Archive for the ‘Neuroscience’ Category

There’s a great new article on the extended mind, titled, “How Google Is Making Us Smarter“, in Discover Magazine’s latest issue. You should definitely check it out.

The theory of the extended mind suggests that the mind is not contained exclusively ‘inside’ the skull, but rather that it extends into the external environment. While our mind can use the structure of our brain to store information, it also uses other structures in the outside world for cognitive functioning too. The classic example for this is the use of notepads or chalkboards as extended memory. To aid in the memorization of things, like classroom lessons or a friend’s phone number, we often utilize records stored on chalkboards or cell phones to remind us later of the information. According to this theory, the mind is intricately connected to its external environment through this kind of cognitive scaffolding. In fact, this externalism is necessary for real time, efficient action in the world. It bypasses the problem of an information bottleneck that would hamper real time cognitive processing if we had to store all of the relevant information about the world internally.

The article in Discover debunks the old myth that increasingly useful technology is making us dumb and lazy because it lessens the burden on our own brains. Rather, technology like the internet is making us smarter, because it is increasing our capacity to network with the extended world.

The theory of the extended mind was first proposed by philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers in a short essay aptly titled “The Extended Mind” in 1998.


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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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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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Francisco Varela

Francisco Varela

Francisco Varela (1946-2001) was a Chilean biologist, neuroscientist and philosopher, and is on the shortlist of visionary pioneers who conceived the interdisciplinary thesis of the embodied mind.

He began his academic career studying medicine and biology but also had a wide philosophical orientation, being primarily influenced by the work of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Varela also became a Tibetan Buddhist in the 1970’s. Undoubtedly influenced by both, he was well-positioned to join an understanding of the body in nature with an internal examination of consciousness and experience. His interdisciplinary connections were extensive, which ultimately led to the co-founding of the Integral Institute, a thinktank specifically aimed at sharing ideas between different disciplines.

The ultimate accumulation of his expertise was the publication of the canonical book, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, co-authored with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch. He is also responsible for introducing the term neurophenomenology, which conjoins the distinct methods of inquiry from phenomenology and neuroscience; a fundamental union in the development of the embodied mind thesis.

Varela is also responsible for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology, which refers to the self-creation and self-maintenance of biological systems.

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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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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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