Embodiment and Cognitive Science

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As a paradigm within situated cognition, embodied cognitive science can be distinguished from both the study of embedded cognition and the thesis of extended cognition. Embodied cognitive science appeals to the idea that cognition deeply depends on aspects of the agent's body other than the brain. Without the involvement of the body in both sensing and acting, thoughts would be empty, and mental affairs would not exhibit the characteristics and properties they do. Work on embedded cognition, by contrast, draws on the view that cognition deeply depends on the natural and social environment.

By focusing on the strategies organisms use to off-load cognitive processing onto the environment, this work places particular emphasis on the ways in which cognitive activity is distributed across the agent and her physical, social, and cultural environment Suchman , Hutchins The thesis of extended cognition is the claim that cognitive systems themselves extend beyond the boundary of the individual organism. On this view, features of an agent's physical, social, and cultural environment can do more than distribute cognitive processing: they may well partially constitute that agent's cognitive system.

Clark and Chalmers , R. Wilson ; A. Clark , Menary We follow recent authors A. Clark ; Rupert b; Shapiro , in holding that while embodied cognitive science can be neatly distinguished, in principle, from both of these other forms of situated cognition, and that there are times when this is useful even crucial , the broader philosophical issues in play are also revealingly discussed sometimes by considering these views together.

Thus, although this article focuses on the specific ways in which cognition depends on the physical body, it also discusses situated cognition more generally, as appropriate. A consideration Sections 2. We then turn more briefly to influential work on embodied cognition in the broad sense Sections 2.

Embodiment and Cognitive Science

Figurative language clearly plays a role in cognition, and philosophers, linguists, and psychologists have all contributed to its understanding in cognitive science Black ; Ortony Beginning in their Metaphors We Live By , George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argued that such language, and metaphor in particular, was not simply a phenomenon to be studied in the domain of cognition, but actively structures much of cognition traditionally thought to be isolated from metaphor.

If human experience is intricately bound up with large-scale metaphors, and both experience and metaphor are shaped up by the kinds of bodies we have that mediate between agent and world, argued Lakoff and Johnson, then cognition is embodied in a way not anticipated within traditional cognitive science. Although Lakoff and Johnson developed the basic idea here in different ways see also Lakoff and Johnson , Johnson , the general flavor of the view they share can be conveyed by considering a well-known example they discuss: that of love as a kind of journey. Those in a romantic relationship are often said to head off together, travel the same path, take wrong turns, retrace their steps, check their bearings, and pack their bags.

For Lakoff and Johnson, this non-literal language is not merely peripheral expression useful for adding bells and whistles to the bustle of communication, but reflects something deep about how love is conceptualized. Importantly, the central organizing metaphor—love is a journey—involves a mapping from one domain journeys to another love , where the source domain is informed by our bodily physicality and the embodied experience that we have as creatures who move through the world to achieve purposes and goals. These concepts are articulated in terms of our body's position in, and movement through, space.

We might get a first-hand feel for the embodied nature of such concepts in situations when we approximate such creatures, such as when we try to use such concepts to guide our action when we are laying down, moving backwards, or even looking in a rear-vision mirror. This example can also be used to illustrate why embodied cognition has proven to be a contentious view within cognitive science and the philosophy of mind.

One might argue that the dependence between our spatial concepts and our bodies identified above is mundane and unremarkable. Of more relevance to contemporary debates, proponents of embodied cognition must show that this dependence cannot be accommodated within traditional cognitive science and its working commitments e. At least this is true if embodied cognition is to mark a significant departure from, and pose a substantive challenge to, traditional cognitive science and associated philosophical views of the mind.

And that requires, minimally, not only identifying some kind of dependence or other between cognition and the body, but specifying the nature of that dependence. The book The Embodied Mind Varela, Thompson and Rosch was an attempt to re-direct the cognitive sciences by infusing them with the phenomenological perspective developed in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty More ambitiously, and less successfully, it also aimed to integrate cognitive science with Buddhist philosophy; the book also included some passing discussion of psychoanalysis.

Varela, Thompson and Rosch argued that the standard division between pre-given, external features of the world and internal symbolic representations should be dropped, as it is unable to accommodate the feedback from embodied actions to cognition via the actions of a situated cognitive agent.

The fundamental differences between their perspective and classical views lies in the answers to the questions of what cognition is, how it works, and when a system functions adequately. Traditional accounts basically state that there are no computations without representations, and view cognition as successfully functioning when any device can support and manipulate symbols to solve the problem given to the system.

Varela, Thompson, and Rosch introduced the concept of enaction to present and develop a framework that places strong emphasis on the idea that the experienced world is portrayed and determined by mutual interactions between the physiology of the organism, its sensorimotor circuit and the environment. Their emphasis on the structural coupling of brain-body-world constitutes the kernel of their program of embodied cognition, building on the classical phenomenological idea that cognitive agents bring forth a world by means of the activity of their situated living bodies.

One implication of this view is that only a creature with certain features—e. This is because cognition is a dynamic sensorimotor activity, and the world that is given and experienced is not only conditioned by the neural activity of the subject, but is essentially enacted in that it emerges through the bodily activities of the organism. This general approach encourages a view of enaction as essentially distinct from computation, as it is traditionally conceived.

Varela, Thompson, and Rosch's most detailed illustration of their perspective is contained in their discussion of color experience and categorization, a discussion that received much attention in other venues e. One variant, branded autopoietic enactivism, has developed in particular the biological phenomenon of autopoiesis and attributed to it a central role in explaining fundamental properties of our mental life Maturana and Varela ; Thompson ; Di Paolo and Thompson The notion of autopoiesis describes living systems as active, adaptive, self-maintaining and self-individuating, that is, as having the property of self-reproducing through self-regulating strategies.

In sum, although these respective varieties are broadly consonant, they come to emphasize different features, and internal tensions motivated a widen fragmentation and various forms of elaboration and extension. One such reason concerns the role ascribed to the notion of autopoiesis. A further reason for disagreement concerns the rendering of the claim that perceptual experience requires mediating know-how. Whereas sensorimotor enactivism advocates that perceptual experience is made possible by the possession and skillful exercise of practical knowledge of sensorimotor contingencies, the other variants consider the talk of mediating knowledge as a brand of cognitivism Hutto and Myin , somewhat consistent with the theory of mind that grounds traditional cognitive science.

In its radical expression, the enactive thinking maintains that mentality is to be explained in terms of direct environment-involving embodied engagements. By the early s, work in computational intelligence had started to explore ways of generating intelligent action in robots that shortly became known as the embodied approach to robotics.

In a pair of papers Rodney Brooks a, b had presented a general and accessible overview of a new kind of intelligent computational architecture, subsumption architecture, that was representation-lite and world-driven. Together with computational work by Agre and Chapman and Suchman , Brooks's approach suggested a view of computational intelligence in which control was governed bottom-up by behavior and interaction with the world, rather than by plentiful and often complicated internal algorithms and representations.

The sweep of work in reactive or behavior-based robotics, and its identification as marking a part of the embodied cognitive science, was heralded in Andy Clark's Being There: Putting Mind, World, and Body Back Together Clark here provided an integrative framework for a wide-range of emerging work on embodiment in the cognitive sciences. The big idea in Being There , one with lasting impact in embodied cognitive science, is that minds are not for thinking, traditionally conceived, but for doing , for getting things done in the world in real time.

Clark drew out affinities between this shift in the conception of intelligent action in computational systems and the emergence of the idea that cognition was scaffolded, embedded, and extended. The work we have briefly recounted so far all concerns what we called cognition in the narrow sense, processes like human memory, categorization, and language processing Lakoff and Johnson , human and nonhuman color categorization Varela, Thompson, and Rosch , and decision-making and planning in robots and robotic systems Clark.

But embodied cognitive science aims to encompass cognition broadly construed. To convey the flavor of early work here, we briefly consider the work of James Gibson on perception, and Esther Thelen and Linda Smith on infant walking and reaching behaviors cf. Shapiro James Gibson's account of vision challenged the idea that the central problem that the visual system has to solve is how to reconstruct a full-blown, three-dimensional world from the information specified in the two-dimensional image on the retina.

That idea has been prominent in traditional, information processing views of vision, including those of Rock , , Richard Gregory and Marr Gibson thinks that this is not a problem the visual system faces because vision does not begin with a static retinal array but with an organism actively moving through a visually rich environment.

Gibson's positive approach to vision was to attempt to specify this richness, the information in what he called the ambient optic array , especially invariants in that array, which can be used to distinguish agent-dependent and objective features of one's environment.

From Genius to Madness

By both emphasizing the role of the movement of a perceiver and the integration of that perceiver in a larger, visually rich environment, Gibson has been championed as at least a nascent proponent of embodied vision see also Wilson ch. Esther Thelen and Linda Smith offered a radical challenge to traditional nativist views of cognitive development by applying dynamical systems theory to developmental psychology.

One important implication of dynamical systems theory is that systems can generate novel behaviors e. Raising fundamental questions about shared assumptions in the field, they argued that the stepping behavior in infants is not driven by maturational processes somehow determined by a hard-wired genetic code, but results instead from the interaction between the infant's initial spontaneous limb movements and changing contexts. Thus, they viewed this particular aspect of development as an emergent and self organizing product of many decentralized and local interactions taking place in real time, with the promise of generalizing this approach to cognitive development more generally.

Finally by way of recent historical anchoring, the idea that an understanding of the body underpins the very possibility of experience has roots in the phenomenological works of Edmund Husserl , , Maurice Merleau-Ponty , and Jean-Paul Sartre , roots we saw acknowledged by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch in The Embodied Mind.

This earlier continental tradition was explored constructively early on within artificial intelligence, with special reference to Heidegger, by Winograd and Flores and also formed the backdrop to Dreyfus's classic critique of traditional computationalism. Embodied cognitive science pushes phenomenological accounts in new directions. It seeks not so much to understand how physicality opens up the experience of the self, the world and the others, but rather aims to specify the mechanisms that explain just how cognition is grounded in, and deeply constrained by, the bodily nature of cognitive agency.

We shall not explore the convergence between the early phenomenological tradition and embodied cognitive science, although we recognize that phenomenological insights can be an indispensable resource for the ongoing investigation of consciousness, self-consciousness, action and intersubjectivity see Gallagher ; Gallagher and Zahavi ; Thompson ; Gallagher ; Wheeler The general characterization of embodied cognition with which we began provides the basis for what we will call the Embodiment Thesis:. All five of the early examples of work in embodied cognition that we briefly summarized in Section 2 accept the Embodiment Thesis.

The working hypothesis of embodied cognitive science is that this thesis is true either because of the significant causal or the significant physically constitutive role of the body in cognitive processing. Proponents of embodied cognitive science have advocated both the causal and the constitutive claim about the role of the body in cognition. While the ascription of a physically constitutive role to the body in cognition has been taken to challenge traditional cognitive science in a more radical way than does that of a merely significant causal role to it, both versions of the Embodiment Thesis mark a departure from views of the mind dominant in traditional cognitive science.

Rather than following those who attempt to explain embodied cognition by appeal to the metaphor of grounding e. Shapiro , ; A. Clark ; Thompson ; Wheeler ; Anderson ; M. Wilson At the most general level, there are three such distinct functions or roles, each with its own implications for embodied cognitive science.

The body can function as a constraint on cognition, as a distributor for cognitive processing, or as a regulator of cognitive activity. We can specify each of these functions or roles more precisely, and draw attention to the distinctive implications that each has, and the work already described that appeals to each of these conceptions of the Embodiment Thesis. Amongst the alleged implications of the Body as Constraint thesis are two we would like to draw attention to:. The work of Lakoff and Johnson on the permeation of cognition by metaphor, and that of Varela, Thompson, and Rosch on enactive cognition especially in the domain of color perception and categorization , both exemplify the Body as Constraint thesis.

Unlike the role of the body in the Body as Constraint thesis, here the body is taken as sharing in cognitive processing itself, serving to distribute cognitive tasks between brain and body. The Body as Distributor thesis has three putative implications worth making explicit:. As these implications should suggest, it is Body as Distributor that is in play for those who take embodied cognition to challenge traditional views of mental representation Gibson and Thelen and Smith ; see also Glenberg on memory; Shapiro and Wilson ch. The appeal to morphological computation MacIver , whereby properties of anatomical structures such as the shape of bats ears play a computational role in a cognitive process such as echolocation , also relies on the Body as Distributor thesis.

And in subsuming both an agent's bodily structures as well as aspects of its environment as forms of non-neural structures, the Body as Distributor thesis draws a connection between embodied cognition and versions of the extended mind thesis that appeal to concepts such as realization and scaffolding Wilson and Clark ; R.

Wilson ch. Clark We distinguish this version of the Embodiment Thesis from the Body as Distributor thesis because of distinctive supposed implications that ascribing a regulative role to the body in cognition has. These include:. Here the body has a feedback-driven role in cognitive processing, and the Body as Regulator thesis has been especially prominent in dynamic approaches to cognition e.

To summarize this section: we have distinguished three ways to articulate the Embodied Cognition Thesis, each specifying a particular way in which cognition depends on the body. Put more positively and we think informatively , there are three distinctive functions or roles for the body that embodied cognitive science might ascribe: as a constraint on cognition, as a distributor for cognitive processing, and as a real-time regulator of cognitive activity. Such determinate forms of the Embodiment Thesis can ascribe the body either a significant causal role, or a physically constitutive role, in cognition.

In this section, we explore the revolutionary promise of embodied cognitive science with respect to three standard topics in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science: the modularity of mind, the nature of mental representation, and nativism. For alternative views of situated cognition and modularity, representation, and nativism, see Bechtel ; Rowlands ; and Rupert a. We begin with some general, putative contrasts between traditional and embodied cognitive science. Traditional views have tended to assume the existence of discrete, internal representations realized by underlying, sharply distinct and highly specified mechanisms in the brain.

These mechanisms, in turn, have been shaped by natural selection and encoded in genetic structures. Thus, traditional views have been influential in neuroscience and have been committed to individualism or internalism, the claim that cognition supervenes on the intrinsic, physical properties of the cognizer. The way in which central topics have been addressed deeply reflects the idea that cognitive phenomena can be accounted for locally, and that elements beyond the boundaries of the skull are of interest only insofar as they provide sensory input and allow behavioral output.

Embodied cognitive science, by contrast, has modeled cognition as the product of dynamic interplay between neural and non-neural processes, with no general fracture between cognition, the agent's bodily experience, and real-life contexts. Here the body is viewed as constraining, distributing, or regulating cognitive processing. Specifying how the body performs these functions in particular environments raises the prospect that cognition itself is neither bounded by the brain, nor perhaps even by the body itself. We can express the prima facie contrast between traditional and embodied cognitive science in terms of opposed views of mental representation, computation, and realization.

Whereas many traditional accounts tend to see cognition as representationally localistic, computationally fixed, and as properly characterized independently of the realizing neuronal system, the features of the physical body and the surrounding environment. Embodied cognitive science thus motivates an interrogation of some of the fundamental assumptions made in cognitive science.

Such probing is also manifest in views of cognitive modeling that themselves are not especially embodied, such as connectionism, which we leave aside here. Modular systems are independent, domain specific, encapsulated and hardwired, and function in a low-to-high processing hierarchy. When modularity theory was introduced in cognitive science Fodor , central cognition—cognition in the narrow sense—was characterized as non-modular, and as sharply distinct from modular peripheral systems, such as those governing perception and motor control plus, as Fodor says, language.

Fodor's claims about central cognition have been challenged by a wide variety of researchers e. Wilson , These critics have argued that higher-cognitive processes also meet modularity criteria. In fact, the view that cognition in the narrow sense is also modular is sufficiently widespread across developmental, evolutionary, and cognitive psychology perhaps to count as the dominant form of modularity theory in contemporary cognitive science, despite Fodor's contrary view Fodor Both the traditional, Fodorian account of modularity and its rebellious, dominant offspring make reference to the body and the environment only indirectly.

Modularity theory in either guise has little positive to say about the actual bearing of the beyond-the skull-entities on cognitive performance, other than viewing them as a source of input and repository of behavioral output. This view implies that all the tough work, cognitively speaking, is performed by cognition central alone, with peripheral processes simply providing inputs and executing instructions.

The claims that cognitive processing occurs purely in the brain in a modular fashion, and accomplishes its business by operating essentially independently from motor planning and motor execution, however, are called into question by empirical studies of embodied experience. One example of embodied experience in relation to language, one that exemplifies the Body as Constraint thesis is Glenberg's Indexical Hypothesis Glenberg et alia ; Glenberg and Kaschak ; Glenberg and Robertson , This view assumes that the understanding of a sentence is achieved through the activation of relevant action schemas, recruiting the same neural mechanisms active in overt behavior, and by affordance combination.

Consider the sentences:. Although both 1a and 1b are grammatical, the reason why 1b does not make the same kind of sense as 1a does is because the affordances of glasses do not mesh with the action of drying. Understanding the meaning of such sentences requires knowing the possibilities offered by objects referred to in them. These possibilities are constrained by the interaction between bodily capabilities and the referents. Another study showed that people are faster to comprehend sentences where objects provide the affordances needed to accomplish an action e.

Such findings indicate that the construal of meaning is constrained by the embodied possibilities a scenario offers, and suggest that sensorimotor processes contribute to language comprehension. This conclusion would likely be rejected by modularists because their commitment to encapsulation and domain specificity implies that language processing cannot be modulated by motor information and background knowledge.

Borghi, Glenberg and Kaschak have also reported that in language comprehension the perspective implied by the sentence guides the retrieval of information about objects, making conceptual knowledge available. Responses to questions over whether an object e. Embodied responses are activated also in judging specific objects' properties, suggesting that vision and action are tightly integrated in the biological organism, and that they jointly constrain cognitive processing.

The sharp distinction between vision and action that is part of the traditional modular account of cognition has also been challenged by studies of embodied experience. For example, when people are asked to choose among stairs of different heights the one they can ascend most easily their responses are consistent with respect to their stair-climbing abilities Warren Similar results have been reported for judgments of grasping objects van Leeuwen et alia catching balls Oudejams et alia and climbing walls Wagman and Carello Studies such as these support the general claim that perceptual experience incorporates anticipated embodied interaction, suggesting either that vision and action are integrated, or at least feedback linked, in ways that are incompatible with the flow-through model of cognition postulated by modularists Hurley ; R.

Even ascribing emotions, intentions or beliefs to someone appears to presuppose a certain bodily realization. Unlike traditional views, which posit an innate Theory of Mind module to account for social cognition Leslie, ; Baron-Cohen , an increasing number of studies in the field Rizzolatti and Craighero ; Rizzolatti et alia ; Gallese et alia , suggests that the understanding of other minds is primarily based on the motor expertise underlying our capacity to act.

Such embodied understanding is not only different in nature from the modalities of mindreading as traditionally understood, but also strongly indicates that the meaning of intentional behavior can be grasped only if we know bodily, experientially or both what it is like to be in a mental state. The processing that underwrites a variety of mental phenomena—discerning meaningful sentences from those that are not, extracting the possibilities afforded by objects, and detecting intentional behaviors—thus requires the orchestrated contribution of many components, neural and non-neural.

If bodily states and brain's modality-specific systems serve as the grounding of various aspects of our cognitive life, then traditional, amodal domain-specific modules are not the meaningful elements of analysis they have been assumed to be under the Disembodiment Thesis. The claim that cognition heavily relies on the processes evolved to allow organisms to interact effectively with the environment suggests that the mind is not decoupled from embodied experience in the way presupposed by traditional views in cognitive science.

Rather, the body can act as a constraint on cognition, and as a distributor for cognitive processing see Section 3. At the heart of the traditional scientific understanding of cognition lies a particular conception of mental representation Fodor and Pylyshyn ; Newell and Simon This conception claims that representations are symbolic structures with quasi-linguistic and combinatorial properties, act as vehicles of contents, and are what are primarily appealed to in explaining intelligent behavior.

Such representations are arbitrarily related to their referents because the way in which they are formed and deployed, along with their characteristics, bears no relationship to the physical and functional features of the referents. Thus, on the traditional view, not only are the internal representations employed in language, concept formation, and memory essentially distinct from those processed by the sensorimotor system, but their meaning is divorced from bodily experience. Supporters of this view have been committed to at least three fundamental principles:.

Recently, several alternative explanations for adaptive behavior have gained attention. While diverse, they all call into question the commitment to these principles. By advancing the idea that cognitive activity re-uses the processes and the representations deployed in perception and action, these explanations pose a serious challenge to the notion that conceptual and semantic representations are or must be amodal.

There remain significant differences between these views with respect to the radicalness of their anti-representationalist leanings see Chemero ; Hutto and Myin ; Myin and Degenaar Amongst the most influential anti-representationalist views is dynamical systems theory Beer , , ; Brooks a, b, ; Thelen and Smith ; Van Gelder Dynamicists tend to minimize and sometimes even deny the need for a centralized representational processor. The notion of representation that these authors challenge is relatively specific: an internal model capable of reproducing the external environmental structure that is used by the cognitive agent to guide its behavior in relative independence from the world.

Dynamical systems theory has proven to be popular in robotics and in work on artificial life, which has tried to explain adaptive behavior in terms of embodiment and embeddedness. As long as a situated creature can sense its world so as to allow its body to be directly influenced, abstract symbolic descriptions can be dispensed with. Formulating an empirically adequate theory of intelligent behavior without appealing to representations at all, however, faces insuperable difficulties, and the idea that it is a relatively trivial matter to scale up from existing dynamic models to explain all of cognition remains wishful thinking and subject to just the problems that motivated the shift from behaviorism to cognitive science in the first place.


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For example, organism-environment interaction alone cannot account for anticipatory behavior, which involves internal factors beyond the immediate constraints of the environment to achieve or fulfill future needs, goals or conditions. Domains raising a representation-hungry problem A. Clark are those involving reasoning about absent, non-existent or counterfactual states of affairs, planning, imaging and interacting for a recent, contrasting view, see Chemero Moreover, it is unclear why embodied cognitive science could not also be symbolic, representational, abstract, etc..

Puzzlement here is magnified by the fact that many self-styled embodied approaches to cognition are symbolic, representational, abstract, etc.. What they offer are specific views of what mental symbols and representations are, and how they function in our cognitive economy. Typically, they replace the conception of propositional encoding with one according to which symbols convey a modality-specific feature.

One view that adapts, rather than dispenses with, the notion of mental representation is Lawrence Barsalou's perceptual symbols theory , , , This theory rests on the assumption that human cognition does not consist of amodal representations that bear arbitrary relations to their referents in the world, but rather representations whose activation patterns include information from various sensory modalities.

For example, the symbolic structure that represents the color of an object in its absence, say, during imagery or problem solving tasks, depends upon the same neural system that is recruited when the color is actually perceived. Thus, not only do cognitive and perceptual mechanisms share representational states, but cognitive processing essentially re-activates sensorimotor areas to run perceptual simulations.

A further implication is that perceptual symbols are not independent of the biological system that embodies them and the content conveyed would be likely to vary if intelligent systems varied physically. Since appeal to the body and sensorimotor processes constrains the nature of symbols available to cognition, Barsalou's theory exemplifies the Body as Constraint thesis. While defenders of modal representations argue that there is little direct empirical evidence for amodal representations, with the adoption of the traditional model of representation largely motivated by theoretical reasons Barsalou et alia , 85 , and that their own views are empirically plausible see Pecher et alia ; Zwaan and Yaxley ; Glenberg and Kaschak ; Martin and Chao ; Solomon and Barsalou ; Martin et alia ; Spivey et alia , they also underestimate the difficulty of providing definitive evidence against amodal accounts.

As Machery points out, subjects' performance can be accommodated by both modal and amodal explanations see also Rupert Since most amodal advocates e. Moreover, as traditionalists point out, some mental problems are solved without reportable imagery, and subjects sometimes draw upon knowledge stored in modality-free representational systems.

Hence, generalizing results concerning the use of perceptual simulations in some tasks to all tasks, which is required for a general modal theory of representation, is problematic. Most researchers today recognize that cognition develops as a result of the dynamic interplay of innateness and learning, even if it is not always clear how this interplay proceeds.

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On the two-dimensional view of nativism defended by one of us elsewhere that distinguishes between strong and weak forms of nativism, R. Strong anti-nativists such as classic empiricists , by contrast, deny both of these general views. Paradigms committed to strong nativism has produced remarkable results in the field of cognitive development of infants, in domains including arithmetic and physics Baillargeon , Baillargeon et alia ; Spelke et alia , Those critical of nativism have labeled nativism as antidevelopmental in nature Haith , and claimed that conclusions that the mind consists of hard-wired traits that unfold through maturation on a fixed pattern conflict with the very idea of learning and flexibility Quartz and Sejnowski ; Thelen and Smith ; Bates et alia ; Karmiloff-Smith These roles often pose challenges to strong nativist and strong empiricist views alike.

As such, embodied cognitive science does not simply assume, with empiricists, that cognitive processing depends to a great extent on environmental exposure, and that cognition is a causal reflection of it. Further, while empiricists typically conceive of the world as something objectively given to a subject, who thus forms a static representation of it that then guides action, embodied cognitive science addresses how the dynamic interplay between embodied agent and the world generates cognition.

It is this focus on dynamic, worldly interplay that provides one link from embodied to embedded cognition within situated cognitive science. Here we will explore whether, and in what ways, embodied cognitive science has been thought to undermine strong nativist claims. By and large, embodied cognitive science generally downplays the internal richness needed to perform complex behavior Rupert a , highlighting the fact that cognitive processing and development are deeply affected by perturbation across changes in the environment and the body in action Griffiths and Stotz ; Clark and Toribio ; Thelen and Smith ; Varela, Thompson and Rosch ; Ballard The body in action is a powerful constraint on how organisms conceive their niche, as this constraint allows certain interactions and experiences to have an effect on concept formation and understanding of linguistic meaning.

For example, by having fingers capable of grasping objects and legs capable of walking and climbing walls, we sort and categorize stimuli in ways that are radically different from, say, the ways in which they are sorted by butterflies. One's own ordinarily kinesthetic experiences essentially frame the acquisition and development of cognitive structures.

That appears to support the significant contribution of the beyond-the-skull components in realizing cognitive phenomena, and in terms of the framework we have introduced see section 3 it exemplifies both the Body as Constraint and Body as Distributor theses. Examples supporting the Body as Distributor thesis come from non-nativist research on perception. Many putative modules, such as those for sensory processing, develop partly via learning. In the newborn, sensory modalities and cortical pathways are not as differentiated as are those of mature brains but appear to emerge through a series of strengthening interactions between the active body and the environment Quartz and Sejnowski This implies that in infants few, if any, cortical pathways are domain specific and highly specialized for most tasks, but during development by virtue of active interactions with the environment get recruited and tuned up for processing particular stimuli Elman et alia Other empirical results in the study of sensory modalities point in the same direction, rejecting the idea that the senses are dedicated modules wired up for perception at birth, with the body's interactions with the environment playing only a secondary role in constraining or even determining the nature of perceptual processing.

Conversely, it seems that many relevant capacities are not as domain-specific as they may initially appear. For example, even though the visual cortex appears dedicated to process a particular class of information, it can be recruited by a different sense modality during the reading of Braille—whether the subject has congenital, acquired or induced blindfold blindness Sadato et alia , ; see also Pascual-Leone and Hamilton ; Pascual-Leone et alia If we extend these observations to face recognition, further support for the hypothesis that specialization begins at later stage of development, by virtue of experience, arises.

Despite the fact that the fusiform face area FFA is highly selective to faces Kanwisher ; Kanwisher et alia , data suggest that it can also be activated in response to non-face features, such as birds and cars, provided that subjects have a substantial expertise in those categories Gauthier et alia While this evidence does not call into question the idea of brain specialization, it does indicate the role of bodily activity in generating the differentiation of cortical pathways and the emergence of specific functions, such as direction-selective responses in the visual cortex.

Embodied interactions with the world shape and control the mechanisms responsible for this information processing, offering support for the Body as Distributor and Body as Regulator theses. Additionally, consider studies investigating how switching handedness shapes cortical sensorimotor representations of finger movements.

A left to right switch of handwriting not only triggers a general re-organization of motor dominance but also has a wider impact on the functional neuroanatomy of the motor system that controls the hands, influencing even motor tasks that require little skill Kloeppel et al The re-organization patterns found in converted left-handers show how flexible the brain is in terms of which regions can do what in response to educational training and hand use throughout life, and how bodily features and interaction schemas are conditions to which the brain is attuned to.

These studies can be interpreted as suggesting that embodied interactions and the beyond-the-body environment may themselves be partial realizers of the corresponding cognitive activity. Including non-neural parts of the body amongst the physically constitutive building blocks of cognition suggests a more radical reading of embodied cognition.

Strong nativist claims may also be challenged when considering cognition beyond the sense modalities. The issue concerning how much language-specific information, if any, is innate has been one of the dominant topic in cognitive science and the literature relevant to the matter provides us with a wide range of possibilities. Some Pinker ; Chomsky , , for instance, conclude that a specific innate endowment help explain several aspects of children's linguistic performance.

Others Cowie ; Bates ; Bates et alia , instead, find this conception unparsimonious and puzzling from an evolutionary standpoint, and claim that nonlinguistic learning factors significantly constrain and control the range of possibilities that characterize spoken language. Encouragement for this latter view comes from evidence that shows how language acquisition heavily depends, beyond environmental exposure, on a number of different factors, including working memory and general cognitive development Seung and Chapman, First language learning, for instance, builds on what children already know about objects and events they experienced and this knowledge background provides them with the basis onto which they can map words see E.

Clark for reviews. Their ability to develop a language is also affected by information they receive from adults and caregivers. Accordingly, they will be sensitive and prone to pick up the regularities they hear more often, such as frequent words, sounds, inflections and grammar constructions Saffran et alia ; De Villiers Also social interactions appear to be crucial to the process of language acquisition. Children more quickly learn to name things that are physically present during a conversation and to which the joint focus of attention is directed E.

Clark ; Tomasello Even language development in children affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorder ASD , commonly held to have a genetic origin, can be modulated by parental and social factors, such as gender and high level of education Grandgeorge et alia The same holds for normal development in which the size and production of a child's vocabulary appears to be deeply related to parents' lexical richness, monitoring of language interaction and socioeconomic status Hoff ; Hoff and Naigles Implications of these findings support the Body as Distributor thesis and place primary emphasis on the view that properties of language-learning process heavily depend on the environmental and social conditions within which an individual is raised.

They also indicate that direct engagement with the world and other individuals regulate language functioning and that this functioning is inseparably linked to and exploits the affordances of the situation within which language processes take place. Further support for the Body as Distributor thesis comes from evidence that differences in early gesture explain disparities in children's vocabulary size Rowe and Goldin-Meadow a.

Parents frequently appealing to gesture to translate their words provide children with an opportunity to learn particular meanings by hands and this parent-child gesture use accounts for the correlation between early gesture of children at 14 months and later vocabulary skills and size at 54 months. Although gesture is not the only factor mediating language development, evidence strongly suggests that exposure to a broader range of embodied interactions determines lexical richness and vocabulary growth.

These findings collectively suggest that if learning is body-based and correlated with nonlinguistic aspects of behavior, then appeals to some forms of innateness seem unlikely to account for such features of language development. Additional support for the Body as Distributor thesis comes from data showing the role of gestures in reasoning.

According to the Gesture as Simulated Action GSA Framework Hostetter and Alibabi , gestures derive from mental simulations of actions and perceptual states that people utilize when thinking, and they affect the cognitive mechanisms in service of mental imagery, judgment and problem solving by raising activation of sensorimotor areas see Alibabi et alia for a recent discussion.

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It should be clear that no form of the Embodiment Thesis denies the biological grounds of language processes and cognitive activity. What it challenges is the adequacy of current research programs that continue to build heavily on the idea that language and cognitive development rely on processes and mechanisms that are domain-specific and causally powerful.

Embodied cognitive science has generated evidence that suggests that non-neural structures are not merely secondary resources. Rather, they variously foster, constitute, and determine the acquisition and development of specific psychological capacities, including those operant in language and perceptual processing. In this section, we focus on five empirical domains in which an embodied perspective has motivated novel insights about cognition and the mind: visual consciousness, concepts, memory, the understanding of other minds, and moral cognition.

We limit discussion to these five topics for reasons of space and clarity, not because these are the only five to which these theoretical tools can be fruitfully applied see Gibbs for an extensive presentation and discussion of a wider range of applications. Visual consciousness is typically viewed as a process within the brain.

Yet the issues about the relationship between conscious experience and neural structures are empirically and philosophically controversial. Brain plasticity, for example, provides some reason to think that there could be different neural substrates for a given conscious visual experience, both within the same individual at different times, or different individuals at the same time.

Hence, while seemingly obvious, upon closer examination the brain-centered view endorsed by prominent scholars, such as Koch ; Chalmers ; Metzinger ; Crick and Koch , ; Crick appears problematic. One argument concerns the incommensurability of the features of the content of visual experience.

Just as the sense of our visual conscious experience depends on our implicit mastery of sensorimotor contingencies—a set of rules concerning how sensory stimulation varies as a function of movement—conscious visual experience is a temporary pattern of skillful activity. Whether or not these authors are right, their claim is significant, as it urges neuroscientists and philosophers to pursue a rather different approach to understanding the basis of visual consciousness Gangopadhyay, Madary, and Spicer, Two striking, experimentally-generated phenomena that indicate surprising dimensions to the limitations of our explicit visual knowledge have been invoked in support of embodied views of visual consciousness.

The first of these, change-blindness Levins and Simons , occurs when changes to a visual scene are coordinated with the short periods during which a subject is saccading; the second, inattentional blindness Mack and Rock ; Simons and Chambris , when such changes occur while subjects are engaged in an attention-intensive task. Under such conditions, subjects can fail to report noticing even massive and to other observers striking changes to a visual scene, such as the appearance of a dancing gorilla walking through the middle of the scene.

These phenomena call into question the traditional assumption that the brain reconstructs detailed and accurate internal models of the visual field. This assumption, while widespread, has obscured two important points, each motivating a shift to an embodied perspective on vision:. That subjects are usually capable of noticing large changes to, and unexpected elements in, the visual field, show several things.


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Most importantly for present purposes, visual conscious experience is a skillful engagement with the world and heavily depends on what we do with our eyes, head and body to bring something into visual consciousness. Thus, body and world not only matter as sources of causal influence, but act as non-neural substrates of the machinery realizing the enactment of visual consciousness. Given the current state of neuroscience, the conclusion that phenomenal experience cannot be explained by processes in the head seems hard to accept Block Distributed consciousness has inescapable consequences.

One might assume, for example, that if two people with the same internal states were in different environments, their conscious experience would be different and that a brain in a vat would not have any visual conscious experience, because a brain in a vat has no body and accordingly cannot interact with the environment as we normally do.

Regardless of how convincing these arguments are, the genuine insight about the nature of consciousness that embodied cognitive science has generated is that the character of visual experience results from the way we are dynamically hooked up to the world. When we touch an object, for example, we do not exclusively have experience of it, but while touching and being touched we experience ourselves moving, including the feeling of controlling our own body in action.

The account that agency the sense of controlling one's own body originates in processes that evolved for interaction with the environment—that is, mechanisms for sensory processing and motor control Tsakiris et alia ; Berti et alia ; Haggard ; Farrer et alia ; Leube et alia ; Farrer and Frith ; Chaminade and Decety, —suggests that embodied experience underpins self awareness. For a recent contrasting, yet embodied, account of agency and its related disorders refer to work in phenomenological psychiatry Fuchs , , , ; Sass and Parnas ; Stanghellini Consistent with the view that consciousness and action may be closely related, brain imaging studies have shown that delusions of control, often seen in schizophrenic patients, are associated with a failure in the mechanism by which the predicted consequences of an action are linked to the intended sequence of motor commands Frith et alia Deficits of this kind suggest that the ability to control and hold conscious thoughts may recruit the same mechanisms employed in interactions with the environment.

A common assumption in traditional accounts is that concepts are context-independent amodal symbols. There are several problems with this view and research is strong in suggesting that conceptual capacities incorporate and are structured in terms of patterns of bodily activity. Talking or thinking about objects have been suggested to imply the reactivation of previous experiences, and the recruitment of the same neural circuits involved during perception and action towards those objects would allow the re-enactment of multimodal information color, size, width, etc.

In principle, the view that concepts are represented through abstract symbols, rather than modality specific features, and cognition requires stable forms of representation should be either dropped or strongly revisited. Evidence reveals that people construct concepts quite differently in distinct contexts Solomon and Barsalou ; Wisniewski ; Medin and Shoben ; Barsalou and Ross , and conceptualization can vary across individuals and be different for the same individual in distinct occasions.

Also the pattern of interaction entertained with an object may influence the way conceptualization is done. People dealing with certain items and their structural parts more frequently and extensively than others will tend to develop representations that reflect the nature of their interactions with them. Not surprisingly, distinct tree experts such as a taxonomist, a landscape worker and a park maintenance personnel will categorize trees in ways that differ from one other and from non-specialists Medin et alia These studies draw upon and reinforce the theory of perceptual symbol systems Barsalou and strongly indicate that perceptual and motor mechanisms are engaged when people perform conceptual processing.

Further support for the theory that modalities play a pivotal role in concept representation comes from work on property verification Solomon and Barsalou ; Pecher et alia Findings demonstrated that subjects performing the task responded faster and more accurately when the previous verification was in the same modality e. The effect is explained by assuming that concept representation does not activate the abstract features of an object but uses the same system that is recruited for perception in different modalities.

So, if the auditory system is used for hearing the sound of a blender, then to run a simulation that is, form a concept of the sound of a BLENDER the auditory system will be recruited. Slower responses in different modalities are associated with cost in switching attention, and the effort made in switching modalities speaks against the idea that knowledge is represented in a modality-free manner. Conversely, there should not be any differences between same-modality and different-modality conditions.

The fact that sensorimotor circuits get recruited, or rather, re-used for purposes, like concept formation or language processing, other than those they have been established for, such as motor and sensory information processing, strongly favors modal and embodied approaches to cognition over amodal and abstract ones. It also offers an alternative perspective on several topics in the sciences of the mind, including the degree of modularity in cortical organization, the development of the brain and the localization hypothesis of cognitive functions see Anderson for a recent theory of neural re-use.

While these findings have provoked revisions to traditional accounts, the specific conclusion that sensorimotor processes are physically constitutive of conceptual processing has not been universally accepted on the grounds that the data are consistent with different theories see Mahon and Caramazza ; Rupert b: ch. Consider the case of remembering how tools and ingredients are displayed in the kitchen in order to instruct someone to bake a cake.

Traditional accounts would claim that information storage and retrieval should be featured as essentially independent from sensorimotor mechanisms. However, it does not seem from empirical evidence that remembering appeals to the semantic relatedness of ingredients and tool but rather consists of forming an image revealing where ingredients and tools are located as a function of our imagined movement throughout the kitchen. The location itself serves as external aid to memory and imagined embodied actions within the location afford the retrieval of information that help figure out what is needed to bake a cake Cole et alia That the time needed to recall and retrieve information is constrained by the imaged spatial layout with reference to the observer's body has been shown by a different set of studies Bryant and Wright ; see also Waller et alia ; Nori et alia ; McNamara ; Waller et alia Embodiment effects on memory have been also found in accomplishing particular tasks, including reasoning and language understanding, and several recent works suggest that memory reflects different bodily capacities M.

Wilson ; Glenberg ; Carlson For instance, hand-arm movements, that often accompany speech, do not play a mere communicative role but facilitate the maintenance of spatial representations in working memory Wesp et alia and recalling enacted action-phrases is significantly easier with respect to purely verbal encoding see Engelkamp, for a review. This effect suggests that motor information may have become part of the memory trace, thus indicating that action-phrases merely heard do not produce the same effective encoding of real enacted action-sentences.

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Empirical literature also supports the hypothesis that the memory trace includes the body posture in which the experience was acquired Barsalou et alia Drawing on congruent-posture and incongruent-posture conditions, behavioral data have shown that the body contains the cue to recall autobiographical events and the retrieval of a memory of a past experience gets facilitated if the body posture assumed during that experience is reassumed Dijkstra et alia Further evidence of the body's constraining capacities has been provided by Presson and Montello In this experiment subjects were first asked to memorize the location of objects in a room and then, while blindfolded, were asked to point to the objects.

Pointing was fast and accurate. In this second half of the experiment, pointing was slow and inaccurate only for those who imagined the rotation. A recent, informative survey of memory-related empirical phenomena, which also explains in what sense memory can be understood as an embodied skill, namely, a process incorporating bodily experience, can be found in Sutton and Williamson Folk psychology is the commonsense understanding we have of one another in terms of internal mental states, such as beliefs and desires, that in combination can be used to predict and explain human behaviour.

Opponents of this view, simulation theorists, minimize the role played by the kind of abstract theorizing typical of theories, and question whether such a theory of mind module exists. The discovery of mirror neurons in macaques and humans—cells with sensorimotor properties that fire both when performing an action and when observing the very same action executed by other individuals—has been seized on by simulation theorists and other opponents of the theory-theory view in support of their preferred explanatory frameworks.

For critical evaluations of fMRI and PET studies aiming to show the presence of a mirror neuron system in humans see Turella et alia ; see also Hickok Indirect evidence in support of a mirror system in humans comes from studies on the reactivity of cerebral rhythm, the posterior alpha rhythm and the central mu rhythm, during action observation. While the mu rhythm is present during motor rest, it disappears when active movements are performed.

Electrophysiological results have shown that observing the action executed by another individual blocks the mu rhythm of the observer, thus providing evidence for a resonance system , which links the observed action to the action of the subject's own motor repertoire Oberman et alia ; Cochin et alia ; Gastaut and Bert , Cohen-Seat et alia Left motor cortex of normal participants was stimulated both during the observation of intransitive and goal-directed arm movements. Motor evoked potentials were recorded from various hand muscles. The results showed a selective increase in motor evoked potentials in the regions that participants normally recruit for producing the observed action.

That means that when we observe a person grasping a cup of coffee the very same neural population that controls the execution of the grasping movement becomes active in the observer's motor areas. On this view, it is the embodied imitation of the observed body in action that directly enables us to recognize others as persons like us, not an abstract, inferential and theory-like process. The hypothesis that action understanding is based on a resonance mechanism does not exclude the possibility that other processes, based on movement descriptions, could influence this function.

It simply highlights the primacy of a direct, automatic and prereflexive matching between the observation and the execution of action. By accepting this premise the traditional tension between acting and thinking considerably shrinks, as the capacity to detect the meaning of the behaviors of others consists in employing the same resources used to model our motor behavior. A dominant tradition in moral theory for the past several centuries has placed reason at the center of moral thought and moral behavior. Kohlberg's cognitive developmental work on moral cognition reflects this spirit.

Kohlberg consistently endorsed, along the lines of classic cognitivism, a rationalist model in which emotions and body states may be taken into account by reason but it is pure reasoning that ultimately leads to moral decisions. His paradigm inspired most leading studies in the field, all characterized by the common view that cognitive processing in the moral domain is disengaged from the economy of emotions and body.

Recent work in embodied moral cognition challenges this paradigm. Social intuitionist models, for instance, claim that many moral judgments appear to be the result of affective components Greene and Haidt ; Haidt et alia When pressed to provide a justification, subjects typically focus on nonexistent harms associated with the actions, indicating that conscious reasoning is not a good predictor of their judgment of wrongness.

Disgust involves strong physical components and explicit bodily changes, such as nausea, stomach-turning, throat clenching, food-expulsion, thrusting out of the tongue, and wrinkling of the nose. Even if disgust evolved as a food-related reaction indicating that a substance should be either avoided or expelled, it is also an emotion of social rejection, extending its reach and influence into the domain of moral cognition Niedenthal et alia ; Prinz Recent experiments have shown, for example, that the feeling of disgust induced by the exposure to a bad smell or dirty looking room makes moral judgments more severe Schnall et alia a , and that subjects who physically cleanse themselves then find certain moral actions to be less wrong than do participants not exposed to a cleanliness manipulation Schnall et alia b.

In a recent study Inbar et alia experimenters found that people reported more negative evaluations towards gays and lesbians when exposed to a noxious odor in the room than when no odor was present. Even anger has been shown to deeply shape the representations available to moral judgment. Anger over a traffic incident before going to work may lead to an increased reliance on prejudice when interviewing a job candidate afterwards DeSteno et alia This space-valence implicit mapping can be manipulated via changes in body- environment interactions.

Subjects who lost the use of their dominant hand or wear a glove that impairs motor fluency show a reversal of their space —valence associations Casasanto and Chrysikou For a detailed discussion of how affective judgments incorporate patterns of bodily interaction with the environment and are constrained by a range of embodied capabilities see Casasanto The empirical literature suggests that the specificity of one's own bodily cues and affective reactions e.

In addition, it suggests that dramatic deficits occur when subjects do not exhibit and make use of these cues and reactions. Damasio's somatic marker hypothesis , claims that bodily states, normally triggered during emotional experiences, are re-enacted whenever certain situations occur or are considered, and such re-enaction avoids deleterious consequences of one's course of action.

When the capacity to integrate these feelings either positive or negative with one's own knowledge of facts is severely compromised, as is the case in ventro-medial-prefrontal cortex VMPFC patients, making judgments and decisions is severely impaired. If Damasio's hypothesis is correct, then the affective and bodily feedback implicated in various types of moral judgment do not simply lead to different understandings and conceptualizations of the situation at hand, but are part of the physical machinery realizing cognitive processes. While we think there is broad empirical support for the idea that sensorimotor activity and central cognitive processing are more deeply dependent on one another than previously thought, and for the view that bodily activity can constrain, distribute, and regulate neural activity, embodied cognitive science has also been invoked in support of more radical philosophical ideas about cognition and the mind.

For example, as we noted in Section 3 , some have argued that embodied cognition implies that cognition itself leaks out into the body and ultimately the environment A. Proponents of the traditional view that cognition is skull-bound have argued, in reply, both that this inference is mistaken and the view it leads to is implausible and metaphysically extravagant Rupert b; Adams and Aizawa ; Aizawa We take up such further philosophical issues in Section 6 below. The difference that embodied cognition makes to the three issues we discussed in Section 4 —the modularity of mind, the nature of mental representation, and nativism about the mind, remains a live issue of debate in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

The same is true of the interpretation of the particular empirical results described in Section 5. We think that some of these disagreements both reflect and contribute to sharper divides over the significance of embodied cognitive science. We discuss four such issues in this concluding section, structuring our discussion around four corresponding questions:.

Our aim here is not to provide extensive answers to these questions, but to indicate briefly what our review of contemporary work on embodied cognition indicates about the issues that they raise. We take each in turn. Insofar as embodied cognitive science has its origins in a variety of dissatisfaction with traditional cognitive science, it has explored novel questions about cognition and generated results that have, in some cases, been unexpected.

As we have seen in the previous section, embodied cognitive science continues to produce empirical research that is interesting, novel, and controversial. In this respect, embodied cognitive science is not simply or chiefly a philosophical mantra empty of empirical content, but a cluster of perspectives on cognition whose empirical orientation and rootedness cannot be questioned.

For example, Lawrence Shapiro has argued that the views of Lakoff and Johnson on metaphor, thought, and the body are fully compatible with central tenets of traditional cognitive science, such as the idea that cognition centrally involves computation over internal mental representations see also Shapiro Robert Rupert b has argued more generally for compatibility between the empirical findings of embodied cognitive science and the core assumptions of traditional cognitive science.

Likewise, Fred Adams has argued that one should distinguish between the empirical premise in arguments for the embodiment of cognition, and a requisite logical-metaphysical premise, and that the latter of these is seldom supported. Adams focuses on Glenberg's work on meaning affordances Glenberg and Kaschak ; see also Glenberg and Robertson , Glenberg et al. From this perspective, one should sift the empirical wheat of embodied cognitive science from the revolutionary, philosophical chaff that has characterized that movement from the outset.

This issue, in turn, brings us to our next issue. For the most part, questioning whether embodied cognitive science delivers on the revolutionary front has proceeded not by drawing on general considerations—say, of the underdetermination of theory by data—but by a detailed consideration of particular empirical results cf. Download preview PDF. Skip to main content. Advertisement Hide. The Connectionist Route to Embodiment and Dynamicism. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Anthony, M. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar. Bickhard, M. Elsevier Science Publishers. Brooks, R. Charniak, E. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. Cummins, R. Dorffner, G. Stuttgart: Teubner. In: Dorffner, G. Neural Networks and a New AI. London: International Thomson Computer Press. In: Koster, C. Elman, J. Cognitive Science 2 14 : — CrossRef Google Scholar. Fodor, J. Gelder, T. In: Niklasson, L. Current Trends in Connectionism. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. Glasersfeld, E.

Seaside: Intersystems Publications. Harnad, S. Physica D — Kruschke, J. Connection Science 5 1 , 3— Lakoff, G. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



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