Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS)

Autumn term 2009

  • Week 2 (Oct 13th) Prof. Richard Bornat and Mr Saeed Dehnadi (Computing Science, Middlesex University, London): Rational Misconceptions as Indicators of Programming Success
  • Week 3 (Oct 20th) Prof. J. Scott Jordan (Psychology, Illinois State University): Born to be Wild: Meaning and Sustainment in Cognitive Systems - or - Why Boden was Right
  • Week 4 (Oct 27th) Dr. Susan Stuart (Philosophy, University of Glasgow): The Immanence of Enkinaesthesia
  • Week 5 (Nov 3rd) Prof. Ted Honderich (Philosophy, University College London): Being Conscious is Something's Being Actual - What and How? Video available
  • Week 6 (Nov 10th) Dr. Xabier Barandarian (Informatics, University of Sussex): Defining Agency. Individuality, Normativity, Asymmetry andSpatio-temporality in Action
  • Week 7 (Nov 17th) Prof. Maggie Boden (Informatics, University of Sussex): Collingwood and Computer Art
  • Week 8 (Nov 24th) Prof. Murray Shanahan (Computing, Imperial College, London): The Neurodynamics of Cognitive Integration Video Available
  • Week 9 (Dec 1st) Dr. Chris French (Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London): The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences Video Available
  • Week 10 (Dec 8th) Dr. Nick Medford (Psychiatry, Brighton and Sussex Medical School): The Unreal Self: Studies in Depersonalization Disorder

Week 2

Date: Tuesday, 13th October 2009
 Prof. Richard Bornat and Mr Saeed Dehnadi (Computing Science, Middlesex University, London)

Rational Misconceptions as Indicators of Programming Success

For decades, university teachers have wondered why so many of their students fail to learn to program. Changing the teaching (subject matter, examples, programming language, ...) doesn't have any sustained effect. Intake filtering according to educational indicators (A-level maths, expressed enthusiasm, owning a computer, using a computer, ...) don't have any large effect. But a test has been discovered. Asking novices questions about programs _without explaining the questions_ divides them into two groups: those who are prepared to invent and use a mechanical model consistently; and those who are not. Experiments in a range of universities (York, Sheffield, Middlesex, Westminster, Newcastle (Australia)) show a large and significant effect across the board. This may be the first indicator of a fundamental ability required to learn to be a programmer. It may be the beginning of an understanding of why formalism (formal logic, programming) is so peculiarly impenetrable. Investigations continue (at your institution too, if you are willing to invite us).

Emails: R.Bornat@mdx.ac.ukS.Dehnadi@mdx.ac.uk

Week 3

Date: Tuesday, 20th October 2009
 Prof. J. Scott Jordan (Psychology, Illinois State University)

Born to be Wild: Meaning and Sustainment in Cognitive Systems - or - Why Boden was Right

Current approaches to cognitive systems tend to conceptualize consciousness and cognition in terms of computationalism, self-organization, or a hybrid version of both. The purpose of this talk is to propose that the reason there exist such diverse camps lies in their attempt to account for meaning and causality in ways that appear to overcome the assumptions each dislikes about the others' approach. In the end, I propose Wild Systems Theory (WST) as a means of avoiding these struggles. In short, WST conceptualizes cognitive systems as self-sustaining (i.e., self-metabolizing, á la Boden, 1999) embodiments of context. By doing so, it accounts for the multi-scale contingent relations central to dynamical-systems doctrine, while simultaneously providing a framework in which such dynamics are naturally and necessarily meaningful.

Reference Materials

  • Boden, M. A. (1999). Is metabolism necessary? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 50, 231-238.
  • Jordan, J. S. (2009). Forward-looking aspects of perception-action coupling as a basis for embodied communication. Discourse Processes, 46, 127-144.
  • Kinsbourne, M., Jordan, J. S. (2009). Embodied Anticipation: A Neurodevelopmental Interpretation. Discourse Processes, 46, 103-126.
  • Streeck, J., Jordan, J. S. (2009). Projection and anticipation: The forward-looking nature of embodied communication. Discourse Processes, 46, 93-102.
  • Jordan, J. S. (2008). Wild-agency: Nested intentionalities in neuroscience and archeology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), 363, 1981-1991.

J. Scott Jordan studied cognitive psychology and the neurophysiological basis of perception at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois. He received his PhD in psychology in 1991. His research focus is directed toward volition and its relationship to consciousness. His dissertation addressed the relationship between voluntary eye-movements and spatial perception. In 1992 he was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Post-doctoral Fellowship and spent a year in Prof. Dr. Hans Kornhuber's neurophysiology lab at the University of Ulm studying the relationship between event-related brain potentials and memory and attention. In 1998-1999 he spent a year at the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research studying the relationship between action planning and spatial perception, and in 2006, he spent a semester as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Bielefeld working in a research group entitled, "Embodied Communication in Humans and Machines." He is currently a professor in the Department of Psychology at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois where he recently founded the Institute for Prospective Cognition (http://my.ilstu.edu/~jsjorda/Institute_for_Prospective_Cognition.html).

Week 4

Date: Tuesday, 27th October 2009
 Dr. Susan Stuart (Philosophy, University of Glasgow)

The Immanence of Enkinaesthesia

'Enkinaesthesia', like 'intersubjectivity' and 'intercorporeality', relates to notions of affect, but in this case it is with the effect we have on the neuro-muscular dynamical flow and muscle tension of an other, including other animals and even objects, through both direct and indirect touching, for example, your perception of others perceiving you, and the way language, as a biodynamical engine, can alter the body.

I will argue that enkinaesthesic dialogical-relations are the preconceptual, prenoetic experientially recursive temporal dynamics which form the deep extended melodies of relationships-in-time, and that any understanding of how those relationships work, when they falter, when they resonate sweetly, and so on, will depend on a grasp, not only of our intersubjectivity or our intercorporeality, but of our enkinaesthesia.

With a working definition of enkinaesthesia, as the presentation of, openness to, and reception of subtle multi-directional cues in any active dialogical relation, there are grounds for saying, following Heidegger, that it is this which constitutes the primordial mood of care for human relationships (Dasein) and the roots of morality; but it would be mistaken to stop here, for I can care - be consciously related to, moving and being moved by, other things in my world, for example, cats, horses, the environment, and so on.

Week 5

Date: Tuesday, 3rd November 2009
 Prof. Ted Honderich (Philosophy, University College London)

Being Conscious is Something's Being Actual - What and How?

Is the melée of disagreement in the philosophy and science of consciousness owed to no adequate initial clarification of the subject, ordinary consciousness in the primary sense? Is there an initial clarification in five leading ideas about consciousness? Qualia; something it is like to be something; subjectivity; intentionality or aboutness; two kinds of consciousness? No initial clarification, but thoughts and impulses of value. Can be summarized. Being conscious is something's being actual -- ordinary consciousness is actual consciousness. Of course metaphorical. Cf criteria of adequacy for theory of consciousness in existing theories, e.g. abstract & physical functionalism. Of use but secondary. Main criteria must be being answers to (1) what is actual and (2) how or in what sense actual? What is actual re your perceptual consciousness now is a room, and absolutely nothing else, e.g. content in some other sense. What it is for this to be actual is for a room to exist -- spatio-temporal etc. A true externalism rather than a meaning-externalism. Also satisfies secondary criteria. But a partly internalist account of reflective and affective as against perceptual consciousness. Is ordinary consciousness, actual consciousness, the right subject? Yes.

Week 6

Date: Tuesday, 10th November 2009
 Dr. Xabier Barandarian (Informatics, University of Sussex)

Defining Agency. Individuality, Normativity, Asymmetry andSpatio-temporality in Action

The concept of agency is of crucial importance in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, and it is often used as an intuitive and rather uncontroversial term, in contrast to more abstract and theoretically heavy-weighted terms like "intentionality", "rationality" or "mind". However, most of the available definitions of agency are either too loose or unspecific to allow for a progressive scientific program. They implicitly and unproblematically assume the features that characterize agents, thus obscuring the full potential and challenge of modeling agency. We identify three conditions that a system must meet in order to be considered as a genuine agent: a) a system must define its own individuality, b) it must be the active source of activity in its environment (interactional asymmetry) and c) it must regulate this activity in relation to certain norms (normativity). We find that even minimal forms of proto-cellular systems can already provide a paradigmatic example of genuine agency. By abstracting away some specific details of minimal models of living agency we define the kind of organization that is capable to meet the required conditions for agency (which is not restricted to living organisms). On this basis, we define agency as an autonomous organization that adaptively regulates its coupling with its environment and contributes to sustaining itself as a consequence. We find that spatiality and temporality are the two fundamental domains in which agency spans at different scales. We conclude by giving an outlook to the road that lies ahead in the pursuit to understand, model and synthesize agents.

KEYWORDS: Agency, individuality, interactional asymmetry, normativity, spatiality, temporality.

The full paper can be dowloaded at: 

Week 7

Date: Tuesday, 17th November 2009
 Prof. Maggie Boden (Informatics, University of Sussex)

Collingwood and Computer Art

Collingwood's emphasis on the expression of emotion as the essence of art might seem to outlaw computer art as "true" art. It does not. There's no reason in principle why computer-assisted and even computer-generated art couldn't express emotions. However, it is indeed the case that Collingwood's approach rules out computer art--at least, computer-generated art. The reason is not his stress on emotion but his insistence on particularism in respect of emotions in art. This runs counter to the spirit of generative art. (It also excludes most of Shakespeare, so computer art is in very good company!)

Week 8

Date: Tuesday, 24th November 2009
 Prof. Murray Shanahan (Computing, Imperial College, London)

The Neurodynamics of Cognitive Integration

Cognitive integration is achieved when expertise in diverse domains is brought together to solve a problem that an animal (human or otherwise) hasn't encountered previously. In neural terms, cognitive integration requires the formation of novel coalitions of brain processes. The brain's repertoire of process coalitions must be open-ened not confined to the tried-and-tested. So how might this requirement be met? The tentative answer on offer here draws on the idea of a global neuronal workspace, incorporates recent findings in brain structural connectivity, and is illustrated with a series of computer models.

Week 9

Date: Tuesday, 1st December 2009
 Dr. Chris French (Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London)

The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences

Ever since records began, in every known society, a substantial proportion of the population has reported unusual experiences many of which we would today label as "paranormal". Opinion polls show that the majority of the general public accepts that paranormal phenomena do occur. Such widespread experience of and belief in the paranormal can only mean one of two things. Either the paranormal is real, in which case this should be accepted by the wider scientific community which currently rejects such claims. Or else belief in and experience of ostensibly paranormal phenomena can be fully explained in terms of psychological factors. This presentation will provide an introduction to the sub-discipline of anomalistic psychology, which may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, in an attempt to provide non-paranormal explanations in terms of known psychological and physical factors. This approach will be illustrated with examples relating to a range of ostensibly paranormal phenomena.

Week 10

Date: Tuesday, 8th December 2009
Speaker: Dr. Nick Medford (Psychiatry, Brighton and Sussex Medical School)

The Unreal Self: Studies in Depersonalization Disorder

Depersonalization disorder (DPD) is a little-studied psychiatric condition characterized by a pervasive sense of unreality. Both the self and the environment are experienced as oddly altered and unreal, with associated changes in the quality of bodily sensation and emotional experience. This talk will briefly review the phenomenology and aetiology of DPD, and will present results from a series of functional MRI experiments probing emotional function in DPD patients. Some lines of inquiry will be drawn between subjective experience, emotion, and sense of selfhood. DPD may provide a real-life sounding board for current ideas around these themes.

Nick Medford is Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and a consultant neuropsychiatrist in Sussex Partnership NHS Trust. He is one of only a handful of current academic psychiatrists to have carried out empirical studies in DPD, and believes that DPD provides a unique perspective on major issues of identity and experience.

Series organized by Prof. Steve Torrance (stevet@sussex.ac.uk)