All posts by Edward Berge

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.

Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality

Ted Talk by neuroscientist Anil Seth. The brain processes the outer world via the senses, then organizes it and projects that organization back on to the world. Perception itself is an active, constructive process. It is a controlled hallucination. Reality is just an agreed upon hallucination. And so is the perception of our self a controlled hallucination.

Neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development

In a few previous posts I posted articles on new scientific research questioning some of Piaget’s original premises. This Wikipedia article discusses those neo-Piagetians who have taken into account the more recent science. Also see this article that discusses some of the neo-Piagetians but then focuses on Kurt Fischer’s work.

Evan Thompson: Buddhism and the brain

Here is an interview with Thompson on Buddhism and the Brain. It starts with defining consciousness as awareness, its changing contents and how both then identify as a self in changing contexts. “Consciousness is something we live, not something we have.”

I also like using the metaphor of dance for the process of self. Both are in the enaction of the process, not a thing apart from that process.

He also goes into how mindfulness in our culture has turned into McMindfulness, how we might learn to pay attention non-judgmentally but then fail to  judge how the work we do might be harming others and the environment. It’s taken out of context with the entire Buddhist ethical framework.

There’s more in the interview with an embedded link to the full interview.

Meltzoff on Piaget and theory-theory

Continuing the last post on developmental cognitive neuroscience (DCN), Meltzoff is one of the pioneers of DCN and here’s what he had to say in this ’99 article.

“There has been a profound, even revolutionary, shift in our theory of developmental psychology. The revolution began with challenges to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, particularly his views of infancy. As everybody who has attended scientific conferences, read technical journals, or monitored the popular media knows, modern research has discovered that young children know more at earlier ages than had been predicted by classical theory. These new findings led to the gradual weakening, and finally the collapse of, classical Piagetian theory.

“There is now a furious search for a new framework. An analogy can be drawn to the early part of this century when classical Newtonian mechanics was overthrown and physicists were searching for a new model. In our field, we know that the classical framework of developmental psychology, which has reigned for almost 50 years, does not work; we have crucial experiments that have uncovered surprising facts; and we have great excitement in both the laboratories and in society at large, as competing views of early human development are being thrashed out.”

In the above paper Meltzoff proposes his work supports theory-theory, described as “a combination of innate structure and qualitative reorganization in children’s thought based on input from the people and things in their culture.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this to say about theory-theory:

“The Theory-Theory itself has a somewhat complicated origin story, with roots in a number of philosophical and psychological doctrines. One is the reaction against stage theories of cognitive development, particularly Piagetian and Vygotskian theories. Stage theories propose that children’s cognitive development follows a rigid and universal script, with a fixed order of transitions from one qualitatively distinct form of thought to another taking place across all domains on the same schedule. Each stage is characterized by a distinctive set of representations and processes. In Piaget’s theory, children move through sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages from birth to roughly 11 or 12 years old. Similarly, Vygotsky held that children move from a stage of representing categories in terms of sensory images of individual objects, through a stage of creating representations of objectively unified categories, and finally a stage of categories arranged around abstract, logical relationships.

“While Piaget and Vygotsky’s stage theories differ, both hold that early childhood thought is characterized by representation of categories in terms of their perceivable properties and the inability to reason abstractly (causally or logically) about these categories. Early childhood cognition, in short, involves being perceptually bound. While the empirical basis and explanatory structure of these theories had been challenged before (see R. Gelman & Baillargeon, 1983 and Wellman & Gelman, 1988 for review), Theory theorists such as Carey (1985), Gopnik (1988, 1996), Gopnik & Meltzoff (1997), and Keil (1989) went beyond providing disconfirming evidence and began to lay out an alternative positive vision of how cognitive development proceeds.”


Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

The Journal of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience is here and it’s open access. This Wikipedia article gives a good overview of this developing field.  And here‘s a Psychology Today article applying it to healthy adult development.  From the latter:

“The first guiding principle is that it is necessary to ‘quiet the limbic system’ (van der Kolk et al., 2005) to help emerging adults achieve a greater sense of safety. Quieting techniques facilitate attachments by promoting self-soothing and regulation. This is especially relevant when challenges are associated with trauma, anxiety disorders, and emotional/self-inhibitio­n. Emotional and cognitive learning cannot take place in a state of fear. This also includes protecting the brain from the neurotoxic effects of excess alcohol and substances, lack of sleep or nutrition, and the distorting effects of untreated psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis.

“The second guiding principle is the belief that it is essential to support the psycho-neurobiological development of a coherent self, an organized self, and a self-regulated self (Schore, 2008; Siegel, 1999; Gedo & Goldberg, 1973). This principle puts an emphasis on the processes of self-informed agency, self-directed empowerment, and an adaptive balance of vulnerability, collaboration, and boundaries for self-protection. This second pillar emphasizes the self-actualizing and motivational patterns of the developing individual.

“The third and last precept is drawn from neurocognitive modes of decision-making (Noel et al., 2006); therapeutic experiences of processing and problem-solving through emotional states of activation that occur in real-time within meaningful relationships are essential for achieving growth and change. Such experiences exercise and grow the networking between the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex which are naturally primed to sprout through emerging adulthood. Using mindfulness techniques such as “Reaction & Reflection,” while in relation, promote neurocognitive growth and, in turn, facilitate the further development of mindfulness, cognitive and executive functions, and competent self-governance.”

Consciousness is not a thing

Interesting article by Karl Friston, the Wellcome principal research fellow and scientific director at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging and professor of neurology at University College London.

“I’m compelled to treat consciousness as a process to be understood, not as a thing to be defined. Simply put, my argument is that consciousness is nothing more and nothing less than a natural process such as evolution or the weather. My favourite trick to illustrate the notion of consciousness as a process is to replace the word ‘consciousness’ with ‘evolution’ – and see if the question still makes sense. For example, the question What is consciousness for? becomes What is evolution for? Scientifically speaking, of course, we know that evolution is not for anything. It doesn’t perform a function or have reasons for doing what it does – it’s an unfolding process that can be understood only on its own terms. Since we are all the product of evolution, the same would seem to hold for consciousness and the self.”