Excerpt: As a young man worrying about the fundamental questions of philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology, McCulloch set himself the goal of developing an “experimental epistemology”: how can one really understand the mind in terms of the brain? More particularly, he sought to discover “A Logical Calculus Immanent in Nervous Activity.” The present paper will seek to provide some sense of McCulloch’s search for the logic of the nervous system, but will also show that his papers contain contributions to experimental epistemology which provide great insight into the mechanisms of nervous system function without fitting into the mold of a logical calculus. Moreover, McCulloch was not only a scientist but also a storyteller, poet, and memorable “character. ” I will thus interleave a number of characteristic anecdotes into the more objective attempts at scientific history that follow.
Barandiaran X. (2017) Autonomy and enactivism: Towards a theory of sensorimotor autonomous agency. Topoi 36(3): 409–430. https://cepa.info/4149
The concept of “autonomy,” once at the core of the original enactivist proposal in The Embodied Mind (Varela et al. in The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991), is nowadays ignored or neglected by some of the most prominent contemporary enactivists approaches. Theories of autonomy, however, come to fill a theoretical gap that sensorimotor accounts of cognition cannot ignore: they provide a naturalized account of normativity and the resources to ground the identity of a cognitive subject in its specific mode of organization. There are, however, good reasons for the contemporary neglect of autonomy as a relevant concept for enactivism. On the one hand, the concept of autonomy has too often been assimilated into autopoiesis (or basic autonomy in the molecular or biological realm) and the implications are not always clear for a dynamical sensorimotor approach to cognitive science. On the other hand, the foundational enactivist proposal displays a metaphysical tension between the concept of operational closure (autonomy), deployed as constitutive, and that of structural coupling (sensorimotor dynamics); making it hard to reconcile with the claim that experience is sensorimotorly constituted. This tension is particularly apparent when Varela et al. propose Bittorio (a 1D cellular automata) as a model of the operational closure of the nervous system as it fails to satisfy the required conditions for a sensorimotor constitution of experience. It is, however, possible to solve these problems by re-considering autonomy at the level of sensorimotor neurodynamics. Two recent robotic simulation models are used for this task, illustrating the notion of strong sensorimotor dependency of neurodynamic patterns, and their networked intertwinement. The concept of habit is proposed as an enactivist building block for cognitive theorizing, re-conceptualizing mental life as a habit ecology, tied within an agent’s behaviour generating mechanism in coordination with its environment. Norms can be naturalized in terms of dynamic, interactively self-sustaining, coherentism. This conception of autonomous sensorimotor agency is put in contrast with those enactive approaches that reject autonomy or neglect the theoretical resources it has to offer for the project of naturalizing minds.
In this article, we propose some fundamental requirements for the appearance of adaptivity. We argue that a basic metabolic organization, taken in its minimal sense, may provide the conceptual framework for naturalizing the origin of teleology and normative functionality as it appears in living systems. However, adaptivity also requires the emergence of a regulatory subsystem, which implies a certain form of dynamic decoupling within a globally integrated, autonomous system. Thus, we analyze several forms of minimal adaptivity, including the special case of motility. We go on to explain how an open-ended complexity growth of motility-based adaptive agency, namely, behavior, requires the appearance of the nervous system. Finally, we discuss some implications of these ideas for embodied robotics.
Notions of embodiment, situatedness, and dynamics are increasingly being debated in cognitive sci ence. However, these debates are often carried out in the absence of concrete examples. In order to build intuition, this paper explores a model agent to illustrate how the perspective and tools of dynam ical systems theory can be applied to the analysis of situated, embodied agents capable of minimally cognitive behavior. Specifically, we study a model agent whose “nervous system” was evolved using a genetic algorithm to catch circular objects and to avoid diamond-shaped ones. After characterizing the performance, behavioral strategy and psychophysics of the best-evolved agent, its dynamics are analyzed in some detail at three different levels: (1) the entire coupled brain/body/environment sys tem; (2) the interaction between agent and environment that generates the observed coupled dynam ics; (3) the underlying neuronal properties responsible for the agent dynamics. This analysis offers both explanatory insight and testable predictions. The paper concludes with discussions of the overall picture that emerges from this analysis, the challenges this picture poses to traditional notions of rep resentation, and the utility of a research methodology involving the analysis of simpler idealized mod els of complete brain/body/environment systems.
When confronted with issues dealing with first and second order cybernetics, it seems that the manner of defining the former has been somewhat caricatured. The second appears to sometimes give rise to conclusions which are almost opposite to those of Wiener by questioning the possibility of a control for a system. We find in Wiener’s research a prefiguration of the autonomy concept, which, in our opinion, could bring an explanation – and a solution – in cases where control elicits some perverse effect; an acceptance of positive feedback if it serves a desired purpose; the central importance held for him by ergodic theory that we use in an addendum on imbalanced strange attractors control; the idea of a knowledge which may be the fruit of the control; an interest for logical paradoxes he put in relation to communication in nervous system; and already the notion of dialogue in the core of the relation man/man or man/machine. Of course, Wiener did not accord an equal development to all his insights, but we have not yet finished scrutinizing his writings. First and second order cybernetics perhaps form an agonistic/antagonistic couple of which neither element could overshadow the other.
A theory of the central nervous system was formulated recently, in general thermodynamical terms. According to it, the function of a central nervous system, and more generally of living autopoietic units, is to minimize “surprise.” The nervous system fulfills its task, and the animal maintains its viability, by changing their inner organization or their ecological niche so as to maximize the predictability of what happens to them, and to minimize the correlative production of entropy. But what is the first-person correlate of this third-person description of the adaptation of living beings? What is the phenomenological counterpart of this state of minimal suprise? A plausible answer is that it amounts to a state of “déjà vu,” or to the monotony of habit. By contrast, says Henri Maldiney, surprise is lived as a sudden encounter with reality, a reality that is recognized as such because it is radically unexpected. Surprise is a concussion for the brain, it is a risk for a living being, but it can be lived in the first person as an awakening to what there is.
Open peer commentary on the article “Maturanian Observer-Dependent Immunology” by Nelson Monteiro Vaz. Abstract: As a highly interconnected set of bodily components generating behaviors that observers often interpret as defensive or protective, the immune system can also be viewed as interoceptive - sensing internal shapes within the living body of which it is a part. The activity of the immune system is also extensively affected by components of the nervous system, and this has implications for what we consider to be the boundaries of the immune system and how we understand its domain of operation.
Cariani P. (2000) Regenerative process in life and mind. In: Chandler J. & Van de Vijver G. (eds.) Closure: Emergent organizations and their dynamics. New York Academy of Sciences, New York: 26–34.
The functional organization of the nervous system is discussed from the standpoint of organizational closure and regenerative process in order to draw parallels between life and mind. Living organization entails continual regeneration of material parts and functional relations (self-production). Similarly, dynamic stability of informational states in brains may entail coherent self-regenerating patterns of neural signals. If mind is the functional organization of the nervous system, then mental states can be seen as switchings between alternative sets of stable, self-regenerative neural signal productions. In networks of neurons, signaling resonances can be created through recurrent, reentrant neural circuits that are organized to implement a heterarchy of correlational operations. Neural representations are dynamically built-up through an interplay between externally-impressed, incoming sensory signals and internally-generated circulating signals to form pattern-resonances. Semiotic aspects of resonance states involve semantic sensori-motor linkages to and through the external environment and pragmatic linkages to evaluative mechanisms that implement internal goal states. It is hypothesized that coherent regenerative signaling may be an organizational requirement for a material system to support conscious awareness. In this view general anesthetics and seizures abolish awareness by temporarily disrupting the organizational coherence of regenerative neural signaling.
Clark A. (2012) Dreaming the whole cat: Generative models, predictive processing, and the enactivist conception of perceptual experience. Mind 121(483): 753–771. https://cepa.info/5066
Does the material basis of conscious experience extend beyond the boundaries of the brain and central nervous system? In Clark 2009 I reviewed a number of ‘enactivist’ arguments for such a view and found none of them compelling. Ward (2012) rejects my analysis on the grounds that the enactivist deploys an essentially world-involving concept of experience that transforms the argumentative landscape in a way that makes the enactivist conclusion inescapable. I present an alternative (prediction-and-generative-model-based) account that neatly accommodates all the positive evidence that Ward cites on behalf of this enactivist conception, and that (I argue) makes richer and more satisfying contact with the full sweep of human experience.
Cosmelli D., Lachaux J.-P. & Thompson E. (2007) Neurodynamics of consciousness. In: Zelazo P. D., Moscovitch M. & Thompson E. (eds.) The Cambridge handbook of consciousness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge MA: 731–774. https://cepa.info/2378
One of the outstanding problems in the cognitive sciences is to understand how ongoing conscious experience is related to the workings of the brain and nervous system. Neurodynamics offers a powerful approach to this problem because it provides a coherent framework for investigating change, variability, complex spatiotemporal patterns of activity, and multiscale processes (among others). In this chapter, we advocate a neurodynamical approach to consciousness that integrates mathematical tools of analysis and modeling, sophisticated physiological data recordings, and detailed phenomenological descriptions. We begin by stating the basic intuition: Consciousness is an intrinsically dynamic phenomenon and must therefore be studied within a framework that is capable of rendering its dynamics intelligible. We then discuss some of the formal, analytical features of dynamical systems theory, with particular reference to neurodynamics. We then review several neuroscientific proposals that make use of dynamical systems theory in characterizing the neurophysiological basis of consciousness. We continue by discussing the relation between spatiotemporal patterns of brain activity and consciousness, with particular attention to processes in the gamma frequency band. We then adopt a critical perspective and highlight a number of issues demanding further treatment. Finally, we close the chapter by discussing how phenomenological data can relate to and ultimately constrain neurodynamical descriptions, with the long-term aim being to go beyond a purely correlational strategy of research.