Saturday, September 29, 2007

Embodied Cognition

In my last post I wrote about Poirier et al.’s (2005) paper on ‘embodied categorization’ in which they coined the “cumbersome” phrase ‘embodied evolutionary-developmental computational cognitive neuroscience’.
As Wilson (2002) notes, there are actually several claims included in the term of ‘embodied cognition’ which do not come as an inseparable package but each have their own validity (or lack of it). Wilson untangles the following viewpoints that go with the idea of embodiment:
  1. “Cognition is situated.” We categorize and predict the real world in order to perform and perceive events.
  2. “Cognition is time pressured,” because it takes place in a real-time environment and must adapt and react adequately to real environmental challenges.
  3. “We off-load cognitive work onto the environment” by storing information in the outside world. Language and culture, in this view, could be seen as ‘shared symbolic storages’ of symbols, memes, cultural and cognitive artifacts, or however you want to name your desired unit of information. By this process we supplement our cognitive capacities, for example by letting some calculations be done by computers, or change our environment as to act more efficiently within it, or form a dynamic system with it.
  4. "The environment is part of the cognitive system.” This claim is actually quite controversial, but philosophers like Andy Clark (Clark 1997, Clark and Chalmers 1998), argue that, since out-of-body cognitive supplements function interactively as ‘external minds’, cognition should not be defined as something the mind does, but as a unified system emerging through the situated interaction of mind/brain, body, and environment.
  5. “Cognition is for action.” Action-guidance is the mind/brain’s main function, and perception, memory and perception are crucially involved in the selection and anticipation of desired events.
  6. “Off-line cognition is body based.” Embodiment plays a crucial part in how we see and conceptualize the world. The way we structure our knowledge, is often deeply influenced by sensorimotor categories and embodied experience. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999).
Poirier et al. mainly focus on the aspects 1. and 5., without ever claiming that this is all there is to cognition. Rather, they propose that embodiment accounts for certain critical properties of cognition.
In their account of cognitive simulations, the “reenactment of perceptual, motor, and introspective states acquired during experience with the world, body, and mind” which are reactivated and integrated to form categories is the process by which we model and predict external and internal states (Barsalou in press a).
They blend this view with Dan Dennett’s (1987) differentiation of three predictive strategies: the physical stance (folk physics), the design stance (folk biology and mechanics) and the intentional stance (theory of mind), which I will write about in my next post.


Barsalou, Lawrence W. In press. “Grounded Cognition.” In: Annual Review of Psychology 59

Clark, Andy. 1997. Being There: Putting, Brain, Body and World Together again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Clark, Andy and David Chalmers. 1998. “The Extended Mind.” Analysis 58.1: 7-19.

Dennett, Daniel C. 1987. The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, M.A.: Bradford Books

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Book

Poirier, Pierre, Benoit Hardy-Vallée and Jean-Frédéric Depasquale. 2005. “Embodied
Categorization.” Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Eds. Henri Cohen and Claire Lefebvre. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2005.

Wilson, Margaret. 2002. "Six views of embodied cognition." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9.4: 625-636

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