Publication 8013

Miłkowski M. (2017) Is empiricism empirically false? Lessons from early nervous systems. Biosemiotics 10(2): 229–245. Fulltext at
Recent work on skin-brain thesis (de Wiljes et al. 2015; Keijzer 2015; Keijzer et al. 2013) suggests the possibility of empirical evidence that empiricism is false. It implies that early animals need no traditional sensory receptors to be engaged in cognitive activity. The neural structure required to coordinate extensive sheets of contractile tissue for motility provides the starting point for a new multicellular organized form of sensing. Moving a body by muscle contraction provides the basis for a multicellular organization that is sensitive to external surface structure at the scale of the animal body. In other words, the nervous system first evolved for action, not for receiving sensory input. Thus, sensory input is not required for minimal cognition; only action is. The whole body of an organism, in particular its highly specific animal sensorimotor organization, reflects the bodily and environmental spatiotemporal structure. The skin-brain thesis suggests that, in contrast to empiricist claims that cognition is constituted by sensory systems, cognition may be also constituted by action-oriented feedback mechanisms. Instead of positing the reflex arc as the elementary building block of nervous systems, it proposes that endogenous motor activity is crucial for cognitive processes. In the paper, I discuss the issue whether the skin-brain thesis and its supporting evidence can be really used to overthrow the main tenet of empiricism empirically, by pointing out to cognizing agents that fail to have any sensory apparatus.


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