Archive for the ‘Embodiment’ Category

Inducing Out-of-Body Experiences

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Philosopher Thomas Metzinger emailed me a bunch of cool stuff he’s doing with some neurosicentists to utilize virtual reality to induce out-of-body experiences.

From “The embodied self: Using virtual reality to study the foundations of bodily self-consciousness“:

The “I” one thinks of as “myself” is inextricably attached to one’s bodily location. In patients with certain neurological conditions this sense of spatial unity can break down, causing disturbing sensations such as out-of-body experiences in which the global self is localized outside one’s body limits (often called disembodiment).

Previous experiments have shown that people may attribute fake body parts to their own bodies. In the “Rubber Hand Illusion”, a person’s unseen hand is stroked synchronously with a visible fake hand, and then the person is asked to point to his own hand. Subjects invariably err in the direction of the fake hand, attributing it to their own bodies. Because the attribution does not involve the whole body, the sense of global bodily self-consciousness is not affected. EPFL Professor Olaf Blanke, graduate students Bigna Lenggenhager and Tej Tadi, and philosopher Thomas Metzinger hypothesized that the same approach could be used to study the concept of global bodily self consciousness by using a single, coherent body representation instead of just a body part.

See also:
New Scientist, “Out-of-body experiences are ‘all in the mind’
New York Times, “Studies Report Inducing Out-of-Body Experience“.

Apsychogenesis, Bacterial Cognition, and The Greatest Paper Ever Written

Monday, August 27th, 2007

1. Apsychogenesis
If “abiogenesis” is the hypothesized origin of life from non-living systems, then a good term for the hypothesized origin of mind from non-mental systems would be “apsychogenesis”. A question I find fascinating is: What were the relative times of occurrence of abiogenesis and apsychogenesis?

I’m aware of no non-religious defense of the view that apsychogensisis preceded abiogenisis (and I’m not totally sure there are any religious ones, either). My own money is on the theory that abiogenesis preceded apscyhogenesis. If I understand their positions correctly, in defending the thesis of “strong continuity of life and mind”, theorists such as Fransico Varela and Evan Thompson are thereby committed to the co-occurrence of abiogenesis and apsychogenesis. (See Thompson’s article “Life and mind: From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology. A tribute to Francisco Varela” and his book Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind)

2. Bacterial Cognition
One front where the battle between the “life-first, mind-later” and the “life and mind: same time” folks will need to duke it out is over various competing and compelling claims concerning whether genuine cognition is instantiated in bacterial control systems.

Lots of defenders of smart bacteria gave talks in Australia this past July. (See here for various abstracts in the ASCS proceedings. See here for Kate Devitt’s detailed notes of Pamela Lyon’s talk.)

3. The Greatest Paper Ever Written

I have absolutely no idea what the greatest paper ever written is. I do know, however, that my “Varieties of Representation in Evolved and Embodied Neural Networks” gets more hits, month after month, than any of my other online papers. I know, additionally, that I much prefer that paper’s sequel “Evolving Artificial Minds and Brains”, (EAMB) wherein “apsychogenesis” was coined. Both papers defend the instantiation of genuine mentality in relatively simple control systems (such as those hypothesized to explain bacterial chemotaxis). (EAMB Links: pdf for the uncorrected proofs; html for the penultimate draft.)


Embodiment in Consciousness and Realism

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Two newish papers on embodiment caught my eye whilst auto-googling the other day.

Jesse Prinz, in his “Is Consciousness Embodied?“, discusses, among other things, my “Qualia, Space, and Control“. Do motor outputs play constitutive roles in the contents of conscious experiences? To put things very simply: Mandik says “yes”, Prinz says “no”.

Tony Chemero, in his “Toward a Situated, Embodied Realism“, discusses, among other things, a paper I wrote with Andy Clark, “Selective Representing and World Making“. Is realism consistent with embodied approaches to cognition? To put things very simply: Mandik and Clark say “yes, definitely” and Chemero, who used to say “no” now seems to say “yes, sorta”.