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Full Programme

Preliminary information about the summer school programme. Talks will be in the morning, followed by discussion. In the afternoons participants will break into small work-groups to discuss, in a semi-structured manner, the topics of the day, generate ideas for empirical and conceptual work that may illuminate some of the controversies and agree on a strong challenge to be put to the speakers during a general discussion session that will follow.

Programme Schedule

Monday 5th Embodiment and Minimal Cognition
9:30 – 10:00 Ezequiel Di Paolo Introduction to the summer school
10:00 – 11:00 Randall Beer Information and dynamics in minimally-cognitive agents
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 Inman Harvey The origins and self-maintenance of representing
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 16:30 Group work Dynamics, information, representation
17:00 – 18:30 General discussion Beer, Harvey, Engel
Tuesday 6th Embodiment, Development and Evolution
10:00 – 11:00 Susan Oyama Development and evolution in a world without labels
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 John Protevi Deleuze’s contribution to an enactive approach to biology
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 16:30 Group work Becoming cognitive
17:00 – 18:30 General discussion Oyama, Protevi, Wheeler
20:00 – 23:00 Night Activity Trikipoteo (Pintxos Music Tour) at Boulevard
Wednesday 7th Bodily experience, Psychopathology and Intersubjectivity
10:00 – 11:00 Shaun Gallagher Enactively extended intentionality
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 Thomas Fuchs Embodiment and psychopathology
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 16:30 Group work Experience, embodiment, intersubjectivity
17:00 – 18:30 General discussion Fuchs, Gallagher, Protevi, De Jaegher
Thursday 8th Mind Embodied and/or Enacted
9:00 – 10:00 Andreas Engel Extending sensorimotor contingencies to cognition
10:00 – 11:00 Michael Wheeler Cognition at the crossroads: from embodied minds to thinking bodies
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 Evan Thompson Mind in life and life in mind
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 16:30 Group work Brain, body and world
17:00 – 18:30 General discussion Engel, Thompson, Wheeler, Beer
20:30 – 23:30 Night Activity Dinner at Sagardotegi Albiztur (Calle Matia 52)
Friday 9th Morphology and Robotics
10:00 – 11:00 Rolf Pfeifer On the role of embodiment in the emergence of cognition
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:30 Jan-Olof Eklundh Eye fixations and observer motion and their role in 3D perception
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch
14:30 – 16:30 General discussion Challenges for the future of the embodied mind


Morning talk abstracts

Information and dynamics in minimally-cognitive agents

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.

The origins and self-maintenance of representing

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

Development and evolution in a world without labels

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.

Deleuze’s contribution to an enactive approach to biology

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.”


Embodiment and psychopathology

Thomas Fuchs
Klinik für Allgemeine Psychiatrie, Zentrum für Psychosoziale Medizin,
Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg,

The talk first gives an overview on the phenomenological approach to embodiment in psychopathology, in particular on a polarity of ‘disembodiment’ and ‘hyperembodiment’ which is illustrated by the examples of schizophrenia and depression. Recent contributions to phenomenological accounts of these disorders are presented.

Second, the paper discusses the relationship of phenomenological and neuropsychiatric perspectives on embodiment. Embodied and ecological concepts of mental illness emphasize the circular interaction of altered subjective experience, disturbed social interactions and neurobiological dysfunctions in the development of the illness. Thus, phenomenological and enactive accounts of embodiment may be combined in order to overcome reductionist concepts that prevail in present psychiatry.

Enactively extended intentionality

Shaun Gallagher
Moss Chair of Excellence in Philosophy, University of Memphis, USA
Research Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science. University of Hertfordshire, UK

I argue that the extended mind hypothesis requires an enactive, neo-pragmatic concept of intentionality if it is to develop proper responses to a variety of objections.  This enactive concept of intentionality is based on the phenomenological concept of a bodily (or motor or operative) intentionality outlined by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.  I explore the connections between this concept and recent embodied approaches to social cognition.

Extending sensorimotor contingencies to cognition

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.

Cognition at the crossroads: from embodied minds to thinking bodies

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.

Mind in life and life in mind

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.

On the role of embodiment in the emergence of cognition

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.


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

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.


Evening Activities


What: Music driven pintxos and drink walk around the old side of San Sebastian.
Meeting point and time: Tuesday 6th, 20.00 at the bandstand of Boulevard (see map below).

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What: Dinner and sider party.
Meeting point and time: Thursday 8th, 20.30 at Restaurant Albiztur, C/ Matia, 52 (see map below).

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