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Archive for December, 2008

Rafael E. Núñez

Rafael E. Núñez


Rafael E. Núñez is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego. He is, of course, a major proponent of embodied cognition and his monumental work, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, written with George Lakoff, has revolutionized the understanding of mathematical cognition.

The publication essentially debunks the romantic Platonic myth that mathematics is transcendent, that mathematical knowledge is an ideal view of ultimate reality, and that reasoning is logical and that logic is mathematical.

His vast interdisciplinary interests also include cognitive linguistics, neuroimaging, conceptual metaphor, the empirical study of spontaneous gestures, as well as field research investigating spatial construals of time in the Aymara culture of the Andes.

He is also the director of the Embodied Cognition Laboratory at UCSD.

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vitruvian
Michael L. Anderson has put together a nice field guide to embodied cognition (PDF) which you can access online by following that link.

Centrally, the article outlines that the field of embodied cognition is:
(1) Starkly opposed to Cartesianism.
(2) Denies the conceptual divide between humans and animals, reconnecting our conception of humanity to an evolutionary continuum.
(3) Against cognitivism, or the view that cognition is rule-based manipulation of symbols.
(4) In favor of the view that intelligence emerges from situated, active integration within an external environment and context, rather than primarily within the internal confines of an individual brain or enclosed entity.
(5) On the cutting edge of artificial intelligence design, as well as showing immense potential in enhancing human intelligence through computation.

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Roomba

Roomba


Need a last minute holiday shopping idea for the ultimate gadget geek? Does your loved one obsess over embodied cognition or robotics, or just have trouble keeping their floor or gutters clean?

iRobot might just be the perfect gift. Co-founded by embodied robotics guru Rodney Brooks, the iRobot store has an arsenal of high tech robots, based upon an embodied, bottom-up programming approach (the stuff that works well!), all of which make your life at home that much easier. There’s Roomba, a handy vacuuming robot; Scooba, who specializes in floor washing; Dirt Dog for sweeping; Verro will clean your pool; and Looj, for the grimiest job of them all: cleaning out your backed-up gutters.

There are also communication robots, like ConnectR, which is basically like a mobile webcam, and there are research & education robots too, for the burgeoning roboticist.

Full on robot maids may still be a long way off, but these have got to be the next best thing.

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merleau
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) was a French philosopher and phenomenologist. He continues to be credited as the most influential figure in the development of a philosophical understanding of the importance of the body and corporeality.

His most central work in this regard is The Phenomenology of Perception. Through a phenomenological examination of perception, Merleau-Ponty argued for the significance of the body in perception and conception, which was in opposition to Cartesian dualism– the view that there is a fundamental schism between the mind and body.

Merleau-Ponty instead posited that the body is entailed by perception rather than an object of it. Through this discovery, he breaks down the subject/object dichotomy and concludes that the traditional notion of the Cartesian “cogito” must be replaced by what he refers to as the “body-subject”.

His particular brand of phenomenology was influenced by the desire to refute what he viewed to be the two most misguided tendencies within Western philosophy: empiricism, the view that knowledge comes entirely from sense impressions, and idealism, the metaphysical view that the world is constructed from the mind alone. Thus, his work is fundamental in rearticulating the relationship of the mind– or subject, to the world– or to objects. Ultimately, he argued that knowledge must be constituted of practical, lived and active exposure to the world.

Merleau-Ponty was also a trained psychologist, having lectured extensively on child psychology, development and education. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by a sudden stroke at the early age of 53.

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sarahconnor_main
A blog over at Discover Magazine pointed me toward the latest episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which alludes to the importance of embodiment in the development of Artificial Intelligence. During the episode, which was first aired on December 15th, an Artificial Intelligence researcher poignantly notes that “…tactile experience is integral to A.I. development.”

Indeed! Classically, researchers in A.I. have attempted to build the mind first– a disembodied approach which implies that real time interaction with the world is not a necessary condition for intelligence. Rather, it turns out that the most successful A.I. programs have flipped this approach upside down. By starting with the body and a perceptual system instead, intelligence develops as that system learns to cope with its environment.

It’s good to see popular science fiction taking note of the latest developments in embodied cognition, and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the future with the series. It may have just won at least one newly intrigued viewer.

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Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks


Rodney Brooks is a Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he also the directs the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Unquestionably, Brooks is the figurehead and principle leader of the embodied robotics movement.

Since his work was first published in 1986, Brooks has brought forth a new era in artificial intelligence. Instead of focusing on symbolic processing, which classical artificial intelligence was modeled on, he prioritized robotic architectures which were biologically-inspired. That meant focusing on sensorimotor and perceptual abilities– the capabilities an intelligent agent needs to interact successfully with the real world.

Brooks was also the first to point out that programming and embodying sensorimotor intelligence was far more challenging than programming basic symbolic reasoning skills. Thus, he argued that complex intelligence must ultimately be built out of those sensorimotor capabilities rather than from symbolic reasoning systems.

His classic article on this subject is titled Elephants Don’t Play Chess. His canonical books include the insightful Flesh and Machines, as well as Cambrian Intelligence. He is also a great popularizer of the subject, and has been featured in motion picture documentaries such as in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.

Some of his new work is in developing low cost robots that will empower workers and evolve the world’s labor markets.

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Although it’s a segment within a discussion about political framing, in this video clip George Lakoff discusses how embodiment comes to frame our ideas and perception through conceptual metaphor.

Within, he discusses how every word, in every language, is defined relative to a frame.

He also theorizes about the embodied source of certain well studied conceptual metaphors: “More is UP” and “Affection is Warmth”, the latter of which is also discussed in a recent study which we reported on here.

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