Why affordances matter
There has been a long-standing debate over how to understand the technical term ‘affordance’ from ecological psychology. This talk explores the consequences of taking a relational and dynamical approach to affordances, focusing on how such an approach allows us to account for how complex interpersonal, social, and cultural dimensions constitute affordances. On a relational and dynamic definition, affordances are enmeshed in temporal scale, can be acquired by learning, and depend on both cultural niches and full spectrum of human ability. We draw on phenomenology, critical theory, and discussions in enactivist literature to apply ‘affordance’ to capture a broader spectrum of human experience. This makes it possible to use affordances to address the social and cultural dimensions of phenomenological experience and questions of ethics and normativity. This work is a collaboration with Taraneh Wilkinson.
Proximal Interactions Matter: from Co-Embodiment to Social Interactions in Early Life
Human bodies are living biological organisms thriving for survival in a highly volatile environment. One key yet overlooked aspect is that the most primitive 'environment' of a developing human body is another human body. In this talk I will discuss the implications of the fundamental biophysiological co-embodiment on our understanding of the nature of social interactions. I will argue that proximal interactions mediated by 'invisible' senses such as touch and olfaction constitute the core of human social interactions, way before we are able to 'read' other people's minds via vision. I will conclude by contrasting human-human vs human-artificial embodied agents interactions, and highlight some key implications of the co-embodiment thesis on current theories of selfhood.
The intrinsic and extrinsic dynamics of social interaction
I’ll discuss four debates about social interaction. The first three concern early (pre-natal and post-natal) development, the fourth concerns the notion of shared time in everyday interactions. The first debate is about the nature of primary intersubjectivity – whether we should think of it as a kind of fusion, without distinction between self and other (Winnicott, Honneth), or as something that necessarily involves differentiation (Trevarthen). The second debate concerns the nature of the minimal self – whether it is pre-social (Zahavi) or in some way already imbued with sociality (Ratcliffe, Ciaunica and Fotopoulou). In this context I outline the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic sociality. The third debate is about whether our capacity for intersubjective interaction is hard-wired, i.e., intrinsic to human existence, framed in terms of what Heidegger calls Mitsein, or whether it depends on experience or empirical relationality, framed in terms of empathy. The final debate involves two interconnected issues that also address the intrinsic versus extrinsic distinction. The first is about the intrinsic temporal dynamics of interaction. Does the ‘we’-relation reside in the immediacy of a prereflective I-thou relationality (Schutz) or does it depend on a reflective attitude (Salice)? Second, how is it possible to engage with others, to share time, across unshared social horizons (Weiss)? I conclude by suggesting that an enactive view of shared time allows for understanding why primary intersubjectivity involves differentiation rather than fusion, why the minimal self involves relational alterity, and why, even if we are hard-wired or intrinsically attuned for social interaction, those wires can short circuit due to distortions in our everyday experiences of others.
Interaction matters: The case of self-illness ambiguity and relational authenticity from an enactive perspective
Psychiatric disorders pertain to one’s feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and/or actions: the kind of experiences that are closely related to who we are as persons. Psychotropic medication can have an impact on those same experiences. How then do you know whether certain thoughts or feelings are genuine expressions of yourself, or whether they are colored by your psychiatric illness, or by the medication you take? As Karp (2006) aptly summarizes the problem: ‘If I experience X, is it because of the illness, the medication, or is it ‘just me’?’. Self-illness and self-medication ambiguity have been reported with regard to various mental illnesses and may affect people’s well-being and treatment choices. In this talk I will discuss some findings from my qualitative interview study on self-illness and self-medication ambiguity with people suffering from recurrent depressions. One focus of my study is to investigate the role of loved ones in addressing these ambiguity issues. I will also address some difficulties with the notion of being yourself and discuss a relational notion of authenticity (Gallagher 2018) and how this idea can be further developed from an enactive approach.
How can an android become human?
How can an android become human? We are considering this question using ALter, the humanoid. Through numerous experiments and performances, such as having humanoids sing songs, conduct an orchestra, and mimic, we will consider the question "between machine and human”. One of our arguments is that the human mind is offloaded from the outside and therefore can be offloaded to androids.
The social, decoupled self: interaction and audience effects on dynamic self-other mechanisms
Much of the social cognition literature suggests that there is an overlap in the processing of “self” and “other” mechanisms, but studies have largely been restricted to non-interactive settings and individual-level analyses. The dynamic mechanisms that underlie self-other integration and segregation in social interaction thus remain poorly understood. In this talk, I will present interactive studies and computational models which quantify the dynamic integration of self and other, as well as the consequences that interpersonal coupling has on the self. The studies demonstrate evidence of a decoupled self when in true interaction with others and an “overly coupled” self as a result of audience effects, across bodily and neural dynamics, suggesting a potential dynamic mechanism for self-other merging and segregation. Finally, I will touch upon how interpersonal asymmetries in how we interact and form bonds with others may influence the balance in real-time self-other dynamics.
Aesthetic agency and collaboration with artificial systems
In 2019, the musician Holly Herndon released her third full-length album, Proto. In addition to other musicians, the album had a fourth collaborator: an artificial neural network named Spawn. Her (Herndon uses female pronouns for Spawn) role in each stage of the creative process was neither completely predictable nor completely under Herndon’s control. Spawn’s vocal contribution — tone, pitch, rhythm, and dynamics — was often novel and surprising. Herndon says she considers Spawn a performer and ensemble member, and that she “collaborated with a human and inhuman ensemble” to create this album. In this talk, I draw upon recent joint work with Tom Roberts to consider the questions: how seriously should we take assertions like this one? Do AI systems have the kinds of creative agency, autonomy, and expressive power that characterize authentic membership of an artistic ensemble? After rehearsing reasons why we might be skeptical, I defend the following claim: even if attributions of creativity to AI systems are not literally true, they can instead be fictionally true. I discuss why this matters, develop a phenomenological sketch of what aesthetic agency and collaboration might look like in these contexts, and consider how this case helps us think about interacting with AI systems more generally in everyday life.
Technology and Enaction: From Spatial Perception to Social Cognition
Taking into account the way in which our technical environment participates in all of our activities allows us to better understand the historicity of cognition and its links with social culture. Moreover, the study of the technical conditions of our ways of acting, perceiving, reasoning and interacting in a social framework, allows us to better understand the very nature of these activities. We will thus defend the general and radical thesis of a technical constitutivity of human cognitive activities and lived experience (Bernard Stiegler). To this end, we will follow an externalist approach for which cognition is not located in the brain (nor in the limits of the operational closure), but in the tool coupling of the organism with a socially structured environment. We will not attempt at first to enter into a philosophical and epistemological discussion, but simply to propose some experimental studies concerning our ways of - acting and perceiving, - recognizing shapes and reasoning, - and interacting at distance. Thus, we will present three experimental set-ups, with three specific technical devices that can shed light on these three areas: (1) Tool seizure and position space with the “Visual glove”; (2) Coupling gesture and form space with “Tactos”; and (3) Social interactions and possibilities space with the “Perceptual crossing”. These experimental studies can then be used to support a general theoretical discussion on technical agentivity.
Social Anxiety, Affordances, and Habitual Trust
Anxiety is commonly understood as consisting in (a) a negatively valenced emotional response to uncertainty about a possible harm or danger that (b) provokes certain kinds of cognitive and motivational tendencies directed at dealing with this problematic uncertainty. In some instances, social anxiety is a beneficial affective state, one which helps people to recognize possible threats or breakdowns in social functioning and respond appropriately to them. In cases of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), however, individuals exhibit heightened attunement to negative social cues, engage in high levels of self-monitoring and rumination, and often encounter difficulties with social withdrawal and lowered self-esteem. What distinguishes “healthier” instances of anxiety, which bring about awareness and needed caution, from the kind of intense dread that disrupts agency and social functioning in cases of SAD? To distinguish between these healthier and maladaptive forms of anxiety and how they differentially manifest in human agency and social interaction, I look to notions of affordance and habitual trust. I propose that these two different modes of anxiety differ in terms of the way in which subjects engage with available interpersonal affordances and the extent to which they trust other agents to help them regulate their attention.
Modeling the emergence of novelties and its dynamics in social networks
The continuous emergence of novelty is key to the creation of open-endedness. The phenomenon of the waves of novelties has been observed in interactions of human communication. Exploring this mechanism can provide clues to understanding the nature of open-endedness. An agent-based model that incorporates the Adjacent Possible space can successfully capture people's behavior within this context. We report on some findings from the analysis of this model and empirical data on the mechanisms that give rise to waves of novelty.
Interaction matters because some interactions change us in a non-trivial way. Trivially, interactions enable us to learn new things, see ourselves from others' perspectives, and be changed by others due to their actions and words. However, some interactions result in a transformed perspective. I claim this transformed perspective is a non-trivial change in one's way of being and that the way that these interactions change us is also non-trivial. In this talk, I will unpack these claims drawing on examples of group interaction in outreach philosophy to try to capture the particular quality of these transformative interactions and move towards an understanding of how to reliably bring them about in pedagogical settings.
Embodied cognitive revolution behind the “sapient paradox”
Looking back on human evolution in terms of the “sapient paradox” (Renfrew 2008) indicates two radical changes in Sapient behavior. First, approximately 60000 years ago, following their ancestors such as Erectus and Neanderthals, Sapiens spread even more widely across the globe in new environments entirely different from their original African savanna. The second change is mainly associated with the development of sedentism, termed the “sedentary revolution” (Wilson 1988). Sapiens started to settle in permanent places of residence by domesticating local animals and growing plants to meet their food needs, which resulted in the development of more sophisticated stock rearing and agriculture. In this talk, I would like to explore human cognitive capacities that support these behavioral changes from the perspective of embodied cognition. In my view, one of the most important of these is the hominid capacity of spatial cognition. This capacity facilitated finding the “self” in a particular place (“here”) in the infinitely expanding world, in addition to modifying the natural environments through tool use, led Sapiens to explore most areas of the globe outside of Africa with great curiosity. Therefore, we can find well-developed spatial cognitive capacity in the background of sedentism. By regarding the world as a “cosmos” structured around the “axis mundi” that connects heaven, the earth, and the underground world (Eliade 2005), Sapiens found their habitat to be an irreplaceable place where the village community should be constructed beyond a non-settling band. This epistemic change is expressed through different types of embodied interactions with the environment, being accompanied with other changes including those of social cognition, self-consciousness, and the notion of God.
Studies on cognitive neurorobotics by extending the framework of predictive coding and active inference
The focus of my research has been to investigate how cognitive agents can develop structural representation and functions via iterative interaction with the world, exercising agency and learning from resultant perceptual experience. For this purpose, my team has developed various models analogous to predictive coding and active inference frameworks and we have used them for conducting diverse robotics experiments involving physical interactions in the environment, social interactions with others, and embodied language. The current talk introduces a set of emergent phenomena which we found in such robotics experiments recently. These findings could inform us of possible non-trivial accounts for understanding embodied cognition including the issues of subjective experiences.
Cybernetic Humanity: Exploring the self emerging from human-computer integration
With the emergence of computer technologies, computers are no longer just tools of humans but are deeply intervening in our bodies and behavior. When humans integrate with computers and acquire abilities and different bodies beyond what we have, to what extent are we ourselves? In this talk, I would like to explore what the “self” will be like when computers and humans integrate through several projects including electric muscle stimulation, virtual reality, face morphing processing and human-robot system. Lastly, I would like to discuss the potential agenda of Cybernetic Humanity: new shape of humanity emerged from the integration of humans and computers.