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Archive for November, 2008

Over at Edge, a video interview and written transcript have been posted of Alva Noë discussing many of the philosophical problems concerning consciousness, and how a paradigm shift toward an embodied understanding of mind might help to resolve those problems.

Within it, Noë notes that most modern cognitivist research about consciousness and experience within neuroscience and classical cognitive science are actually just recycling many of the old problems of consciousness within a new framework. In other words, although the framework has changed, the same ways of understanding– the same paradigms– are still in place.

He uses the metaphor of a dancer to refocus instead on the importance of movement, action and the environment in the making of consciousness. He also ponders the mysteries of pictorial paradoxes about reference and meaning, and again discusses how an embodied approach offers answers.

Alva Noë is a professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Human-Robot Interaction

Human-Robot Interaction


A fascinating symposium will be held April 8-9 in 2009 about human-robot interaction (HRI) in Edinburgh, Scotland:

Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) is a growing research field with many application areas that could have a big impact not only economically, but also on the way we live and the kind of relationships we may develop with machines. Due to its interdisciplinary nature different views and approaches towards HRI need to be nurtured. This symposium will provide a platform to discuss collaboratively recent findings and challenges in HRI. Different categories of submissions are encouraged that reflect the different types of research studies that are being carried out. The symposium will encourage a diversity of views on HRI and different approaches taken. In the highly interdisciplinary research field of HRI, a peaceful dialogue among such approaches is expected to contribute to the synthesis of a body of knowledge that may help HRI sustain its creative inertia that has drawn to HRI during the past 10 years many researchers from HCI, robotics, psychology, the social sciences, and other fields.

The symposium will highlight a variety of topics, some of which include sensors and interfaces for HRI, human-aware robot perception, dialogue and multi-modal human-robot interaction, robot architectures for socially intelligent robots, HRI field studies in naturalistic environments, robots that learn socially and adapt to people and embodied interfaces for smart homes.

There will also be a companion symposium called, Killer robots or friendly fridges: the social understanding of Artificial Intelligence, which will address ethical issues in HRI.

Abstracts and submissions will be taken for the conference until January 9th, 2009.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff


If any single figure could be considered the guru for the current embodied philosophy movement, it has to be George Lakoff. Although technically a linguist, he is probably best known for his extensive interdisciplinary work in cognitive science, conceptual metaphor and politics. His published work includes the closest thing to a bible in the embodiment movement, Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, which he co-authored with Mark Johnson. And he co-authored the breakthrough book, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, with Rafael Núñez, which has spearheaded the entire field of embodied mathematics.

Arguably, Lakoff’s original foray into embodiment began within his work with conceptual metaphor, which has revolutionized the importance of that subfield within the embodiment movement. His work there can be most accessed in the books, Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson) and More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (with Mark Turner). And one work which bridges many of these earlier ideas is Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. His other contributions to linguistics have included proposing generative semantics as a substitute to Chomsky’s generative syntax.

Obviously Lakoff’s work here has been canonical, but he’s also well known for his political work, which primarily regards political rhetoric and political linguistics. As a political strategist, Lakoff has often been hailed as the “liberal Karl Rove”. He is the founder of the progressive think tank, the Rockridge Institute.

George Lakoff is currently a professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972.

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coldshoulder2
A new study appearing in the journal of Psychological Science suggests that the metaphor of social coldness can make the body actually feel cold.

Subjects in the study, when shrugged off and left socially isolated, believed that room temperature was significantly lower than subjects who were involved in social interaction. The study also found that socially shrugged individuals had a stronger craving for hot drinks and food, such as hot chocolate and soup.

This demonstrates more than just how conceiving of things through bodily metaphor (such as the notion of social isolation being ‘cold’– i.e., ‘being given a cold shoulder’) can influence the actual state of the body. Perhaps more aptly, it suggests that our bodily experiences of a particular situation can frame how we conceive of that situation.

The study supports the hypothesis within embodied cognition that conceptualization must be essentially metaphorical. That is, conceptualization is tied to how the body is situated, thus higher-level, conscious understanding is conceived through bodily metaphor.

Researchers also said the findings may suggest that hot chocolate could be a better comfort food for rejection than ice cream.

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This is not exactly the most engaging production, but the discussion does span a wide variety of issues related to embodiment.

Hubert Dreyfus discusses notions of embodiment throughout the history of philosophy, particularly in relation to the philosophy of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and relates it to modern research within Artificial Intelligence and the Internet.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio


António Damásio is a Portuguese neuroscientist currently working at the University of Southern California, where he heads USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute.

His contributions to the Philosophy of Embodiment are most accessible in his two bestsellers Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, and The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness.

Contrary to the disembodied dichotomy envisioned by philosopher René Descartes between the mind and the body, Damásio argues throughout his work that the body is the genesis of thought. Central to his argument is a collapse of the classical distinction between reason and emotion. Utilizing his expertise in neuroscience, he argues instead that reason and emotion fundamentally depend upon one another.

Damásio is also well known for proposing what he calls the Somatic-marker Hypothesis, which proposes how emotional processes guide action-oriented decision-making. The hypothesis addresses how decisions and mentality are structured through bodily action.

If you’re in London on December 11th, you’ll be able to catch Damásio at Tate Modern, where he’ll be giving a talk titled, “Embodiment: Body, Mind and Medicine”.

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According to some new EU-funded research, there’s more evidence that certain simple decision-making is processed within sensory-motor mechanisms rather than in parts of the brain associated with higher cognition and self-awareness.

This supports the notion that cognition is embodied, according to researchers.

Basically, it means that higher-level abstract cognition is not disconnected or ‘disembodied’ from cognitive processes which are responsible for body movement and motor response. Rather, this research is evidence that those higher-level processes appear to be built right out of the sensory-motor mechanisms. Even more astutely, decision-making appears to entail motor processes and motor planning.

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