Beyond free will: The embodied emergence of conscious agency

Article by Mascolo, M. F., & Kallio, E. (2019). Philosophical Psychology, 1-26. Abstract follows:

“Is it possible to reconcile the concept of conscious agency with the view that humans are biological creatures subject to material causality? The problem of conscious agency is complicated by the tendency to attribute autonomous powers of control to conscious processes. In this paper, we offer an embodied process model of conscious agency. We begin with the concept of embodied emergence – the idea that psychological processes are higher-order biological processes, albeit ones that exhibit emergent properties. Although consciousness, experience, and representation are emergent properties of higher-order biological organisms, the capacity for hierarchical regulation is a property of all living systems. Thus, while the capacity for consciousness transforms the process of hierarchical regulation, consciousness is not an autonomous center of control. Instead, consciousness functions as a system for coordinating novel representations of the most pressing demands placed on the organism at any given time. While it does not regulate action directly, consciousness orients and activates preconscious control systems that mediate the construction of genuinely novel action. Far from being an epiphenomenon, consciousness plays a central albeit non-autonomous role in psychological functioning.”

Evolutionary theory: Fringe or central to psychological science

Ebook from Frontiers in Science. From the lead article:

“Readers of this volume will notice a sharp demarcation between descriptions of traditional Evolutionary Psychology, which several authors (Barret et al.; Stotz; Stulp et al.) have presented as indistinguishable from the information processing approach, and newer conceptualizations of EP. Indeed one of the major themes running through several of the contributions (Burke; Barret et al.; Stephen; Stotz; Stulp et al.) concerns the appropriate conceptualization of EP itself, with the Santa Barbara school of massive modularity (made famous by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides) receiving the most scrutiny. As Barret et al. and Stotz describe, early conceptualizations of EP embraced the notion of massive modularity of mind. Individual modules were presumed to act as evolved computers, sensitive to domain specific information and processing it in adaptive ways. Framed in this manner, EP fits well within even a very strict definition of a computational theory of mind and could hardly be seen as the source of an alternative meta-theoretical approach to understanding brain and behavior.

“It may not be appropriate, however, to view either the computational theory of mind or the field of EP so narrowly. As Klasios argues, many evolutionary psychologists adopt a more generic notion of computation, one that commits more to the abstract representation and manipulation of information, rather than to digital computation in its literal sense (although see also Bryant). EP too, is no longer wed to notions of massive modularity (Stephen), with the majority of research in the field motivated by consideration of first principles of evolutionary theory and is neither constrained nor informed by assumptions of massive modularity or domain specific mechanisms (Burke). With these considerations in mind, Klasios and Bryant both argue that computation is still the most profitable account of the mind and is able to accommodate both evolutionary and e-cognition (extended, embodied approaches which place emphasis on the role played by the whole organism and its environment in the decision-making process, rather than simply the brain) perspectives, that favor notions of neural adaptations that are “complex, widely distributed, and highly diffuse” (Klasios) over the more strictly isolated mental modules supposed by massive modularity.”

New journal: Human Arenas

Linked here. The blurb:

The aim of this journal concerns the interdisciplinary study of higher psychological functions (as topic of a general theory of psyche from the perspective of cultural psychology) in human goal-oriented liminal phenomena in ordinary and extraordinary life conditions. The journal is organized around topics and arenas of human activity, rather than the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines. It will explore human arenas from the point of view of historical foundations, methodology, epistemology, and the intersection of disciplines. Human Arenas promotes an innovative mix of theoretical and empirical studies, as well as qualitative and quantitative approaches based on “small data,” that is, the analysis of crucial and meaningful data, rather than the inductive accumulation of large empirical “evidence.”

Topics of interest include:

·         Human arenas of movement (moving, changing, developing, crossing borders and horizons, utopia, crisis, resistance, schooling)

·         Human arenas of creation (imagining, fictionality, music, sensuality, drawing, dancing, playing, affectivating, anticipating, eating and cooking, loving, ambivalence)

·         Human arenas of regulation (religion, rituals, semiosis, constructing/destroying/deforming, killing, believing, caring, value, cultivating, dwelling, blocking/facilitating, inhibiting/promoting, coordinating collective action, ornamenting, voicing/silencing)

The journal itself is the arena for the development of theoretical foundations and empirical horizons of a general theory of human psyche, from a counter-hegemonic and peripheral perspective, meant to foster continuous dialogue with any kind of mainstream. The vision of the journal is to provide an interdisciplinary space for debate, in which psychology can learn from other disciplines, and other social and behavioral sciences (e.g. archeology, anthropology, biosemiotics, philosophy, medicine, natural sciences, ecology, humanomics, aesthetics, sociology, art, history, etc.) can learn from psychology. The journal will support the development of general formal models of human phenomena, also by reflecting upon processes of abduction, generalization and theorization.

history and philosophy of ecological psychology

Article from Frontiers in Psychology at this link. From the Introduction:

“Ecological psychology is an embodied, situated, and non-representationalist approach to cognition pioneered by J. J. Gibson (1904–1979) in the field of perception and by E. J. Gibson (1910–2002) in the field of developmental psychology. Ecological psychology, in its very origins, aimed to offer an innovative perspective for understanding perception and perceptual learning that overcomes the traditional psychological dichotomies of perception/action, organism/environment, subjective/objective, and mind/body.”

Cultural and genetic evolution

From this article:

“The idea that humans have cognitive instincts is a cornerstone of evolutionary psychology, pioneered by Leda Cosmides, John Tooby and Steven Pinker in the 1990s. […] This all seems plausible and intuitive, doesn’t it? The trouble is, the evidence behind it is dubious. In fact, if we look closely, it’s apparent that evolutionary psychology is due for an overhaul. Rather than hard-wired cognitive instincts, our heads are much more likely to be populated by cognitive gadgets, tinkered and toyed with over successive generations. Culture is responsible not just for the grist of the mind – what we do and make – but for fabricating its mills, the very way the mind works.”

“The evidence for cognitive instincts is now so weak that we need a whole new way of capturing what’s distinctive about the human mind. The founders of evolutionary psychology were right when they said that the secret of our success is computational mechanisms – thinking machines – specialised for particular tasks. But these devices, including imitation, mind-reading, language and many others, are not hard-wired. Nor were they designed by genetic evolution. Rather, humans’ thinking machines are built in childhood through social interaction, and were fashioned by cultural, not genetic, evolution. What makes our minds unique are not cognitive instincts but cognitive gadgets.”

“The mind of a newborn human baby is not a blank slate. Like other animals, we are born with – we genetically inherit – a huge range of abilities and assumptions about the world. We’re endowed with capacities to memorise sequences, to control our impulses, to learn associations between events, and to hold several things in mind while we work on them. […] These skills and beliefs are part of the ‘genetic starter kit’ for mature human cognition. They are crucial because they direct our attention to other people, and act as cranes in the construction of new thinking machines. But they are not blueprints for Big Special cognitive mechanisms such as imitation, mind-reading and language.”

“To be fair, evolutionary psychology did something crucially important. It showed that viewing the mind as a kind of software running on the brain’s hardware can advance our understanding of the origins of human cognition. Now it’s time to take a further step: to recognise that our distinctively human apps have been created by cultural, not genetic, evolution.”

‘Neurosexism’ debated

Neuroscientist Larry Cahill takes issue with a Feb 2019 Nature favorable book review of Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.

Cahill’s response prompted an interview by Medium Neuroscience writer Meghan Daum.

Scientific findings have a way of upsetting apple carts, especially when we consider our oft-demonstrated human capacity to bend science to advantage some power-coveting groups over others.

Valid research amply shows there are real differences in male and female neuroanatomy and functions. Honest science must follow the evidence where it leads. Clearly, any discovered differences cannot be allowed to justify unequal social or economic opportunities or treatment. Cahill compares the situation to genetics. That people differ genetically in a vast number of ways cannot be taken as cause to misstate scientific findings or preclude further learning about genetics.

There are times and circumstances in which certain research approaches must be blocked for humane or other reasons but that is a different argument than denying the findings of a body of research because they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Thoughts?

Ideas of Stuart Kauffman

If you are familiar with complex systems theorist Dr. Stuart Kauffman’s ideas you know he covers a broad range of disciplines and concepts, many in considerable depth, and with a keen eye for isomorphic and integrative principles. If you peruse some of his writings and other communications, please share with us how you see Kauffman’s ideas informing our focal interests: brain, mind, intelligence (organic and inorganic), and self-aware consciousness.

Do you find Kauffman’s ideas well supported by empirical research? Which are more scientific and which, if any, more philosophical? What intrigues, provokes, or inspires you? Do any of his perspectives or claims help you better orient or understand your own interests in our focal topics?

Following are a few reference links to get the conversation going. Please add your own in the comments to this post. If you are a member and have a lot to say on a related topic, please create a new post, tag it with ‘Stuart Kauffman,’ and create a link to your post in the comments to this post.

Book: Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff investigates the impacts of current and emerging technologies and digital culture on individuals and groups and seeks ways to evade or extract ourselves from their corrosive effects.

After you read the book, please post your thoughts as comments to this post or, if you prefer, as new posts. There are interviews and other resources about the book online. Feel free to recommend in the comments those you find meaningful. Also, the audiobook is available through the Albuquerque Public Library but may have a long wait queue (I’m aiming for a record number of ‘q’s in this sentence).

Please use the tag and/or category ‘Rushkoff’ in your new posts. Use any other tags or categories you want. To access categories and tags while composing a post, click ‘Document’ at the top of the options area on the right side of the editing page.

How to add a category to a post in WordPress sites using the Gutenberg editor

Any comments you add to this post should inherit the post’s categories and tags. Add any additional ones as you like.

Last, this site includes a book reviews app for registered site members. To use it, log in and select Review under the New menu.

Starting a new book review

Evolutionary robots – Future of embodied AI?

Photo by Jeremy Avery on Unsplash

An article in Nature Machine Intelligence reports on R&D efforts employing evolutionary approaches to getting robots that are better adapted to their environments.

We propose ‘multi-level evolution’, a bottom-up automatic process that designs robots across multiple levels and niches them to tasks and environmental conditions. Multi-level evolution concurrently explores constituent molecular and material building blocks, as well as their possible assemblies into specialized morphological and sensorimotor configurations. Multi-level evolution provides a route to fully harness a recent explosion in available candidate materials and ongoing advances in rapid manufacturing processes.

Albuquerque Brain, Mind, and Artificial Intelligence Discussion Group