The University of Sussex

Explaining the behaviour of springs, pendulums, and cognizers

Michael Wheeler

The received opinion in mainstream cognitive science is that cognition is the manipulation of representations by computational information processing mechanisms. However, in this paper, I argue that cognition ought to be conceptualized not as computation, but as state-space evolution in certain classes of non-computational dynamical systems. Following a review of van Gelder's arguments for this dynamical cognition hypothesis, I suggest that the most compelling reasons for adopting a dynamical perspective come from research into situated (world-embedded) autonomous agents. We should think of cognitive architectures as control systems for the situated activity of sufficiently complex embodied agents. I draw on key work in the simulation of adaptive behaviour which indicates that situatedness is best explained using the concept of dynamical coupling. I then present a preliminary sketch of other ways in which the conceptual framework of dynamics provides a powerful basis for thinking about and studying cognition.

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