Category Archives: biology

Cognitive aspects of interactive technology use: From computers to smart objects and autonomous agents

That is the title of a recent Frontiers ebook located here. This would make an excellent discussion topic as it’s pretty much the sort of things we’ve been investigating.  We are Borg. The blurb from the link follows:

Although several researchers have questioned the idea that human technology use is rooted in unique “superior” cognitive skills, it still appears that only humans are capable of producing and interacting with complex technologies. Different paradigms and cognitive models of “human-computer interaction” have been proposed in recent years to ground the development of novel devices and account for how humans integrate them in their daily life.

Psychology has been involved under numerous accounts to explain how humans interact with technology, as well as to design technological instruments tailored to human cognitive needs. Indeed, the current technological advancements in fields like wearable and ubiquitous computing, virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence give the opportunity to deepen, explore, and even rethink the theoretical psychological foundations of human technology use.

The miniaturization of sensors and effectors, their environmental dissemination and the subsequent disappearance of traditional human-computer interfaces are changing the ways in which we interact not only with digital technologies, but with traditional tools as well. More and more entities can now be provided with embedded computational and interactive capabilities, modifying the affordances commonly associated with everyday objects (e.g., mobile phones, watches become “smart watches”).

This is paralleled by novel frameworks within which to understand technology. A growing number of approaches view technology use as resting on four legs, namely cognition, body, tool, and context (of course including social, cultural, and other issues). The idea is that only by viewing how these notions interact and co-determine each other can we understand what makes the human invention, adoption, and use of technology so peculiar.

Consider for example how advanced artificial prostheses are expanding the human capabilities, at the same time yielding a reconsideration of how we incorporate tools into our body schema and how cognition relates to and interacts with bodily features and processes. Then, of course, the new mind/body-with-prostheses participates in physical, cultural, and social contexts which in their turn affect how people consider and use them. Analogously, technologies for “augmenting the human mind”, such as computational instruments for enhancing attention, improving learning, and quantifying mental activities, impact on cognition and metacognition, and how we conceptualize our self.

Conversely, while virtual environments and augmented realities likely change how we experience and perceive what we consider reality, robots and autonomous agents make it relevant to explore how we anthropomorphize artificial entities and how we socially interact with them.

All these theoretical changes then back-influence our view of more traditional technologies. In the end, even a Paleolithic chopper both required a special kind of mind and at the same time modified it, the users’ bodily schema, or the way in which they participated in their sociocultural contexts.

Technological changes thus inspire a renewed discussion of the cognitive abilities that are commonly associated with technology use, like causal and abductive thought and reasoning, executive control, mindreading and metacognition, communication and language, social cognition, learning and teaching, both in relation to more traditional tools and complex interactive technologies.

The current Research Topic welcomes submissions focused on theoretical, empirical, and methodological issues as well as reflections and critiques concerning how humans create, interact, and account for technology from a variety of perspectives, from cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, constructivism, phenomenology, ecological psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, human-computer interaction, and artificial intelligence.

Relevant topics include but are not limited to:
– Distributed cognition in interactive environments
– Social cognition and computer-mediated communication
– Theoretical and empirical investigation of embodiment and technology
– Affordances of “traditional objects” and technological devices
– Theory of mind and social interactions with intelligent agents and robots
– Cognitive models for designing, interacting with, or evaluating technology
– Empirical studies on human-technology interaction
– Evolutionary accounts of human tool use
– Differences between animal and human tool use
– Methodological issues and opportunities in human-technology interaction

Divine transport

From this article. Now if we can only interpret trance states postmetaphysically. The religions that formed around trance states in the article, though evolutionarily adaptive at the time, have solidified into metaphysical dogma and are no longer adaptive to our world today. It though does beckon us to create postmetaphysical rituals with music, dance, invocation, incense etc. so that we can bond together via embodiment instead of just intellectually.

“So there is a need for a new idea, and coming to the fore now is an old one revisited, revised and rendered more testable. It reaches back a century to the French sociologist Émile Durkheim who observed that social activities create a kind of buzz that he called effervescence. Effervescence is generated when humans come together to make music or perform rituals, an experience that lingers when the ceremonies are over. The suggestion, therefore, is that collective experiences that are religious or religious-like unify groups and create the energy to sustain them.”

“The explanation is resurfacing in what can be called the trance theory of religious origins, which proposes that our palaeolithic ancestors hit on effervescence upon finding that they could induce altered states of consciousness. Research to test and develop this idea is underway in a multidisciplinary team led by Dunbar at the University of Oxford. The approach appeals to him, in part, because it seems to capture a crucial aspect of religious phenomena missing in suggestions about punishing gods or dangerous spirits. ‘It is not about the fine details of theology,’ Dunbar told me, ‘but is about the raw feelings of experience, and that this raw-feelings element has a transcendental mystical component – something that is only fully experienced in trance states.'”

“Dunbar believes that a few hundred thousand years ago, archaic humans took a step that ramped up this capacity. They started deliberately to make music, dance and sing. When the synchronised and collective nature of these practices became sufficiently intense, individuals likely entered trance states in which they experienced not only this-worldly splendour but otherworldly intrigue. They encountered ancestors, spirits and fantastic beasts, now known as therianthropes. These immersive journeys were extraordinarily compelling. What you might call religiosity was born. It stuck partly because it also helped to ease tensions and bond groups, via the endorphin surges produced in trance states. In other words, altered states proved evolutionarily advantageous: the awoken human desire for ecstasy simultaneously prompted a social revolution because it meant that social groups could grow to much larger sizes via the shared intensity of heightened experiences.”

“Meaning-making, the transcendent, and openness to revelation and discovery are core parts of the human niche and central to our evolutionary success. […] The trance hypothesis is neutral about the truth claims of religions whether you believe or don’t, though it does suggest that transcendent states of mind are meaningful to human beings and can evolve into religious systems of belief.”

More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

The dirty secret of capitalism

And the way forward. Granted it’s not full-blown collaborative commons but more like a healthy social democracy of the kind Sanders promotes and Scandinavia has. But I think it’s a necessary stepping stone on that road. The blurb:

“Rising inequality and growing political instability are the direct result of decades of bad economic theory, says entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. In a visionary talk, he dismantles the mantra that ‘greed is good’ — an idea he describes as not only morally corrosive, but also scientifically wrong — and lays out a new theory of economics powered by reciprocity and cooperation.”

The neuroscience of creativity

Since this came up in our book discussion or Range yesterday,  something relevant from this article. It’s interesting how the salience network mediates between and integrates two normally one on, one off networks.  And how it is the connections between networks that seems to do the trick akin to the book’s description of how those with range make analogous connections between ideas and domains.

“Three of these distinct brain networks — the default mode, the executive control network and the salience network — have been identified by Dr Beaty and colleagues as being associated with creativity.

“The default mode network is activated when people are relaxed and their mind is wandering to different topics or experiences, associated with remembering past experiences, thinking about possible future experience and daydreaming.

“The executive control network comes into play when you need to pay close attention and focus on something in the environment. It comes online when we have to focus our attention and cognitive resources on more demanding tasks that require us to hone our attention and manage multiple things in our mind at one time, directing the content of our thoughts.

“The salience network plays a significant role in detecting and filtering important — or salient — information. It’s called salience because it helps us to pick up on salient information in the environment or internally. Interestingly, the default mode and the executive control networks don’t typically work together — when one network is activated, the other tends to be deactivated. One thing that we think the salience network might be doing is switching between an idea-generation mode, which is more of a default process, and the idea-evaluation mode, which is more of a control way of thinking. […] More creative people tended to have more network connections.”

Consciousness in Humanoid Robots

New ebook from Frontiers in Science. The blurb:

Building a conscious robot is a grand scientific and technological challenge. Debates about the possibility of conscious robots and the related positive outcomes and hazards for human beings are today no more confined to philosophical circles. Robot consciousness is a research field aimed to a unified view of approaches as cognitive robotics, epigenetic and affective robotics, situated and embodied robotics, developmental robotics, anticipatory systems, biomimetic robotics. Scholars agree that a conscious robot would completely change the current views on technology: it would not be an “intelligent companion” but a complete novel kind of artifact. Notably, many neuroscientists involved in the study of consciousness do not exclude this possibility. Moreover, facing the problem of consciousness in robots may be a major move on the study of consciousness in humans and animals.

The Frontiers Research Topic on consciousness in humanoid robots concerns the theoretical studies, the models and the case studies of consciousness in humanoid robots. Topics related to this argument are:
– the needs of a body for robot consciousness;
– robot self-consciousness;
– the capability of a robot to reason about itself, its body and skills;
– the episodic memory in a robot, i.e., the ability to take into account its operational life;
– design strategies versus developmental approaches in assessing consciousness in a robot;
– robot architectures candidates for consciousness;
– symbolic versus neural networks representations in robot consciousness;
– consciousness, theory of mind and emotions in a humanoid robot;
– measurements and assessments of consciousness and self-consciousness in a robot;
– ethical and trust issues in a conscious humanoid robot.

Rapid Personality Change and the Psychological Rebirth

Informative video on this process. Ofttimes we need to descend into hell before we can ascend into a new life. And this seems the overall process of human development, that for each stage we must go through this spiraling process of dissolution and reorganization. Hence we are far more than twice-born; we are multiply born anew at each stage. It seems though that the further we go in this process the greater the risks and rewards.

Speaking of which, the inaugural issue of Phi Mi Sci will address this issue:

“The inaugural issue of PhiMiSci will be a Special Topic on Radical Disruptions of Self-Consciousness (see the Manifesto of the Selfless Minds workshop). The call for papers for this Special Topic was closed on May 1. Submissions are currently under review. The guest editors of this Special Topic are Thomas Metzinger (Mainz) & Raphaël Millière (Oxford). The expected publication date of this Special Topic is late 2019.”

Book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

In his new book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David J. Epstein investigates the significant advantages of generalized cognitive skills for success in a complex world. We’ve heard and read many praises for narrow expertise in both humans and AIs (Watson, Alpha Go, etc.). In both humans and AIs, however, narrow+deep expertise does not translate to adaptiveness when reality presents novel challenges, as it does constantly. 

As you ingest this highly readable, non-technical book, please add your observations to the comments below. 

History of complexity science

Here’s an interesting infographic of the main concepts and thinkers in complexity science across time. Notice S. Kauffman is slated in the 1980s column, suggesting the graphic depicts when influential thinkers first make their marks. 

https://www.art-sciencefactory.com/complexity-map_feb09.html

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.”