All posts by Edward Berge

Downward mental causation and free will

I know, to free will or not to free will, that is the hackneyed question debated in philosophical circles since we learned how to talk. But here’s a cognitive neuroscientist’s research on “how neuronal code underlies top-down mental causation.” It’s a long video, over 2 hours, and I have yet to complete it. Here is Peter Tse’s CV.  Here is his book on the topic is. Here is a good summary of Tse’s work on the topic.

Who am I: the conscious and unconscious self

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2017; 11: 126. Some excerpts:

“In this article we suggest the idea that the processing of self-referential stimuli in cortical midline structures (CMS) may represent an important part of the conscious self, which may be supplemented by an unconscious part of the self that has been called an ’embodied mind’ (Varela et al., 1991), which relies on other brain structures.”

“When we describe the self as structure and organization we understand it as a system. But the concept of the embodied self states that the self or cognition is not an activity of the mind alone, but is distributed across the entire situation including mind, body, environment (e.g., Beer, 1995), thereby pointing to an embodied and situated self.”

“Furthermore, we argue that through embodiment the self is also embedded in the environment. This means that our self is not isolated but intrinsically social. […] Hence, the self should not be understood as an entity located somewhere in the brain, isolated from both the body and the environment. In contrast, the self can be seen as a brain-based neurosocial structure and organization, always linked to the environment (or the social sphere) via embodiment and embeddedness.”

Memes are like cognitive frames

It occurred to me that memes are a lot like frames as Lakoff describes them. Lakoff has done extensive cognitive scientific work on schemas, metaphors and frames. Check out this lengthy article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014; 8: 958, “Mapping the brain’s metaphor circuitry.” Even though they don’t relate this to the concept of memes, there are some striking similarities. E.g.: 

“Reddy had found that the abstract concepts of communication and ideas are understood via a conceptual metaphor: Ideas Are Objects; Language Is a Container for Idea-Objects; Communication Is Sending Idea-Objects in Language-Containers.”

Daniel Dennett on the evolution of the mind

The Google talk on his new book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. The blurb:

“How did we come to have minds? For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery. That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.”

Computational grounded cognition

From this article, which first describes the progress in grounded cognition theories, then goes into how this should be applied to robotics and artificial intelligence. Some excepts:

“Grounded theories assume that there is no central module for cognition. According to this view, all cognitive phenomena, including those considered the province of amodal cognition such as reasoning, numeric, and language processing, are ultimately grounded in (and emerge from) a variety of bodily, affective, perceptual, and motor processes. The development and expression of cognition is constrained by the embodiment of cognitive agents and various contextual factors (physical and social) in which they are immersed. The grounded framework has received numerous empirical confirmations. Still, there are very few explicit computational models that implement grounding in sensory, motor and affective processes as intrinsic to cognition, and demonstrate that grounded theories can mechanistically implement higher cognitive abilities. We propose a new alliance between grounded cognition and computational modeling toward a novel multidisciplinary enterprise: Computational Grounded Cognition. We clarify the defining features of this novel approach and emphasize the importance of using the methodology of Cognitive Robotics, which permits simultaneous consideration of multiple aspects of grounding, embodiment, and situatedness, showing how they constrain the development and expression of cognition.”

“According to grounded theories, cognition is supported by modal representations and associated mechanisms for their processing (e.g., situated simulations), rather than amodal representations, transductions, and abstract rule systems. Recent computational models of sensory processing can be used to study the grounding of internal representations in sensorimotor modalities; for example, generative models show that useful representations can self-organize through unsupervised learning (Hinton, 2007). However, modalities are usually not isolated but form integrated and multimodal assemblies, plausibly in association areas or ‘convergence zones'” (Damasio, 1989; Simmons and Barsalou, 2003).

“An important challenge is explaining how abstract concepts and symbolic capabilities can be constructed from grounded categorical representations, situated simulations and embodied processes. It has been suggested that abstract concepts could be based principally on interoceptive, meta-cognitive and affective states (Barsalou, 2008) and that selective attention and categorical memory integration are essential for creating a symbolic system” (Barsalou, 2003).

The differences between sitting and moving meditative states

Here is Thompson’s talk on the topic. As a dancer and martial artist, as well as an embodied cognitioner, this talk is particularly relevant to me. I’ve been saying since forever that these arts are meditative disciplines in themselves. And one doesn’t necessarily need the sitting still sort of meditation to achieve meta-cognition.

Having done both kinds my anectodic report is that both sitting and moving meditation induce meta-cognition. But there are no studies on movement meditation to confirm it as yet. That’s part of what Thompson is complaining about, and encouraging the scientific meditative researchers to start investigating.

Around 14:20 he said that research has show that perception is different when one initiates movement than when one is passively moved. He did not directly compare perception with movement to perception while completely still, so not sure of those differences.

At 18:20 he reiterates a point made elsewhere, that individual meta-cognition is an internalized form of social cognition, a point I used in the paper on collective enlightenment. He then brings in Vygotsky’s work along this line, different than Piaget’s. In our paper I also brought in Habermas’ use of Mead in this regard. For reference, also see Edwards’ 3-part series at Integral World on the depth of the exteriors. 

At 23:40 is an important point to my initial inquiry about comparing sitting and moving meditation: “If two cognitive systems include different cognitive practices, the two systems can have different cognitive properties, even when the neural network activations are the same.” 

At 30:20 Thompson said that attention has no specific location in the brain but is the whole embodied subject. Attention isn’t a particular process or even a collection of processes, but a mode in which processes are related. I’m reminded of this discussion on amodal and supramodal processing, although that is limited to the brain and not the brain/mind/body/environment enaction Thompson discusses.

Finishing the talk he reiterates the need to extend scientific meditative research to the movement arts. From the above he seems to suggest that movement mediation, which perhaps activating the same brain areas, means something very different via its enaction than sitting meditation. So it is not the same meta-cognitive experience with the two forms.

Having done both kinds I find moving meditation activates and refines the spatial-temporal bodily image schema in a way that sitting meditation does not. In so doing it literally gives multiple views of objects within an immediate field of attention, thereby opening to multiple points of view rather than a fixed point of reference in sitting.

However the attention in sitting meditation, while opening to whatever arises, be it a sound or a thought, or even by focusing one one object, is still within a fixed center or perspective, this notion of a bare attention that theoretically has no center or ego reference. But that rests on an assumption that bare attention itself is beyond reference or perspective, while moving meditation’s sort of bare attention makes no such assumption given its ever shifting physical perspective. It seems that sitting mediation is literally fixated while moving meditation is multi-perspectival with no fixed center.

Just some biased ruminations that are sure to fire up the sitters! Have at it.


From intersubjectivity to interbeing

I was reminded today of this seminal paper by Evan Thompson with the above title. The premise:

“Human consciousness is not located in the head, but is immanent in the living body and the interpersonal social world. One’s consciousness of oneself as an embodied individual embedded in the world emerges through empathic cognition of others. Consciousness is not some peculiar qualitative aspect of private mental states, nor a property of the brain inside the skull; it is a relational mode of being of the whole person embedded in the natural environment and the human social world.”

There’s no such thing as a male or female brain

See this New Scientist article. Excerpt:

When the group looked at each individual brain scan, however, they found that very few people had all of the brain features they might be expected to have, based on their sex. Across the sample, between 0 and 8 per cent of people had “all-male” or “all-female” brains, depending on the definition. “Most people are in the middle,” says Joel.

This means that, averaged across many people, sex differences in brain structure do exist, but an individual brain is likely to be just that: individual, with a mix of features. “There are not two types of brain,” says Joel.