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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

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According to a recent New York Times article, military pilots of unmanned Predator drones, who operate the drones from Las Vegas, over 7,500 miles away from where the drones are flying, experience more fatigue than actual pilots flying manned planes. The reason? Sensory isolation.

Since drone pilots operate remotely, they rely entirely upon cameras mounted on the planes to guide the planes through their environment. Unlike pilots who fly manned planes, who are embodied in the very situation that they’re operating within, drone pilots experience “significantly increased fatigue, emotional exhaustion and burnout”, according to the article. This overwhelmingly showcases the importance of taking into account the embodiment of perception and awareness.

Perhaps due to the predominance of a disembodied paradigm, these results may seem anti-intuitive. Shouldn’t the pilots who operate remotely, thousands of miles from harms way, have it easy? It turns out that reliable, healthy perception and cognition rely heavily upon sensory cues which can’t be abstracted from the conditions of lived, physical embodiment. Basically, it’s difficult to perceive the environment unless you’re actually in it.

That’s a powerful lesson. Understanding perception, or building a computer or robot which perceives, necessitates embodying the subject into the environment.

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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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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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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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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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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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