have a rational relation to reality – how (e.g.) sensory awareness can enable us to judge and know things. I think this is the only good reason to endorse a Kantian sensorimotor view too. So it’s appealing to hold that my sensorimotor relation to the world must be integrated with understanding – at least in the case of human, knowledge-yielding perception. The relation of sensorimotor empathy is (deliberately) something that, I take it, can be shared by mature humans, infants, animals and machines. So it can’t be something that is essentially apt to be integrated with capacities for judgement and knowledge – even if it is, as I think it must be, the foundation on which those capacities are built. For what it’s worth (I think it’s worth a lot!), I think M-P is very sensitive to these Kantian concerns, and thinks (like someone like McDowell) that mature human perception is distinctive in being essentially related to fancy cognitive capacities for judgement. I think his beef with Kant is that Kant *only* emphasises this relation, and ends up with a distorted analysis of perception because he neglects the bodily, sensorimotor origins on which this relation is built. So, I think a good Merleau-Pontian sensorimotor theorist should take on board the concept of sensorimotor empathy, but needs to use it as the starting point for an account of sensorimotor understanding, not as a reason not to provide such an account.

  3. Pingback: My Homepage

  4. Pingback: https://www.personalinjurylawyersandiego911.com

  5. Pingback: https://grabtopten.com/best-knitting-set-that-contain-all-you-need/

  6. Pingback: situs poker

  7. Pingback: Nova

  8. Pingback: فيس تسجيل الدخول

  9. Pingback: https://new-solarmovie.com/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *