Minds: Maths, Models, and Metaphors
Many of the most strongly held philosophical commitments are sponsored by a failure to give due care and attention to our use of language and, especially, the metaphors we employ when we talk about minds. This presentation focuses on a case in point. It seeks to explicate the extent to which certain foundational, framework assumptions about the mind are in fact licensed and supported by mathematical formalisms that apply to situated agents. Drawing metaphysical conclusions from such formalisms is a new trend in contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science. This presentation reviews the implications of robust mathematical models of situated agency and asks whether, and in what sense (if any) we should understand the proposal that situated agents can be said to be models or embed models within themselves. My presentation will be an effort to provide philosophical clarifications that shed light on these issues. To that end, I will illustrate the general form of the problem by closely examining recent discussions of the metaphysical and explanatory status the Free Energy Principle (FEP). I will also advance a proposal about the ultimate source of some of these problems.
Measuring human agency as a balance between autonomy and control, to help track well-being across the human lifespan
As altricial mammals, humans require a long time to mature and independently, without the help of another human, match their mental intent to their own self-generated physical actions, under volitional control. At birth, most vital motions for survival autonomously work through a series of central patterns generators, reflexes and spontaneous motions that help the nascent brain sample the periphery and build spatio-temporal representations for self-referencing, and bottom-up self-emerging physical entrainment, synergistically simplifying the problem of coordination and top-down control of the nervous systems biorhythms by the developing brain. From breathing patterns to feeding/excreting motions, neonates survive and go on to thrive and develop coordinated and synergistic patterns, flexibly recruiting and releasing the vast number of bodily degrees of freedom, and eventually, doing so in a highly controlled manner. The development of top-down predictive maps then transitions the human infant through notable milestones of motor control, following ontogenetically orderly power (scaling) laws connecting growth, neuromotor-development, and various cognitive abilities. This feat to autonomously control self-generated actions, to accurately predict their consequences and to develop a sense of action ownership, while generalizing them across different contexts, creates a well-balanced sense of agency that intrinsically rewards the human and encourages social exchange. As the bodily biorhythms are highly variable and particular to each human, then extending the coordination and control of one’s own body to those of others, and physically entraining with them in a social scene to communicate, is then a tangible goal of the system, and one that when successfully attained, leads to co-adaptation of the individual with the other societal members. It is in this sense that well-being can emerge and be supported throughout one’s social existence. My talk shows how to precisely quantify this in each social agent, in the social dyad and in a social group.
A Multi-Scale Approach of Mental Well-Being: Interacting Genes, Cells, and Social Minds
Cognitive sciences have traditionally examined social cognition from two divergent standpoints. One perspective, drawing on social psychology and behavioral economics, emphasizes the role of mentalizing, social perception, and our capacity to conceptualize the mental state of others. In contrast, developmental psychology and motor neuroscience highlight the role of imitating, social interactions, and our ability to coordinate with others' behavior in real time. This dichotomy has created a paradox in understanding the origins of social cognition: do we need to model others to interact, or do we need interaction to model their minds?
In bridging these differing perspectives, we have argued for a 'social physiology' that treats human cognition as a multi-scale complex system interfacing between biological and social processes. The term ‘physiology’ was first introduced by Claude Bernard (1865) to describe a systemic and integrative posture toward biological functions. We propose expanding this concept to include social functions, drawing upon empirical studies involving both real and artificial agents. Specifically, by applying principles from the enactive approaches, we will emphasize the significance of the biological and social embodiments in mental well-being.
In this talk, we will discuss how an integrative account of mental well-being needs to encompass everything from interacting genes and cells to complex mental processes during social exchanges. We will begin by exploring multi-brain neuroscience, investigating how inter-brain connectivity provides a quantitative measure that can link individual mechanisms to interpersonal dynamics. Subsequently, we will delve into neuro-inspired artificial intelligence, examining how findings in interactive social neuroscience can inform the design of virtual avatars and machine learning algorithms, paving the way for innovative interventions and therapeutic strategies for mental well-being. Finally, we will examine how a multi-scale approach that integrates genetic, cellular, and cognitive elements could influence computational psychiatry, especially for developing a precision medicine approach to mental health. However, we will also describe how personalized medicine should not forget the “person” in the process and explore how the future of mental well-being should move beyond individual boundaries, emphasizing the crucial role of social interaction and cultural determinants of health.
Infant-directed speech (IDS) can support infants’ and mothers’ well-being
Across languages, mothers are known to modify their speech when they talk to infants and young children. This style of speech is sometimes called infant-directed speech (IDS). Compared to typical speech between adults, IDS utterances are known to be shorter, and spoken with higher pitch, that are considered to facilitative mother-infant communication by catching attention and keeping infants’ attention. Mothers are also known to speak in a softer, breathier voice, which is likely to have an effect of soothing infants. Individual languages can also have IDS features that are rare in other languages. For example, Japanese mothers are known to use a large number of words that are only found in IDS. For example, “waNwan” for “inu” (dog), “neNne” for “neru” (sleep), “aNyo” for “aruku” (walk), are used predominantly in IDS to infants and young children but not to older children or adults. We will call them as Infant-Directed Vocabulary (IDV).
In the present talk, we present the results of a series of studies that demonstrated that: 1) the most frequently used IDV take two common prosodic forms – a Heavy-Light, 3-mora, two-syllable trochaic form, or a Heavy-Heavy, 4-mora, 2 syllable form – both of which are comparatively rare in adult Japanese; 2) Japanese adults (both mothers, and young adults with little contact with infants) have a clear sense that the HL and HH forms are “good IDV” but not good adult Japanese words; 3) Japanese infants begin to prefer HL forms over other words between 8- and 10-months of age, and they become able to segment words in HL form earlier than other forms. These results indicate that the specific way Japanese mothers modify word forms in the IDS facilitates Japanese infants’ word-learning at an early stage.
Studies have found that mothers of young infants who suffer depression do not use IDS to the same extent as non-depressed mothers. Considering the important role IDS plays in mother-infant communication, lack of IDS features in the speech environment is likely to exert a negative impact on an infant’s well-being.
Development of self in a populated environment
The defining feature of biological agents is that they strive to control encounters with the environment to obtain beneficial encounters while preventing harmful encounters. Perceiving the affordances of things is perceiving what encounters with them would afford. In so doing, agents are coordinated to a particular scale of nature in which meanings and problems reside, whose behavior being a constant function of what encounters with the environment would afford. In this talk, I focus on one aspect of the environment—a populated environment, which is not just a terrestrial environment, but a shared environment populated with other active, motivated perceivers and actors. I discuss the issue of how a populated environment motivates and entrains the individual development of perceiving and acting, drawing on the empirical examples of development of human everyday skills of walking, writing, and making.
Early development of interoception: towards the well-being of mother and infants
The ability to successfully regulate emotional states depends on the moment-to-moment awareness of bodily sensations. Information about the sensations from within the body is mainly conveyed via the vagus nerve, and the interoceptive system represents the internal physiological states. Given their regulatory role on physiological/emotional states, vagal function and interoceptive ability play a key role in physical and mental health. In this talk, I will illustrate the role of vagal function and interoception in well-being, particularly by focusing on those of mothers and infants. I will first introduce the studies that demonstrate mother’s interoceptive sensibility mediates affective interaction between mother and infant, and that mother’s vagal regulation influences the infant’s vagal nerve activity via skin-to-skin contact. Then I will present our recent study that investigated the early development of interoceptive processing. Specifically, we employed a novel task that behaviourally and physiologically measures an infant’s sensitivity to cardio-audiovisual synchrony. We found a developmental change in the sensitivity during the first year of life. Overall, I will discuss the possible mechanisms of the early development of interoception and vagal function that would be constructed through the embodied interaction between mother and infants, and provide insights for improving the well-being of both mothers and infants.
Long-term Perspectives on Human Well-being and Political Change in Past Complex Societies
Human well-being encompasses the material, social, biological, and cognitive dimensions of lived experience among individuals across the globe. From this perspective, well-being is a universal condition of the human experience that is uniquely conceived and expressed within specific cultural and historical contexts. Such a broad concept, however, necessitates theoretical refinement and empirical evaluation if it is to promote improved living conditions and sustainable future societies. Drawing upon Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, this paper introduces quality of life as a heuristic approach to evaluate the economic, social, and somatic means by which people, living in diverse times and places, could have pursued their own version of a fulfilling life. By shifting attention away from the goods that people have to what goods or resources allow people to do and become emphasizes the agency of individuals operating within the structural constraints of their own particular social and historical circumstances. At the intersection of these domains, we can examine how quality of life is mutually shaped by relations of power, social inequality, and broader political dynamics over long periods of time. This paper explores these themes using archaeological data from the Classic Maya (ca. 250-950 CE) to examine quality of life fluctuations in a society gripped by political upheaval and reorganization. Tracing these disparities over time and in cultures different from the present day offers important lessons about the universality and particularity of human well-being, demonstrating the contribution of long-term perspectives to future research.
Unearthing the Human Roots of AI for Wellbeing
Throughout history, humans and non-human animals have crafted tools to enhance their survival, adaptation, and meaningful existence within their environment. In contemporary times, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a fundamental tool in human life. However, growing evidence indicates that AI's negative impacts on wellbeing, such as societal segregation, mental health issues, and the disconnection from the natural world, demand urgent attention. In this paper, I propose a novel approach to AI design, development, and implementation, viewing it as a biocultural phenomenon of niche construction. By adopting the lens of biocultural niche construction, we shift the perspective from dismissing responsibility in AI development to embracing the potential for transformative change: to explore uncharted territories in designing, developing, and implementing AI for sustainable mental therapeutic interventions and collective practices prioritizing the wellbeing of individuals and the natural world. By regaining agency beyond mere survival goals, we can elevate our existence towards a purposeful engagement with the world, cultivating a future where AI contributes to the wellbeing and flourishing of all living beings.
The Predictive Dynamics of Human Flourishing
In cognitive neuroscience and psychology well-being has been characterized as optimal psychological functioning (Ryan & Deci 2001). But what is optimal psychological functioning? While optimality is often noted in relation to well-being, it is rarely explained. In this paper we will agree that there is a fundamental relationship between human well-being and optimality. In a nutshell we will look for an account of optimal functioning in terms of prediction processing. Predictive processing (henceforth “PP”) has recently been proposed as a unifying theory of the embodied brain and its cognitive functions (Friston 2010; Hohwy 2013; Clark 2013, 2016). The central idea behind PP models is that the nervous system is proactive and predictive, not reactive. We will develop an account of human happiness and well-being in terms of these predictive dynamics. We take as our starting point the idea that well-being is intimately connected to mental health. Predictive processing is an increasingly influential theory for studying mental illness. We take this work as our starting point for thinking about subjective well-being. We will outline how prediction dynamics can account for both momentary happiness (i.e. individual positive hedonic episode) as well as longer term well-being (what is sometimes called “eudaimonia”). What will emerge is a new computational framework of human flourishing.
Is intoxication a substance induced sense of well-being and addiction a prioritization of well-being?
The presentation investigates the intricate connection between well-being, intoxication, and addiction, aiming to shed light on their complex interplay. To initiate the analysis, the concepts of well-being and intoxication are defined and characterized from an embodied phenomenological perspective. Intoxication, as a component of substance use disorder, is often regarded as a primary motivator for addictive behaviors. The author explores the relationship between intoxication and addiction, probing factors such as the temporal dimension (short-term vs. long-term effects), the role of different perspectives (first vs. third person), and the potential influence of metacognition.
Craving emerges as a significant mediator between intoxication and addiction, prompting a deeper examination of the current state of the literature on the neurophenomenology of craving. The synthesis of existing research on the neurophenomenology of craving will be presented, illuminating the relationship between substance-induced intoxication, urges for drug use, and substance use disorder. By encompassing these multidimensional aspects, the presentation offers insights into the intricate dynamics between intoxication, well-being, and addiction, paving the way for a more comprehensive understanding of addictive behaviors and potential avenues for intervention and treatment.
Interpersonal Affordances and Relational Well-Being
In my talk I bring together the theory of affordances with the concept of the enactive self (as a social self-organized autonomous system). I propose an interpersonal approach to affordances as the mechanism by which we dynamically constitute and maintain our self-other boundary. The guiding assumption is that whenever individuals interact, they create a momentary, affective joint space, in which they co-constitute and co-negotiate (aspects of their) self-identities, often also independently of whether they intend to do so. I will use the concept of interpersonal affordances to explore the hypothesis that relational well-being depends on achieving a balance between the individual affective demands that participating agents place on the interaction as well as on each other.
Enacting respect in social interaction
Respect is a key element of social well-being. But it is not clear what respect exactly is. What is involved in treating other people with respect? In this presentation, I will develop an enactive account of respect by way of answering this question. There are different kinds of respects found in our everyday life. My talk will focus on a specific kind of respect, namely, recognition respect for another person’s epistemic agency. There are different ways to understand what this is. First, one can think of it as a cognitive attitude characterized by the acknowledgement that the other deserves to be taken seriously in an epistemic context. Second, one can think of it as comprising an affective attitude characterized by a felt motivation to do what is required to let the other exercise their epistemic agency. I argue that neither of these suffices for respect. I propose an enactive account of respect as an alternative. The enactive account conceives of respect as a skilled embodied practice. On this account, a range of embodied, interactive skills is required to respect another’s epistemic agency. It clarifies why it is insufficient to simply acknowledge and be affectively motivated to respect another to actually do so. Finally, I will indicate several points of similarities between respect and other embodied skills to further motivate the enactive proposal. (1) We learn to respect others through practice––that is, we do not simply acquire the ability first and then exercise it. (2) Respect is a graded phenomenon––that is, we learn to do so more smoothly and it can even turn into second nature with experience. (3) Yet we can also fail to respect others even after cultivating the relevant skills.