Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Has embodied cognition earned its name? Critique of Wilson & Golonka 2013 #1

Wilson and Golonka have provided a very nice outline of the embodied cognition enterprise.  Have a look here.  I'm sure this doesn't represent all embodied theorists but it does summarize the radical "replacement" view. So, I've decided to have a very close look at the piece over the next few days and provide my thoughts for further discussion and clarification.  I have no doubts that I will mischaracterize and misunderstand certain things so I hope Andrew and Sabrina will correct and clarify.  Of course, I would love to hear from others as well.  I'm not attempting to summarize the arguments here so please read the paper for context.  Quotes from the paper are indented and my comments follow.  This blog post concerns the second section of the paper.
Because perception is assumed to be flawed, it is not considered a central resource for solving tasks.
Who argues this?  Perceptual scientists?  By "perception" to you mean perceptual systems? Or do you mean the physical signals that perception uses?

Because we only have access to the environment via perception, the environment also is not considered a central resource. 
 Who argues this?  Of course the environment is a resource for perception.  That's where the input comes from.

This places the burden entirely on the brain to act as a storehouse for skills and information. 
Who argues this?  Do you think traditional cognitive psychologists would deny that information can be stored external to the brain in say written form?  Or that the body or environment constrains the brain's solutions to information processing problems?  Of course, you DO need a brain to read those notes.

This job description makes the content of internal cognitive representations the most important determinant of the structure of our behavior. Cognitive science is, therefore, in the business of identifying this content and how it is accessed and used  
Agreed, generally.  But, the starting point (for perceptual research anyway) is what is the nature of the input, which defines the problem.  Sound can hit the ears with time delays; how do you translate that into an orienting response?  The image hitting the two retinas is slightly different; how do you get 3D from that?  Perceptual scientists are ALWAYS mindful of what the input look like.  To say that for non-embodied psychologists it's just a disembodied mind is building a straw man.

Advances in perception-action research, particularly Gibson’s work on direct perception (Gibson, 1966, 1979), changes the nature of the problem facing the organism. 
These "advances" are 30 years old.  Maybe it would be worth looking at more recent models of perception?

if perception-action couplings and resources distributed over brain, body, and environment are substantial participants in cognition, then the need for the specific objects and processes of standard cognitive psychology (concepts, internally represented competence, and knowledge) goes away, to be replaced by very different objects and processes (most commonly perception-action couplings forming non-linear dynamical systems 
 Your conclusion doesn't follow from your premises.  Why does the fact that there is information in the environment and that information processing is constrained by the body mean that you don't need concepts, internal representations, or knowledge?  Also, a dab of circularity here.  "If perception-action couplings..." (your assumption) then we replace standard notions with "perception-action couplings" (your conclusion).  You've at least partially assumed your conclusion.

This, in a nutshell, is the version of embodiment that Shapiro (2011) refers to as the replacement hypothesis and our argument here is that this hypothesis is inevitable once you allow the body and environment into the cognitive mix.  
See above.  It doesn't follow.   So, if I understand the claim, cognition is spread over environment, body, and brain.  Further, traditional theorists didn't put enough emphasis on environment and body and too much on brain.  Ok, that's reasonable. But unless you want to remove the brain/mind altogether, you still need a theory of the brain/mind's contribution to cognition.  Since, according to your own assumptions (i.e., that the brain/mind does something), that theory cannot be fully derived from environment or body.  This means that you will need a traditional information processing model in between.  Therefore at best "embodied cognition" is a variant of standard cognitive models.

To earn the name, embodied cognition research must, we argue, look very different from this standard approach. 
Seems like it hasn't earned its name.  

2 comments:

Andrew Wilson said...

Thanks for the close attention! It's a useful exercise for us, seeing how what we say hits a psychologist like you.

Who argues this? Perceptual scientists?
No one ever quite puts it like this; this is us identifying a theme. But most major perceptual theorists treat perception as so bad it requires major machinery just to generate reasonable guesses about the nature of the distal stimulus. This includes Richard Gregory, Irvin Rock and David Marr.

By "perception" to you mean perceptual systems? Or do you mean the physical signals that perception uses?
The signals, and by extension the systems (which work the way they do depending on the signal they need to interact with).

The assumption is that perceptual information is impoverished, therefore it in and of itself cannot be a main contribution to the form of our behaviour. It's only useful once it's been processed and enriched by the brain.

Who argues this? Of course the environment is a resource for perception. That's where the input comes from.
It can't be a primary resource for structuring our behaviour, though, because we only have indirect access to it via heavily processed information. In fact, by Gregory etc, we don't shape our behaviour with respect the environment but with respect to our representation of the environment.

Gibson's notion of information makes the information good enough to be a primary contributor to the form of our behaviour and makes it lawfully tied to the environment in a way that makes the environment something we have excellent access to and can therefore reliably offload work onto.

Who argues this?
Lots of people; Richard Schmidt, Gregory, Rock, Marr, anyone doing Bayesian anything - all the relevant 'knowledge' is internal.

Do you think traditional cognitive psychologists would deny that information can be stored external to the brain in say written form? Or that the body or environment constrains the brain's solutions to information processing problems? Of course, you DO need a brain to read those notes.
The problem here is that 'writing stuff down' is not the kind of thing we're talking about offloading to the environment. Take the outfielder problem. You have to do some work in order to be in the right place in the right time. You can either implement that work as a predictive computation implemented in the brain or you can offload the work into the relation between your motion and that of the ball.

Why does the fact that there is information in the environment and that information processing is constrained by the body mean that you don't need concepts, internal representations, or knowledge?
First; 'constrained by the body' is not something we claim; that's the grounding style embodied cognition and we don't endorse it.

Second, offloading work into the world is only an option if perception is not impoverished. As soon as perception is not impoverished, all the internal machinery whose sole purpose it is to enrich impoverished perception is no longer needed. And that is the only reason you ever need internal representations; that is the problem they were designed to solve. This is why we actually think that as soon as you open the door to embodiment, non-representational psychology is inevitable; there's nothing for representations to do any more, and, like any theoretical entity who's job goes away, they can be completely retired.

Andrew Wilson said...

But, the starting point (for perceptual research anyway) is what is the nature of the input, which defines the problem. Sound can hit the ears with time delays; how do you translate that into an orienting response? The image hitting the two retinas is slightly different; how do you get 3D from that? Perceptual scientists are ALWAYS mindful of what the input look like.
This is great; it encapsulates a common problem.

You're assuming that the input to vision is two images on retinas from which 3D must be extracted or generated. This isn't a fact; it's an assumption. If this is indeed the input then some form of computational solution is demanded.

But if it's not the input, then a different solution might offer itself. This option is Gibson's ecological approach and the notion of higher order invariants in optic flow as the information in light for vision.

Perceptual scientists are actually very rarely mindful of what the input looks like. They actually mostly spend their time assuming it looks like the former, without ever checking to see if that is the case. This is a shame, because as you note, the nature of the input defines the problem faced by the perceptual system. Gibsonian information creates an entirely different job description for the perceptual systems as compared to the assumption that all we have is images on retinas. You make it sound as if the votes are already in and vision is based in retinal images. This is not the case.