TESIS: Towards an Embodied Science of InterSubjectivity

(3/2011-2/2015) FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN, no: 264828. (PI, Network Training Coordinator)

TESIS is an integrated ITN programme aiming at investigating the foundations of human sociality. It brings together the complementary expertise of 13 European research institutes, clinical centres and private enterprises that span the biomedical sciences and the humanities. Thus, TESIS provides a critical mass in the fields of philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, psychiatry and societal outreach.

It will advance our understanding of human intersubjectivity based on the following research and training objectives:

  • (1) To investigate the neural underpinnings of affective exchange with others, of shared action spaces and joint object relations, endorsing a novel interactive embodied neuroscience;
  • (2) To investigate the development of social skills in infants in the context of the awareness of others during interaction, yielding an interactive concept of embodied social cognition;
  • (3) To investigate the inter-subjective factors affecting psychopathologies, especially schizophrenia, autism and somatoform disorders and to draw implications for treatment;
  • (4) To investigate in toddlers and young children the understanding of toys, objects and cultural artefacts and the links between materiality and sociality;
  • (5) To investigate cultural interactive patterns and shared practices such as group learning, playing, teamwork, distributed cognition, creating applied knowledge for education, management, and organizational development.

By integrating state of the art and novel approaches to studying interactive situations, TESIS will significantly extend the individualistic and static paradigm still dominant in social cognition research. The major breakthrough to be expected from TESIS is a comprehensive framework for embodied inter-subjectivity applicable in the biomedical sciences, the humanities, and society in general, showing how we become human by embodied interaction with others from the beginning.

eSMCs: Extending SensoriMotor Contingencies to Cognition

(1/2011-12/2014) EU FP7-ICT-2009-6 no: 270212. (PI)

While the majority of current robot architectures is based on a “perception-then-action” control strategy, the eSMCs project adopts a theoretical perspective that turns this classical view upside-down and emphasizes the constitutive role of action for perception. The key concept our project is based on is that of sensorimotor contingencies, that is, law-like relations between actions and associated changes in sensory input. We will advance this concept further and suggest that actions not only play a key role for perception, but also in developing more complex cognitive capabilities. We suggest that extended sensorimotor contingencies (eSMCs) may be exploited for the definition of object concepts and action plans and that their mastery can lead to goal-oriented behaviour. The project pursues the following objectives: We will employ this approach to establish computational models that are suitable as controllers for autonomous robots; we will implement these eSMCs-based models on robotic platforms with different sensor-actuator equipment; we will investigate learning and adaptivity of eSMCs in artificial systems, focussing on sensorimotor interactions, object recognition and action planning; we will investigate and validate the concept of eSMCs in natural cognitive systems, by carrying out behavioural and neurophysiological studies on healthy human subjects; finally, we will test predictions derived from this concept in patients with movement dysfunctions, where ensuing changes in perceptual and cognitive processing will be tested. A set of benchmarks and task scenarios will be developed serving as demonstrators for the enhanced performance of artificial systems based on the eSMCs approach. Moreover, the usefulness of the approach for the development of applications in augmenting human behaviour will be demonstrated.

Quantifiable Constituents of Spiritual Growth – The Shamatha Project

(03/2013 – 02/2016), John Templeton Foundation, Co-investigator. Collaboration with UC Davis and the University of Western Sydney (and others).

Summary: We have conducted a pioneering study that speaks to Sir John Templeton’s vision of the need to cultivate calm, focused awareness and compassionate love. During two 3-month meditation retreats, 60 individuals practiced sustained, focused attention and cultivated loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. They were instructed by Alan Wallace, PhD, an American Buddhist scholar and contemplative teacher trained by the Dalai Lama. We assessed changes in experiential, psychological, cognitive, emotional, neuro-physiological, and hormonal processes during training, and a subset of these at 5 and 15 months afterward. We now propose to collect new data 6 years post retreat, while further processing and analyzing existing data. Using innovative statistical and computational methods, we will quantify multidimensional aspects of spiritual growth over time. We aim to understand: 1) long-term trajectories in spiritual growth inferred from qualitative and quantitative self-report and cognitive and affective data; 2) the impact of the training on people close to the participants and the concordance between self- and other-reported views of participants’ spiritual growth; and 3) how changes in experiential, cognitive, affective, and psycho-biological domains during retreat predict shifts in personal meaning and spiritual growth 6 years later. The proposed project takes advantage of a rare, large, and diverse trove of data, involves the understudied 2nd-person perspective on spiritual development, and will result in numerous peer-reviewed publications, with widespread dissemination via public and academic talks and press, furthering knowledge of the trainability of human cognitive and affective capacities that foster spiritual maturity. It will be a unique, field-changing effort in enhancing our understanding, from a multidisciplinary perspective, how intra- and interpersonal dynamics of spiritual development enhance the quality of life for self and others.

Identidad en interacción: Aspectos ontológicos y normativos de la individualidad biológica, cognitiva y social.

(2015 – 2018) FFI2014-52173-P

Co-Investigator. In collaboration with University of the Basque Country. Status: Running.

Basque Government Financing for Research Groups – IAS-Research.

(01-01-2013 – 31-12-2018) IT590-13

Co-Investigator. In collaboration with University of the Basque Country. Status: Running.

Basque Government Financing for Research Groups – IAS-Research.

(01-01-2010 a 31-12-2012) IT 505-10

Co-Investigator. In collaboration with University of the Basque Country. Status: Completed.

Autonomía y Niveles de Organización.

(01-01-2012 – 31-12-2014 ) FFI2011-25665/FISO

Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. Co-Investigator. In collaboration with University of the Basque Country. Status: Running.

Información, Autonomía y Sistemas.

(12/2005 – 12/2008) MEC — HUM2005-02449

Spanish Ministry of Science and Education. Co-Investigator. In collaboration with University of the Basque Country. Status: completed.

SECSE: Spatially-Embedded Complex Systems Engineering

(4/2005 – 1/2009) EP/C51632X/1

EPSRC (UK) project. PI. Multi-partner project with UCL, University of Southampton and University of Leeds. £1,534,784. Status: completed.

We are an interdisciplinary team of scientists working on an ambitious three-and-a-half year project titled “Spatially Embedded Complex Systems Engineering” (or SECSE). We are a research cluster spanning neuroscience, artificial intelligence, geography, and complex systems, brought together to understand the role of the spatial organization and spatial processes in complex networks within the domains of neural control, geo-information systems and distributed IT systems such as those implicated in air-traffic control.

A key driver for the project is IT’s current “network transition”: from traditional systems comprising relatively isolated hierarchically organised computational elements to large-scale, massively interconnected systems that are physically distributed and affected by local conditions yet must remain secure, robust, and efficient.

The project involves several world-class research groups in the U.K., and takes a highly interdisciplinary approach, bringing together experts in spatial processes, adaptive processes, biosystems and design processes, employing 6 post-doctoral researchers and involving two further doctoral research students.

SMoCN Simple Models of Complex Networks

(07/2003 – 06/2004) GR/S63762/01.

EPSRC (UK) Research Cluster. Co-PI. In collaboration with University of Leeds. £53,539. Status: completed.

Adaptation to radical sensorimotor disruptions through internal homeostasis

(03/2001 – 02/2003) NAL/00274/G

Nuffield Foundation. Principal Investigator. Status: completed.