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Archive for the ‘Themes’ Category

Deleuze’s contribution to an enactive approach to biology

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

John Protevi
Department of French Studies,
Lousiana State University,

I will preface my presentation with a brief outline of the three-fold ontology of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995). Deleuze’s formula is that (1) intensive morphogenetic processes follow the structures inherent in (2) virtual differential multiplicities to produce (3) actual localized and individuated substances with extensive properties and differenciated qualities. Simply put, the actualization of the virtual, that is, the production of the actual things of the world, proceeds by way of intensive processes. Various authors have shown how this scheme provides an ontology for dynamic systems theory.

I will then suggest three ways in which this schema can provide a conceptual framework for an enactive approach to biology, keeping in mind at all times the tradeoff between the effort necessary for learning a new vocabulary and new ontological scheme versus the benefits of adopting that new framework. My model here is the work of Hubert Dreyfus in making the vocabulary and ontological scheme of Martin Heidegger relevant for cognitive science.

First, I will discuss Deleuze’s notion of a “larval subject” accompanying “spatio-temporal dynamisms” (= intensive morphogenetic processes) in relation to the sense-making of autonomous systems, as laid out in Thompson’s synthesis of Varela’s notion of autopoiesis and Di Paolo’s notion of adaptivity.

Second, I will discuss Deleuze’s notion of “counter-effectuation” (roughly speaking the feedback from actual and intensive to the virtual) in relation to Mary Jane West-Eberhard’s notion of environmentally induced phenotypic variation (=  “developmental plasticity”) as the leader in evolution.

Finally, I will discuss two notions associated with Developmental Systems Theory in Deleuzean terms: a) the heterogenous nature of the developmental system (intra- and extra-somatic elements) in terms of Deleuze’s notion of “assemblage” and b) the notion of niche-construction in terms of Deleuze’s notion of “territorialization.”

Presentation Slides [pdf]


John Protevi: Deleuze’s contribution to an enactive approach to biology from eSMCs on Vimeo.

Development and evolution in a world without labels

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Susan Oyama
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The Graduate School and University Center, CUNY,

Accounts of development and evolution typically involve complementary notions of prespecification–organismic and environmental ‘labeling,’ if you will. In the case of development these can take the form of genetic programs or instructions and the like, while descriptions of evolution often invoke preexisting environmental demands or problems that organisms must meet.
The traditions of thought informing The Embodied Mind and Developmental Systems Theory (DST) both challenge such ways of conceiving life processes. Yet these traditions sprang from different grounds, and they bring distinctive sensibilities to their overlapping projects. I describe the systemic contingencies of self-organizing systems in DST, pointing out the importance of alternative pathways, both in biological processes and the theorizing they inspire.


Susan Oyama: Development and evolution in a world without labels from eSMCs on Vimeo.

Discussion: Dynamics, information, representation

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Reply here to provide your challenge to the speakers of the first 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


The origins and self-maintenance of representing

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Inman Harvey
Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics,
University of Sussex,

What is happening when a caveman paints a bison on the wall of a cave, and how does this relate to the spoken word ‘bison’? I shall be exploring the many different ways in which people — and potentially animals and robots — can represent things. I focus on the ways that representing is done, the ways that representations are used (by whom and for whom), as well as the nature of the representations themselves.
In many fields where explanations are in the form of mechanisms (including cognitive science and neuroscience), the metaphor of modules trading representations has been rife in recent years. I shall discuss where such metaphors are justified, and where they are philosophically flawed, perhaps symptomatic of crypto-Cartesianism.
We should celebrate the first caveman-artist, and similarly we should respect the challenge of creating robots that can autonomously perform similar acts of representing. I shall discuss what steps can be taken towards this.

Harvey, I., Di Paolo, E., Wood, R., Quinn, M, and E. A., Tuci, (2005).
Evolutionary Robotics: A new scientific tool for studying cognition.
Artificial Life, 11(1-2), pp. 79-98.

Harvey, I. (2008). Misrepresentations.
In S. Bullock, J. Noble, R. A. Watson, and M. A. Bedau (Eds.)
Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Artificial
Life, pp.227-233, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

Presentation Slides [pdf]

Inman Harvey: The origins and self-maintenance of representing from eSMCs on Vimeo.

Information and dynamics in minimally-cognitive agents

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Randall Beer
Cognitive Science Program
School of Informatics and Computing
Indiana University

Whatever else they may be, the notions of information and dynamics are mathematical concepts grounded in information theory and dynamical systems theory, respectively. Too often, debates regarding these concepts misconstrue or completely ignore these mathematical underpinnings. As mathematical theories, they can be applied to any system that takes the proper form. Thus, they intrinsically make no scientific claim as to “what’s really going on” in a given system. The more interesting question is what kinds of insights and explanations do these different mathematical languages provide and, perhaps most importantly, how do these distinct explanations relate when both languages are applied to the same system? In this talk, I compare and contrast the explanations that arise from applying both information theory and dynamical systems theory to the analysis of an evolved model agent capable of a solving a simple relational categorization task.

Presentation Slides [pdf]


Randall Beer: Information and dynamics in minimally-cognitive agents from eSMCs on Vimeo.