The Primacy of Action, Intention and Emotion
Edited by Rafael Núñez and Walter J. Freeman
320 pages, ISBN 0 907845 06 1 (pbk.), $29.90 / £17.95
A notable collection of essays that will give much pleasure to those who have been missing the living body - and its actions and reactions - in contemporary cognitive and neural studies; a must read for those who haven't. Antonio Damasio This collection is a valuable contribution to the elaboration and application of an understanding of mind and brain as situated and embodied. As such, it is timely and important. Although it is unlikely anyone will agree with all the papers, together they pose a challenge every cognitive scientist, neuroscientist and philosopher has to face. Hubert Dreyfus This book brings together a wide variety of contributions to the search for a science of the mind that will be capable of describing and explaining the bewildering diversity of mental phenomena. The dead hand of 'cognitivism' is finally being lifted, allowing us to see the mind as a biological and cultural entity rather than a disembodied symbol processor inspired by the mathematical formalisms that underpin computer science. Horst Hendriks-Jansen Views of the mind as essentially embodied and embedded in its environment have recently made powerful advances in understanding perception and action and now have taken on cognition. This timely and richly interdisciplinary collection of essays, by innovative thinkers, displays the current exuberance of theoretical alternatives to the computational mainstream. Susan Hurley The evidence from all over the cognitive sciences is overwhelming: Conceptual systems and language are embodied in the deepest way, shaped by the nature of our brains, our bodies, and our everyday functioning in the world. Reclaiming Cognition helps to wash away the old view of the mind as abstract and disembodied, of thought as symbol manipulation - something a computer could do - and of emotion as separate from reason. George Lakoff Just as the 1990s were the Decade of the Brain, many have argued that we are now entering the Decade of the Mind. Meeting such a challenge requires that we transcend the crude reductionism and narrow cognitivism that has characterized much of the brain and behavioural sciences of the past century. Reclaiming Cognition teaches us that minds are not architectural modular structures that deal in information, but are constituted by the dynamic interactions of perceiver and percept, knower and that which is to be known - socially, developmentally and evolutionarily formed. Steven Rose Reclaiming Cognition is a potent antidote to shake up a number of received ideas about mind that have dominated cognitive science since its roots in the 1960s. In retrospect it now seems simply amazing that for so long many believed that mind was dis-embodied, abstract, symbol-based, and a-historical. The diverse contributions in this book provide excellent examples of recent work that extends alternative approaches that had remained in the margin and are now coming to the fore. Francisco J. Varela
Introduction to Special Issue on 'Reclaiming Cognition: The Primacy of Action, Intention and Emotion'.
Making sense of the mind is the human odyssey. Today, the cognitive
sciences provide the vehicles and équipage. As do all culturally
shaped activities, they manifest crystallized generalizations and ideological
legacies, many of which go unquestioned for centuries. From time to time,
these ideologies are successfully challenged, generating revisions and
new forms of understanding. We believe that the cognitive sciences have
reached a situation in which they have been frozen into one narrow form
by the machine metaphor. There is a need to thaw that form and move from
a reductionist, atemporal, disembodied, static, rationalist, emotion- and
culture-free view, to fundamentally richer understandings that include
the primacy of action, intention, emotion, culture, real-time constraints,
real-world opportunities, and the peculiarities of living bodies. These
essays constitute an array of moves in that direction.
This essay offers a beginning sketch of the intimate bond between emotions
and movement, concentrating first on empirical research that preceded the
rise of cognitivist science with its prominencing of an information-processing
brain (Bruner, 1990) and its correlative dislocation of movement. I summarize
three empirical studies of emotion that carry forward the work of Darwin,
and that vindicate in different ways the work of physiological psychologist
Roger Sperry on perception and his principle thesis that the brain is an
organ of and for movement (Sperry, 1952). The summaries make evident the
theoretics that bind the studies together and reveal the tactile-kinaesthetic
body that is in each case their foundation. I turn then to a summary phenomenological
analysis of movement, showing how the dynamic character of movement gives
rise to kinetic qualia. The analysis exemplifies how empirical studies
may be epistemologically deepened through phenomenology, in this instance
through a phenomenological elucidation of the fundamentally qualitative
structure of movement, a structure that grounds the relationship between
movement and emotion in a qualitative dynamics and formal dynamic congruency.
In virtue of that congruency, motion and emotion -- kinetic and affective
bodies -- are of a dynamic piece. Methodological consequences follow from
this exposition. So also do implications for cognitivism, which range from
the observation that movement is not behaviour and that the term 'embodied'
is a lexical band-aid to the observation that animate forms are not machines
and that a kinetic, qualitative (meta)physics follows naturally from the
study of animation and animate form.
No fresh-minted concept like the fluid genome or indeed sexual harassment
(neither concept being available thirty years ago), consciousness has become
immensely fashionable, but this time round as part of the new found cultural
popularity of the natural sciences. However, what is immediately noticeable
about the proliferation over the past decade of books and journals with
'consciousness' in their titles or invoked in their texts is that they
seem to be drawn to the cultural glamour of the concept, but with little
sense that the concept of consciousness has an entirely other history.
Consciousness seems to lie around in the culture like a sparkling jewel,
irresistible to the neuro-theorists. There seems to be no recognition amongst
the many biologists, artificial intelligencers, physicists and philosophers
who have played in print with their new toy that consciousness is part
of another discourse and has an entirely other history. Above all, I want
to underline that while for these neuro-theorists, consciousness is located
within the individual human organism (and sometimes just the brain within
that), the older tradition, coming from the humanities and social theory,
sees consciousness as located in subjectivity and inter-subjectivity in
historical context. The methodological individualism expressed in the objectivist
language of the natural sciences erases both 'me' and 'you'; by contrast,
in social theory, both agency and structure are crucial. For social theory
there can be no development of individual consciousness without a social
context. 323 6 11-12
Since at least the time of Darwin, we have recognized that our human emotional life is very similar to the emotional life of other creatures. We all react in characteristic ways to emotionally valenced stimuli. Though other animals may not blush or cry, we all have prototypical ways of expressing anger, disgust, fear, sadness, happiness, and curiosity. In assuming that the neural circuits underlying these reactions are homologous or at least analogous across species, neurophysiologists and neuropsychologists have been able to construct impressive and substantial research programmes studying the neural correlates for emotion. They are to be applauded, for we now know quite a lot about where and how basic emotions are processed in the brain.
At the same time, there is a dangerous trend developing in the study
of emotion in neurophysiology and neuropsychology, a trend toward oversimplifying
and reducing emotional responses to the point of distortion. We all know
that scientists must abstract away from much of what is going on in order
to produce quantitative and unambiguous data. We also know that scientists
operate using several basic methodological, technological, and theoretical
assumptions. The question I wish to address here is whether, in the case
of emotions, scientists haven't gone too far in their tendency to modularize
brain processes and to reduce reactions down to their simplest
The argument that I shall pursue here will take the following form.
Organisms are wholes that are centres of agency. To live is to act intentionally,
to discriminate and to experience. To accommodate within science an understanding
of the life with which we as organisms are familiar, it is necessary to
acknowledge the reality of qualitative experience. This leads to an expanded
conception of science that preserves all that is of value in our tradition
of exploring reality but avoids the unfortunate conclusion that some of
our deepest experiences are in some sense unreal.
A given but otherwise random environmental time series impinging on
the input of a certain biological processor passes through with overwhelming
probability practically undetected. A very small percentage of environmental
stimuli, though, is 'captured' by the processor's nonlinear dissipative
operator as initial conditions, and is 'processed' as solutions of its
dynamics. The processor, then, is in such cases instrumental in compressing
or abstracting those stimuli, thereby making the external world to collapse
from a previous regime of a 'pure state' of suspended animation into a
set of stable complementary and mutually exclusive eigenfunctions or 'categories'.
The characteristics of this cognitive set depend on the operator involved
and the hierarchical level where the abstraction takes place. Depending
on the context, the transition from one state to another occurs in such
a cognitive operator. The chaotic itinerancy may play a crucial role for
this process. In this paper we model the dynamics which may underlie such
a cognitive process and the role of the thalamo-cortical pacemaker of the
(human) brain. In order to model them, conceptualization by the notion
of 'attractor ruin' in high-dimensional dynamical systems is necessary.
We informally discuss some recent results on the incompleteness of formal
systems. These theorems, which are of great importance to contemporary
mathematical epistemology, are proved using a variety of conceptual tools
provably stronger than those of finitary axiomatisations. Those tools require
no mathematical ontology, but rather constitute particularly concrete human
constructions and acts of comprehending infinity and space rooted in different
forms of knowledge. We shall also discuss, albeit very briefly, the mathematical
intelligence both of God and of computers. We hope in this manner to help
the reader overcome formalist reductionism, while avoiding naïve Platonist
ontologies, typical symptoms of Gödelitis which affected many in the
last seventy years.
Although quantum theory is applicable, in principle, to both the microscopic
and macroscopic realms, the strategy of practically applying quantum theory
by retaining a classical conception of the macroscopic world (through the
correspondence principle) has had tremendous success. This has nevertheless
rendered the task of interpretation daunting. We argue the need for recognizing
and solving the 'observation problem', namely constructing a 'quantum-compatible'
view of the properties and states of macroscopic objects in everyday thinking
to realistically interpret quantum theory consistently at both the microscopic
and macroscopic levels. Toward a solution to this problem, we point out
a category of properties called 'relational properties' that we regularly
associate with everyday objects. We see them as being potentially quantum-compatible.
Some possible physical implications are discussed. We conclude by touching
upon the nexus between the relational property view within quantum physics
and some neurobiological issues underlying cognition.
According to behavioural theories deriving from pragmatism, gestalt psychology, existentialism, and ecopsychology, knowledge about the world is gained by intentional action followed by learning. In terms of the neurodynamics described here, if the intending of an act comes to awareness through reafference, it is perceived as a cause. If the consequences of an act come to awareness through proprioception and exteroception, they are perceived as an effect. A sequence of such states of awareness comprises consciousness, which can grow in complexity to include self-awareness. Intentional acts do not require awareness, whereas voluntary acts require self-awareness. Awareness of the action/perception cycle provides the cognitive metaphor of linear causality as an agency. Humans apply this metaphor to objects and events in the world to predict and control them, and to assign social responsibility. Thus, linear causality is the bedrock of technology and social contracts.
Complex material systems with distributed non-linear feedback, such
as brains and their neural and behavioural activities, cannot be explained
by linear causality. They can be said to operate by circular causality
without agency. The nature of self-control is described by breaking the
circle into a forward limb, the intentional self, and a feedback limb,
awareness of the self and its actions. The two limbs are realized through
hierarchically stratified kinds of neural activity. Intentional acts are
produced by the self-organized microscopic neural activity of cortical
and subcortical components in the brain. Awareness supervenes as a macroscopic
ordering state, that defers action until the self-organizing microscopic
process has reached closure in reflective prediction. Agency, which is
removed from the causal hierarchy by the appeal to circularity, re-appears
as a metaphor by which events in the world are anthropomorphized, making
them appear subject to human control.
Behaviour is often described as the computation of a response to a stimulus.
This description is incomplete in an important way because it only examines
what occurs between the reception of stimulus information and the generation
of an action. Behaviour is more correctly described as a control process
where actions are performed in order to affect perceptions. This closed-loop
nature of behaviour is de-emphasized in modern discussions of brain function,
leading to a number of artificial mysteries. A notable example is the 'symbol
grounding problem'. When behaviour is viewed as a control process, it is
natural to explain how internal representations, even symbols, can have
meaning for an organism, and how actions can be motivated by organic needs.
Ontological and methodological constraints on a theory of cognition that would generalize across species are identified. Within these constraints, ecological arguments for (a) animal-environment mutuality and reciprocity and (b) the necessary specificity of structured energy distributions to environmental facts are developed as counterpoints to the classical doctrines of animal-environment dualism and intractable nonspecificity. Implications of (a) and (b) for a cognitive theory consistent with Gibson's programme of ecological psychology are identified and contrasted with contemporary cognitivism
Cognition means different things to different psychologists depending
on the position held on the mind-matter problem. Ecological psychologists
reject the implied mind-matter dualism as an ill-posed theoretic problem
because the assumed mind-matter incommensurability precludes a solution
to the degrees of freedom problem. This fundamental problem was posed by
both Nicolai Bernstein and James J. Gibson independently. It replaces mind-matter
dualism with animal-environment duality (isomorphism) -- a better posed
scientific problem because commensurability is assured. Furthermore, when
properly posed this way, a conservation law is suggested that encompasses
a psychology of transactional systems, a biology of self-actional systems,
and a physics of interactional systems. For such a solution, a theory of
cognition for goal-directed behaviour (e.g., choosing goals, authoring
intentions, using information, and controlling actions) is needed. A sketch
is supplied for how such a theory might be pursued in the spirit of the
new physics of evolving complex systems.
To view organismic functioning in terms of integration is a mistake,
although the concept has dominated scientific thinking this century. The
operative concept for interpreting the organism proposed here is that of
'articulation' or decomposition rather than that of composition from segregated
parts. It is asserted that holism is the fundamental state of all phenomena,
including organisms. The impact of this changed perspective on perceptual
theorizing is profound. Rather than viewing it as a process resulting from
internal integration of isolated features detected by receptor neurons
into a perceptual whole, the new theory suggests that the task of perceptual
processing is to break up what initially exists holistically in sense organs
into features and eventually perceived objects. Similarly, the goal of
perceptual activity is not Sherrington's, that of integrating essentially
unrelated organisms with their environmental surround, but rather to generate
percepts in which the environment appears as a field of objects and events
independent of the perceiver which are available for manipulation. Perception
is a process by which organisms use their embeddedness in physical reality
as if they were independent of it. There are a number of interesting results
of this conceptual reorientation. The binding problem is eliminated because
the percept's holistic character is the precondition for neural activity,
not its product. The concept of representation can be dispensed with since
the fundamental conceptual motivation for its introduction -- the assumed
need to produce an internal copy of what was assumed to exist independently
outside the organism in order to integrate organismic behaviour with its
environmental causes -- is rejected outright. And finally, the issue of
perceptual consciousness is addressed: how does the percept acquire its
objective status vis-à-vis a perceiver, and what is the basis of
the experiential character of perception?
This article examines the primacy of real-world bodily experience for
understanding the human mind. I defend the idea that the peculiarities
of the living human brain and body, and the bodily experiences they sustain,
are essential ingredients of human sense-making and conceptual systems.
Conceptual systems are created, brought forth, understood and sustained,
through very specific cognitive mechanisms ultimately grounded in bodily
experience. They don't have a transcendental abstract logic independent
of the species-specific bodily features. To defend this position, I focus
on a case study: the fundamental concept of time flow. Using tools of cognitive
linguistics, I analyse the foundations of this concept, as it is manifested
naturally in everyday language. I show that there is a precise conceptual
metaphor (mapping) whose inferential structure gives an account of a huge
variety of linguistic expressions, semantic contents, and unconscious spontaneous
gestures: Time Events Are Things In Space. I discuss various special cases
of this conceptual metaphor. This mapping grounds its source domain (space)
in specific spatial bodily experiences and projects its inferential structure
onto a target domain (time) making inferences in that domain possible.
This mechanism allows us to unconsciously, effortlessly, and precisely
understand (and make inferences with) expressions such as 'the year 2000
is approaching' or 'the days ahead of us'. The general form of the mapping
seems to be universal. The analysis raises important issues which demand
a deeper and richer understanding of cognition and the mind: a view that
sees the mind as fully embodied. In order to avoid misunderstandings with
a general (and somewhat vague) notion of 'embodiment' which has become
fashionable in contemporary cognitive science, I describe what I mean by
'full embodiment': an embodied-oriented approach that has an explicit commitment
to all of cognition, not just to low-level aspects of cognition such as
sensory-motor activity or locomotion (lower levels of commitment). I take
embodiment to be a living phenomenon in which the primacy of bodily grounded
experience (e.g., motion, intention, emotion) is inherently part of the
very subject matter of the study of the mind.
We examine the embodiment of one foundational aspect of human cognition,
language, through its bodily association with the gestures that accompany
its expression in speech. Gesture is a universal feature of human communication.
Gestures are produced by all speakers in every culture (although the extent
and typology of gesturing may differ). They are tightly timed with speech
(McNeill, 1992). Gestures convey important communicative information to
the listener, but even blind speakers gesture while talking to blind listeners
(Iverson and Goldin-Meadow, 1998), so the mutual co-occurrence of speech
and gesture reflects a deep association between the two modes that transcends
the intentions of the speaker to communicate. Indeed, we believe that this
linkage of the vocal expression of language and the arm movements produced
with it are a manifestation of the embodiment of thought: that human mental
activities arise through bodily interactions with the world and remain
linked with them throughout the lifespan. In particular, we propose that
speech and gesture have their developmental origins in early hand-mouth
linkages, such that as oral activities become gradually used for meaningful
speech, these linkages are maintained and strengthened. Both hand and mouth
are tightly coupled in the mutual cognitive activity of language. In short,
it is the initial sensorimotor linkages of these systems that form the
bases for their later cognitive interdependence.
Recent work in 'embodied, embedded' cognitive science links mental contents to large-scale distributed effects: dynamic patterns implicating elements of (what are traditionally seen as) sensing, reasoning and acting. Central to this approach is an idea of biological cognition as profoundly 'action-oriented' -- geared not to the creation of rich, passive inner models of the world, but to the cheap and efficient production of real-world action in real-world context. A case in point is Hurley's (1998) account of the profound role of motor output in fixing the contents of conscious visual awareness -- an account that also emphasizes distributed vehicles and long-range dynamical loops. Such stories can seem dramatically opposed to accounts, such as Milner and Goodale (1995), that stress relatively local mechanisms and that posit firm divisions between processes of visual awareness and of visuomotor action. But such accounts, I argue, can be deeply complementary and together illustrate an important lesson. The lesson is that cognition may be embodied and action-oriented in two distinct -- but complementary -- ways. There is a way of being embodied and action-oriented that implies being closely geared to the fine-grained control of low level effectors (hands, arms, legs and so on). And there is a way of being embodied and action-oriented that implies being closely geared to gross motor intentions, current goals, and schematic motor plans. Human cognition, I suggest, is embodied and action-oriented in both these ways. But the neural systems involved, and the size and scope of the key dynamic loops, may be quite different in each case.
The story is told of a physicist who is invited by a dairy farmers'
association to tell them how to get more milk from cows. The physicist
begins: 'First we start with a spherical cow.' That is told as a joke!
Yet far more strange is what cognitivism has done to what is supposed to
be the study of human thought and human life. This chapter is about concepts,
the central building blocks of cognitivist theory. I will first show how
cognitivism necessarily cannot give an adequate treatment of concepts and
will then, more importantly (who pays any attention to criticisms?), outline
the foundations for a new nonrepresentational view of concepts which should
place the study of concepts on a real (rather than a spherical cow) basis.
Secondly, cognitivism (using rule-driven symbol manipulation) has come to be identified with neuro-computationalism, which takes neural subsystems as computing devices that process information by logical operations based in numbers and mathematics.
Thirdly, cognitivism holds that in order to study cognition one has to isolate thinking from the other mental faculties. It treats emotional and conative aspects of cognitive psychology as irrelevant and disruptive or at best secondary to rational discourse.
Fourthly, because cognitivism bases higher brain functions on abstract principles and formal logic, it largely ignores the very biological nature of human cognition grounded in phylogenetic and ontogenetic evolution.
Fifthly, cognitivism assumes that the study of the mind deals primarily with self-contained individuals. This ignores the gregarious nature of the human animal and the biology of the evolution of human brains as organs of social action, and so fails to take account of the cultural and social dimensions of minds.
Topics will be grouped in three sections:
(1) Empirical results:
Studying meaning, intentionality and conceptual structure through the analysis of everyday language.
Reviewing the biology of meaningful spontaneous and unconscious gestures and autonomic states.
Developing analogue devices for ‘computer simulations’ in theory building, by which to avoid the limitations of numerical simulations with digital computers.
Interpreting developmental neurophenomenology in conjunction with introspection and the psychophysics of emotion and conation.
Refuting assumptions of zombie and silicon-brain thought experiments.
Exploring active perception as opposed to passive perception.
Discussing new forms of cognitivism which have gradually moved the computational
assumptions from an overt CPU towards finer structural levels such as neurons
(or even sub-neuronal components) conceived as microscopic computing devices.