Category Archives: cognition

Winter 2020 discussion prompts

  • What is humanity’s situation with respect to surviving long-term with a good quality of life? (Frame the core opportunities and obstacles.)
  • What attributes of our evolved, experientially programmed brains contribute to this situation? (What are the potential leverage points for positive change within our body-brain-mind system?)
  • What courses of research and action (including currently available systems, tools, and practices and current and possible lines of R&D) have the potential to improve our (and the planetary life system’s) near- and long-term prospects?

Following is a list of (only some!) of the resources some of us have consumed and discussed online, in emails, or face-to-face in 2019. Sample a few to jog your thoughts and provoke deeper dives. Please add your own additional references in the comments below this post. For each, give a short (one line is fine) description, if possible.

Jared Janes on meditation and spirituality

Jim Rutt interviews him here. The blurb:

Meditator  and thinker Jared Janes talks with Jim about why he still uses the word ‘spiritual’, altered states vs altered traits, the equation and dynamics of suffering, understanding our own intentions, the confabulating mind, embodied intuition, the value and limits of conceptuality, what the self is and its usefulness, attention and awareness, the pleasure of concentration, metaphysics, and more.

Jared Janes is a podcast producer/host (The Jim Rutt Show, Both/And,  and Impactful), a management consultant, and a committed meditator. He’s been a daily meditator for over five years, has completed multiple meditation courses from different traditions, attends multiple meditation retreats each year, and personally coaches meditators in his spare time. Before podcasting and consulting he built a career in digital operations and management, started and ran a nonprofit, played a video game semi-professionally, and spent his spare time learning about personal performance, science and philosophy.

Storytelling as adaptive collective sensemaking

Bietti et al. (2018), Topics in Cognitive Science. The abstract:

“Storytelling represents a key element in the creation and propagation of culture. Three main accounts of the adaptive function of storytelling include (a) manipulating the behavior of the audience to enhance the fitness of the narrator, (b) transmitting survival‐relevant information while avoiding the costs involved in the first‐hand acquisition of that information, and (c) maintaining social bonds or group‐level cooperation. We assess the substantial evidence collected in experimental and ethnographic studies for each account. These accounts do not always appeal to the specific features of storytelling above and beyond language use in general. We propose that the specific adaptive value of storytelling lies in making sense of non‐routine, uncertain, or novel situations, thereby enabling the collaborative development of previously acquired skills and knowledge, but also promoting social cohesion by strengthening intragroup identity and clarifying intergroup relations.”

Enactive Becoming

Article by Ezequiel Di Paolo in Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences (2020). The abstract:

“The enactive approach provides a perspective on human bodies in their organic, sensorimotor, social, and linguistic dimensions, but many fundamental issues still remain unaddressed. A crucial desideratum for a theory of human bodies is that it be able to account for concrete human becoming. In this article I show that enactive theory possesses resources to achieve this goal. Being an existential structure, human becoming is best approached by a series of progressive formal indications. I discuss three standpoints on human becoming as open, indeterminate, and therefore historical using the voices of Pico della Mirandola, Gordon W. Allport, and Paulo Freire. Drawing on Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy of individuation we move from an existential to an ontological register in looking at modes of embodied becoming. His scheme of interpretation of the relation between modes of individuation allows us to understand human becoming in terms of a tendency to neotenization. I compare this ontology with an enactive theoretical account of the dimensions of embodiment, finding several compatibilities and complementarities. Various forms of bodily unfinishedness in enaction fit the Simondonian ontology and the existential analysis, where transindividuality corresponds to participatory sense-making and Freire’s joint becoming of individuals and communities correlates with the open tensions in linguistic bodies between incorporation and incarnation of linguistic acts. I test some of this ideas by considering the plausibility of artificial bodies and personal becoming from an enactive perspective, using the case of replicants in the film Blade Runner. The conclusion is that any kind of personhood, replicants included, requires living through an actual history of concrete becoming.”

Cracking the code of rapid social transformation

If interested sign up for this free one-hour presentation on Wednesday, January 15. The blurb:

Terry Patten and other activist leaders facing the grim implications of climate chaos are seeing surprising glimpses of evolutionary emergence in culture around the world.

Are we capable of making a huge, visible difference? How could each of us live differently to actually make it happen? Which cutting-edge communities and collectives are emerging to catalyze rapid social transformation?

Questions Terry will address include:

  • What is our best real-world evidence of change agents and spiritual practitioners around the world rapidly advancing culture?
  • What are the new potentials for technological breakthroughs that can open a window of opportunity for fundamental systems redesign?
  • What catalytic work is being done already by volunteers and organizers around the world, and particularly in the USA, leading up to the 2020 election?
  • What are the scientifically-grounded, realistic, transformative potentials disclosed by quantum social theory?
  • How might the emerging field of intentional cultural evolution already be setting the stage for rapid social transformation — visible now only in thousands of seemingly insignificant but daring conscious social experiments?

The age of entanglement

It is superseding the Age of Enlightenment as the dominant paradigm. It also applies to our models, many of which still retain the apparent logical necessities of Enlightenment hierarchical categorization. Entanglement is much more hier(an)archically synplex. Yes, we are still in transition, retaining elements from the Enlightenment. And when we do see evidence of entanglement we try to fit that round peg into the old square hole. But it’s time begin to frame our evidence within that new paradigm where it makes the most sense.

From this  2016 piece that began framing it that way way back when. In the New Year and New Decade it’s time to play catch up.

“Unlike the Enlightenment, where progress was analytic and came from taking things apart, progress in the Age of Entanglement is synthetic and comes from putting things together. Instead of classifying organisms, we construct them. Instead of discovering new worlds, we create them. And our process of creation is very different. Think of the canonical image of collaboration during the Enlightenment: fifty-five white men in powdered wigs sitting in a Philadelphia room, writing the rules of the American Constitution. Contrast that with an image of the global collaboration that constructed the Wikipedia, an interconnected document that is too large and too rapidly changing for any single contributor to even read.”

“As we are becoming more entangled with our technologies, we are also becoming more entangled with each other. The power (physical, political, and social) has shifted from comprehensible hierarchies to less-intelligible networks. We can no longer understand how the world works by breaking it down into loosely-connected parts that reflect the hierarchy of physical space or deliberate design. Instead, we must watch the flows of information, ideas, energy and matter that connect us, and the networks of communication, trust, and distribution that enable these flows.”

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

The empty brain

Article by Robert Epstein. He begins by noting the various metaphors we’ve used throughout the ages to describe the workings of our mind/brain: clay infused with spirit; the hydraulic model; springs and gears; and now the information processor (IP). While the author claims we can get to a real model without metaphor, he suggests the embodied model in direct interaction with the world. But that too is a metaphor, for we cannot escape using them to frame our minds, or anything, for that matter. His bottom line and with which I agree, is that the IP model is outdated, that our mind/brains do not process and store information like a computer, and it’s time to move on to the interactive mind/brain/body/environment metaphor, what we could just called the ecological metaphor. As a species we do seem to be making progress with our understanding, and this appears to be our next best guess.

Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in California. He is the author of 15 books, and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.

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.”

Does altruism exist?

A question posed by this round table discussion with David Sloan Wilson, Kurt Johnson, Barbara Marx Hubbard,  Richard Clugston,  Zachary Stein, David Korten, Rev. Mac Legerton, Kevin Brabazon,  Doug King, Mike Morrell, Ken Wilber. 

Table of Contents

– Introduction: Science in a Spiritual Key, by David Sloan Wilson and Kurt Johnson

– Synopsis of Does Altruism Exist? Culture Genes and the Welfare of Others, by David Sloan Wilson

– Commentary 1: The Sacred and the Secular Can Unite on Altruism, by Kurt Johnson

– Commentary 2: When It Comes to Climate Change, Altruism Better Exist, By Richard Clugston

– Commentary 3: The Wolves of Wall Street and Superorganisms: How Social Justice Should Mimic Our Cells, by Barbara Marx Hubbard, Zachary Stein, and Marc Gafni

– Commentary 4: “Does Altruism Exist?” Wrong Question; Right Answer, by David Korten

– Commentary 5: Insects Model their Societies on Altruism. We need to become Planetary Altruists, by Rev. Mac Legerton

– Commentary 6: Altruism Comes with Age, by Kevin Brabazon

– Commentary 7: Altruism’s Path and the Rebirth of Spirituality, by Doug King and Mike Morrell

– Commentary 8: Altruism and Integral Spirituality, by Ken Wilber

– Discussion Questions about Does Altruism Exist?

– Reply to Commentaries on Does Altruism Exist?: Integrating Science and Spirituality through Action, by David Sloan Wilson