Most of the approaches we will cover in this module may be loosely grouped under the term “embodiment”.  This term means many things to many people, and we will subject it to considerable inquiry. As you review these many different sets of concerns, some useful things to ask yourself include:

  • What is being described
  • What form would an explanation take?
  • What, if any, privileged role does the nervous system play?
  • What, if any, role does the brain play?
  • What, if any, role does the whole body play?
  • What, if any, role does the conceptual notion of control play?
  • Can you distinguish between the [person] and the body?
  • Do the constructs of cognitive psychology play any role?  (If so, are they necessary?)

There is much loose talk of the “embodied” approach to cognitive science these days. In fact, there is no such singular approach.  Embodiment is a theme that pervades many diverse takes on minds, bodies, and behavior.  This is just a sampling, and can not claim to be comprehensive.  Concerns of embodiment are relevant to pretty much everything discussed in this module.

* You might start by reading this excellent blog post that bemoans the trivial treatment of embodiment.

Now to some non-trivial examples:

* The examples provided by Braitenberg Vehicles show how the physical constitution of even very simple robots crucially leads to apparent behaviours that one might, if one wanted, psychologize. Based on Braitenberg, V. (1984). Vehicles: Experiments in synthetic psychology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (9 short pages are behind the link, not a whole book).

* A short but thoughtful presentation of several distinct strands in embodied approaches is provided in Chrisley, R. and Ziemke, T. (2003) Embodiment. In: Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Macmillan Publishing, New York. ISBN 0470016191. What they call “organismal embodiment” is where we are headed in this module.

Provided below are several articles that grapple with the theme of embodiment, each from a different disciplinary starting point. I suggest that you  pick one or two of the following to read, perhaps skimming the abstracts of all the articles:

From the stable of Fred Keijzer, from whom so many thought provoking contributions come, here is an essay on Robotics, Biological Grounding and the Fregean Tradition

If rhythm is your thing, this is a great study: MacDougall, H. G. and Moore, S. T. (2005) “Marching to the beat of a different drummer: The spontaneous tempo of human locomotion“, J. App. Physiol. 99(3).  It identifies a 2 Hz component as a strong feature of aggregate human movement.  It finds the same bias in our musical preferences.

A bird’s eye view: M. Anderson (2005) “How to study the mind: An introduction to embodied cognition,”  Chapter 5 of Santoianni, F., & Sabatano, C. (Eds.). (2009). Brain development in learning environments: Embodied and perceptual advancements. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

The intimate relation between gesture and speech is worthy of your attention.  Iverson, J. M. and Thelen, E. (1999), Hand, Mouth and Brain: The dynamic emergence of speech and gesture.  J. Consciousness Studies, 6(11-12), pp. 19-40.

A developmental perspective from Linda Smith and Mike Gasser (2005): “The Development of embodied  cognition: Six lessons from babies“, Artificial Life 11 (1-2), 13-29.

If that wasn’t enough, here is another thoughtful contribution: Wilson, M. (2002) Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9:625-636

And if you have had enough of reading, here is a useful video of a lecture by Rolf Pfeiffer, one of the many roboticists who have contributed to the field (There are many more videos from that meeting available here, to be dipped into at your leisure: https://vimeo.com/embodiedmind)…

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