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Susan’s belated, misplaced post

November 3rd, 2011 by Susan Oyama

Friends, what follows is something that I, in my newbie ignorance, thought I was posting to the Summer School site, right after I returned to NY after our meetings. Apparently the posting didn’t come here but instead went on the eSMCs Facebook page. I’m going to try to post it here, though I don’t know what I’m doing; in addition to a belated communication to the group, it functions as a test for me. If it works, perhaps we could use this space as a way of continuing and opening up some of the email conversations I’ve been having with several of you.

Anyhow, this is what I said just after the Summer School:


This was just terrific. The amount of attention and thought that went into the summer school was palpable, and the stimulation and enjoyment people are talking about are only part of the payoff. I’m sure I’m not alone in having felt well taken care of, from the broad outlines of the schedule to my idiosyncratic and transitory (though sometimes recurring) needs (where are my shoes? are you going back to the Miramar? which way is the meeting room/cafe/door/other meeting room/hotel/beach?)

To those I didn’t say goodbye to: I’m so sorry to have left the club so abruptly on Friday night, with conversations hanging and questions unasked/unanswered. I had to make a quick decision to return to the hotel with other people, was realizing how exhausted I was, and couldn’t think of a way to take my leave of you all without holding everything up. The next morning I left for Bilbao, so please take this as a heartfelt apology for my clumsy disappearance. And of course I didn’t see some of you at all after the last session. Let’s continue via email, OK?

Thank you!

September 20th, 2011 by Xabier Barandiaran

It has been a very intense week; full of very stimulating talks, open-minded conversations, highly productive team-work and forward-looking challenges. When we started organizing the summer school we could have never imagined how

Group 3 Winners of The Research-Vision Factor ;-)

Group 3 Winners of The Research-Vision Factor discussion show

far and deep we would travel along the path of enactivism and embodiment. It was thanks to you (participants and speakers) that this unpredictable experience emerged. We did all lay down a new path in walking that remains still open. Thank you very much for your active involvement, care and engagement.

We would like to encourage you to use the comment section of this post to share your impressions after the summer school.

As a reminder of the multiple experiences of the summer school we have opened a new photo gallery section on this site (please, do not hesitate to send us your photos for upload).

Thomas, Ezequiel & Xabier

Guggenheim (and Worden’s systems course)

September 15th, 2011 by Susan Oyama

I only had a little time at the Bilbao Guggenheim before leaving for the airport, but going through the exhibition I thought, this could have been a session of the summer school. I can’t recite the works and artists who prompted this thought, but there seemed to be a number that explored the body in wonderful ways; the only one I can name was by Kentridge, on illness.

On a completely different topic: some of you may have seen my post on FaceBook about my friend Lee Worden, who was  ’looking for an accessible intro to the ideas of feedback and systems.’ I referred him to the eSMCs site, but in a later email he added this: ‘I’m teaching a course “systems, networks, and strategy” as an intro-level math-requirement course at the SF Art Institute.’

Some of you can probably point him to some plausible sources. . .




G. Bateson film in Berlin

September 15th, 2011 by Susan Oyama

Aha, I’m just figuring out what the Dashboard is for. Let’s see if this works: I’d like to alert people in Berlin to Nora Bateson’s film about her father. Maybe it’s being shown tonight.


Eye fixations and observer motion and their role in 3D perception

September 9th, 2011 by Thomas Buehrmann

Jan-Olof Eklundh
Centre for Autonomous Systems,
KTH Royal Institute of Technology,

A human observer is constantly active, moving about in the world and shifting gaze while fixating different parts of the surrounding scene. Sometimes the movements are performed with an intent to acquire more information about some object or part of the scene that is of interest, but often there’s no direct relation between the motions and actions by the observer and what he/she is looking at. Nevertheless the motions and fixations performed always provide valuable information about the 3D structure of the world and not least about what possibly could constitute objects of interest.

These observations suggest that artificial systems – ‘seeing robots’ – should use similar approaches to perceive and act in their environment. In the talk I’ll discuss the role of monocular and binocular fixation in 3D perception by a robot vision system and how the fixation and body actions influence the ’understanding’ of the world. It will be shown that problems of e.g. figure-ground-segmentation that seem difficult in computer vision become easier when observer actions are taken into account. I’ll also show some examples of how we’ve implemented mechanisms of such types.

Jan-Olof Eklundh: “Eye fixation and observer motion and their role in 3D perception” from eSMCs on Vimeo.

On the role of embodiment in the emergence of cognition

September 9th, 2011 by Thomas Buehrmann

Rolf Pfeifer
AI Lab,
University of Zürich,

Traditionally, in robotics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience, there has been a focus on the study of the control or the neural system itself. Recently there has been an increasing interest into the notion of embodiment in all disciplines dealing with intelligent behavior, including psychology, philosophy, and linguistics. In an embodied perspective, cognition is conceived as emergent from the interaction of brain, body, and environment, or more generally from the relation between physical and information (neural, control) processes. It can be shown, and this is one of the underlying assumptions of the eSMC project, that through the embodied interaction with the environment, in particular through sensory-motor coordination, information structure is induced in the sensory data, thus facilitating categorization, perception and learning. The patterns thus induced depend jointly on the morphology, the material characteristics, the action and the environment. Because biological systems are mostly “soft”, a new engineering discipline, “soft robotics”, has taken shape over the last few years. I will discuss the far-reaching implications of embodiment, in particular of having a soft body, on our view of the mind and human behavior in general: Cognition is no longer centralized in the brain, but distributed throughout the organism, functionality is “outsourced” to morphological and material properties of the organism, which requires an understanding of processes of self-organization. Because in “soft” systems part of the functionality is in the morphology and materials, there is no longer a clear separation between control and the to-be-controlled, which implies that we need to fundamentally re-think the notion of control. The ideas will all be illustrated with case studies from biology — humans and animals — and robotics and will be summarized as a set of four “message” for embodied systems.

Rolf Pfeifer: “On the role of embodiment in the emergence of cognition” from eSMCs on Vimeo.

Discussion: Brain, body and world

September 8th, 2011 by Thomas Buehrmann

Reply here to provide your challenge to the speakers of the fourth day’s general discussion. This should take the form of: i) a tweet-like question (maximum of 144 characters) and ii) a follow up explanation, abstract or set of bullet points with a minimum of 150 words and maximum of 300, in the following format:

Group Name
Short description of challenge in bold
Content of the summary or abstract or bullet points


Mind in life and life in mind

September 8th, 2011 by Thomas Buehrmann

Evan Thompson
Department of Philosophy,
University of Toronto,

The guiding idea of this talk is that living is sense-making in precarious conditions. The guiding question is whether living, so understood, is necessary for mind. Along the way I will review some of the main concepts of the enactive approach — autonomy, autopoiesis, sense-making, enaction — highlighting important advances and findings since the proposal of the enactive approach in The Embodied Mind (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 1991). Attention will also be given to related developments, such as neurophenomenology, and to the broad philosophical question about the relationship between lived experience and the scientific study of lived experience — the motivating and animating question of The Embodied Mind.

(Revised) presentation slides (ppt)

Evan Thompson: “Mind in life and life in mind” from eSMCs on Vimeo.

Cognition at the crossroads: from embodied minds to thinking bodies

September 8th, 2011 by Thomas Buehrmann

Michael Wheeler
Department of Philosophy,
University of Stirling,

Given the often impressive advances made by contemporary research within the embodied cognition paradigm, it is perhaps surprising that one of the most basic concepts that defines the field, namely that of embodiment itself, has not yet been articulated in a satisfactorily clear or precise manner. In an attempt to present the ‘state of the art’ with respect to this foundational issue, I shall begin by drawing a distinction between two broad notions of embodiment that are operative within embodied cognition research. According to the first notion, which I shall call implementational embodiment, the body is conceptualized as ‘no more than’ a bridge to new realizations of functionally specified cognitive architectures. To theorize in terms of implementational embodiment is to hold that the same mind might be embodied differently. According to the second notion of embodiment, which I shall call vital embodiment, bodily acts and structures make a nonsubstitutable contribution to cognition, with the precise nature of that contribution determined by certain local theoretical commitments and interests. To theorize in terms of vital embodiment is to hold that different bodies will think differently. Having positioned a number of alternative versions of embodied cognition research (e.g., enactivism, the extended mind) in relation to this distinction, I shall use the resulting analysis to say what kinds of considerations might lead us to choose between those alternatives. Finally, in a more speculative register, I shall endeavour to look to the future, by adapting and extending some work on embodiment from recent feminist phenomenological thinking in order to take us beyond the very distinction between implementational and vital materiality with which we began.

Presentation Slides [pptx]

Michael Wheeler: “Cognition at the crossroads: from embodied minds to thinking bodies” from eSMCs on Vimeo.

Extending sensorimotor contingencies to cognition

September 8th, 2011 by Thomas Buehrmann

Andreas Engel
Dept. of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology
University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany

In the cognitive sciences, we currently witness a “pragmatic turn” away from the traditional representation-centered framework towards a paradigm that focusses on understanding the intimate relation between cognition and action. Such an „action-oriented“ paradigm has earliest and most explicitly been developed in robotics, and has only recently begun to gain impact on cognitive psychology and neurobiology. The basic notion is that cognition should not be understood as a capacity of deriving world-models, which then might provide a “database” for thinking, planning and problem-solving. Rather, it is emphasized that cognitive processes are not only closely intertwined with action but that cognition can actually best be understood as “enactive“, as a form of practise itself. Cognition, on this account, is grounded in a pre-rational understanding of the world that is based on sensorimotor acquisition of real-life situations. control strategy. One key concept I will discuss is that of sensorimotor contingencies, i.e., law-like relations between actions and associated changes in sensory input. I will propose to advance this concept further and suggest that actions not only play a key role for perception, but also in developing more complex cognitive capabilities.

Andreas Engel: “Extending sensorimotor contingences to cognition” from eSMCs on Vimeo.