Panel: Embodiment and Aesthetics

Michael Fuller: Neuronal Post-Structuralism: A Humanist’s Perspective on the Mathematics of the Construction of Memory

In recent years, coordination between research in the mathematics of biologically plausible neural networks and studies in the dynamics of cortical activation has produced very successful models in which each cortical layer develops a predictive model of the dimensionality of the “world” of data received from below. These self-organizing maps work by a mathematical logic of mutual differentiation, in which the ever more complex “objects” represented in successively higher-order maps are not atomic but follow the structuralist rule of “meaning by difference.” This paper argues that when one takes into account the sorts of emotional systems that Jaak Panksepp delineated and others have explored in the field of affective neuroscience (the amygdala, the dopamine system for novelty detection, oxytocin hormonal production, etc.) and their role in biasing the construction of memory—from the basic development of intermediate self-organizing maps to the construction of semantic memory out of the details of episodic memory—it becomes clear that memory, the mapping of experience, and the construction of the self are not structuralist but post-structuralist. The specific ways the world impinges significantly on the body and the ways in which these events are mapped in the cortical structures of the brain—in joy as well as in sorrow, fear, pain, thirst, and hunger—define a semantic realm that is not neutral but is shaped from the beginning by a logic of bodily need, pleasure, power, and control.

Peter Cariani, Time is of the essence

Temporal order and pattern is a common aspect of events in the world and their representations in brains, yet time is still our “lost dimension.”

We are developing a general theory of brain function based on direct temporal coding of perceptual qualities, event timings, anticipatory predictions, and coordinated actions. The theory is based on neural timing net architectures that operate on complex temporal patterns of spikes (i.e., an alternative to both classical symbol systems and connectionism). Multidimensional time codes afford high-dimension vectorial representations, neural signal multiplexing, broadcast strategies of goal-directed coordination and informational integration, and nonlocal, content-addressable memory. Short-term temporal memory traces consisting of complex temporal spike patterns circulate in and are actively regenerated by neuronal circuits (loops, re-entrant paths,). Neuronal signals related to current motivational and affective states permeate these regenerated patterns and temporal memory traces. Neural information processing is realized though competitive and cooperative vector dynamics of interacting complex temporal patterns of spikes, with goal-signals steering behavior.

Those signals actively amplified and regenerated within global neuronal workspaces form the contents of current conscious awareness (neurophenomenal isomorphisms, bridge laws). In cybernetic terms, the self can be seen as a locus of control for a purposive, adaptive goal-directed percept-action system (realm of internal circular causation).

If the brain is a temporal anticipatory system, then time becomes a common unifying dimension of both perception and action, such that each directly informs the other. Music impresses its time structure widely on temporal firing patterns of many diverse neuronal populations. Temporal microstructures yield musical pitches, timbres; event timing macrostructures yield rhythms, meters. Temporal pattern expectancies are created by pattern repetitions (reinforcements) and divergences (violations). Coordinated movement requires coherent timing of muscle activations, with resulting temporal patterns of action fed back to the brain via stretch receptors (muscle motion) and sensed subsequent environmental changes.

“Luis H. Favela, An Introduction to Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience

Embodied cognition is no longer a fringe movement in the mind sciences. With few exceptions among the less radically inclined, embodied cognition is generally relegated to investigating and explaining lower order cognitive processes involving perception-action and not higher order cognitive processes such as abstract thinking and imagination. Those who accept that lower order cognition could be cases of embodied cognition, but who resist the idea that higher order cognition is also embodied, often demonstrate two commitments: First, cognition functions via representations and manipulations on those representations; and second, explanatory “smallism.” In the cognitive, neural, and psychological sciences, explanatory smallism is the idea that cognitive phenomena are not explained until the account stops at small things like neurons or molecules.

What follows is an introduction to a non-representational, non-computational, and non-smallist framework for investigating and understanding both lower order and higher order cognition: radical embodied cognitive neuroscience. Radical embodied cognitive neuroscience treats cognition as systems phenomena that spread across brain, body, and environment. Unlike its predecessor, radical embodied cognitive science, radical embodied cognitive neuroscience explicitly places the brain and central nervous system within its explanatory purview. By utilizing a kind of computational modeling (i.e., nested dynamical modeling) and conducting research guided by the search for and application of principles of activity (e.g., self-organized criticality), radical embodied cognitive neuroscience provides a scale-free framework for investigating both lower order and higher order cognition. Such a framework can facilitate accounts of phenomena as apparently disparate as single neurons and neural networks, to coordination activities among dyads and larger groups of agents.

Geoffrey Bowker, Where is the body in all this?

Many of us are entering into modalities of increased instrumentation and data analytics – either from outside our bodies (through the emergent Internet of Things) or through our bodies themselves (the quantified self). I explore the emergent ontology of the body in this new era. After an historical survey of the body and technology from eighteenth century govermentality through Samuel Butler’s Erwhon to the present, I argue that this new era is one in which we are distributing bodily qualities and cognition between these instruments and our bodies, in such a way as to dissolve distinctions between the two.