The project eSMCs: Extending SensoriMotor Contingencies to Cognition (1/2011-12/2014, EU FP7-ICT-2009-6 no: 270212) has recently come to an end. You can find more information on the project website. Here I include the reports delivered by our research team. They summarize what was work-in-progress at the time of writing, most of which was later published. But also some bits that have not yet been published.
Barandiaran, X., Buhrmann, T. and Di Paolo, E. (2012). Deliverable D1.1: Interim report on eSMCs and embodiment.
Barandiaran, X., Beaton, M., Buhrmann, T. and Di Paolo, E. (2013). Deliverable D1.2: eSMCs and embodied cognition.
Beaton, M., Barandiaran, X., Buhrmann, T. and Di Paolo, E. (2014). Deliverable D1.5: Cognitive organisation for sustaining eSMCs.
Buhrmann, T., Di Paolo, E., Barandiaran, X., De Jaegher, H. (2015). Deliverable D1.6: Agency and eSMCs.
Beaton, M. and Di Paolo, E. (2015). Deliverable D1.7 Virtual Actions and eSMCs.
A conversation about enaction, sports and embodiment with sport science researchers for issue 362 of the Revue de Éducation Physique et Sport. (Click image for full pdf).
After more than one and a half years, our work on enactivism and language (co-authored with Elena Cuffari and Hanne De Jaegher) has finally been published.
The enactive approach has often been criticised for not offering a clear story about high-level human cognition. It’s been said that it is often ok to think in enactive terms for simple, environmentally-guided performances (such as walking, even dancing) but that traditional computational stories will be necessary to bridge such “low-level” performances with “high-level” mental function, such as human linguistic capability. The endgame of such stories is a return to some form of representationalism.
We show in this paper that there are concrete alternatives to this way of thinking and that dichotomies such as high and low-level cognition, “online”/”offline” performance, etc. are the first to go when we consider the activity of languaging enactively.
We offer two models linking participatory sense-making and languaging. One is dialectical (figure below), the other describes the development of linguistic sensitivities and linguistic bodies diachronically.
Find the open-access article here:
Cuffari, E. Di Paolo, E., De Jaegher, H. (2014) From participatory sense-making to language: There and back again, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, doi 10.1007/s11097-014-9404-9.
Thomas Buhrmann has been working on a model of arm movement that, contrary to widespread assumptions, can compensate for the complex and dynamic inter-joint torques without the need for a central control using internal models. This work has been just published and can be accessed for free:
Buhrmann T and Di Paolo EA (2014) Spinal circuits can accommodate interaction torques during multijoint limb movements. Front. Comput. Neurosci. 8:144. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2014.00144.
The model shows how a combination of the musculo-skeletal complex non-linear dynamics and spinal control circuits can produce smooth arm movements where the torque produced in one joint due to movement around the other is actively compensated without the need of a central control by the brain. It lends support to the plausibility of alternative hypotheses of motor control, such as the equilibrium-point hypothesis, that do not rely on internal representations or models.
Earlier this year I participated in the making of a short documentary on the embodied mind organized by Manuel Bedia at the University of Zaragoza. A version has been around online for a while now, but now there’s a new version with English subtitles.
The embodied mind from Universidad de Zaragoza on Vimeo.
Close your eyes and follow the contour of the table in front of you. When you reach the end of it, do you think you would be able to continue moving your hand along the same imaginary line as if the table went on a little further? Most people would not have any problem doing this for a wide variety of conditions (body posture, distance and angle with respect to the table, etc.) Given this variety of circumstances, traditional approaches to perception and motor control postulate when we’re no longer in contact with the table, we must be using some form of representation that keeps guiding the arm along the same invisible line in a robust manner.
Together with Thomas Buhrmann, we have demonstrated that representations are not necessarily the only explanation, and that indeed it is possible to attune the movement of your arm to the world without at any point involving any internal models or representations, but simply by a shaping of dynamical sensorimotor transients. The “memory” of the direction of movement is kept in the whole agent-environment system in a way that generalizes across various relative positions and angles of movement.
For more information see:
Buhrmann, T. and Di Paolo, E. A. (2014). Non-representational sensorimotor knowledge. In A.P. del Pobil et al. (Eds.): From Animals to Animats 13, Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Simulation of Adaptive Behavior, SAB 2014, LNAI 8575, pp. 21–31, NY, Springer Verlag.
Following our recent work on formalizing some aspects of the sensorimotor approach to perception – in particular the notion of sensorimotor contingencies – using dynamical systems theory, we have continued along similar lines and tackled the question of how we ever learn to perceive something new.
The sensorimotor approach proposes that perception is constituted by the possession (and depending on the interpretation, also the enactment) of skilful mastery of sensorimotor regularities, so that in order to perceive something as soft, one must already know how and where one should apply pressure to it. The question that emerges is how do we ever learn to perceive something new if, according to this approach, perception requires already having a sort of sensorimotor mastery. In this way, that which we know how to perceive is perceivable, but that which we don’t know how to perceive could never be perceived because why would we develop new forms of mastery in order to perceive something that we don’t even know it’s there?
The problem has a solution once we admit that the notions of mastery and skill can have degrees. At a subpersonal level it is possible then to build a theory that establishes how we progressively form new sensorimotor capabilities as much as a response to internal norms as through the guidance of the world. An example of such a theory is Piaget’s theory of equilibration.
Our recent paper:
Di Paolo EA, Barandiaran XE, Beaton M and Buhrmann T (2014) Learning to perceive in the sensorimotor approach: Piaget’s theory of equilibration interpreted dynamically. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:551. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00551
offers a reformulation of Piaget’s theory in the language of dynamical systems theory, which allows us to establish a strict compatibility with our previous formalization of sensorimotor contingencies.
We these developments it is now possible to start thinking of more operational notions of mastery, thus contributing to various debates in embodied cognitive science. We see mastery in non-representational terms, as a progression of dynamical relations of equilibration with the world (including the world of others, although this is not directly addressed in this paper).