A Body of Knowledge – Embodied Cognition and the Arts

8-10 December, 2016


Director – Simon Penny

Academic manager – Kelly Donahey

This conference will bring together an interdisciplinary group including cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, philosophers of mind, physiologists, psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, computer scientists, artists and designers to explore emerging cognitive neuroscience and theories of embodied cognition. The goal is to develop new discourses around arts practices by interfacing traditions of practice with emerging paradigms of Embodied (and Enactive, Situated, Distributed, Extended) paradigms of cognition.

The conference is motivated by an awareness that these new paradigms provide ways of thinking about intelligence-in-action which move beyond the strictures of the cognitivist paradigm of cognition which prevailed in the second half of the C20th. This paradigm substantially failed to provide explanations of the intelligences involved embodied nature of arts practices. The historical confluence of the rise of cognitivism, the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the spread of computing into all walks of life had the double of effect of reinforcing cognitivist explanation and influencing the theorisation of Human Computer Interaction and the development of Media Arts. The full impact of post-cognitivist theories of cognition are yet to be felt in these quarters.

The exchanges in this conference promise not only enrich the theory of arts and cultural practices, but also enrich cognitive science research and provide resources relevant to Human Computer Interaction and other aspects of design.

Central to the arts are practices of embodied doing and of thinking through action. All artists, dancers, musicians and actors understand that their intelligent practice subtly draws upon and orders materiality – with gestures, breathing, and the artful manipulation of instruments, tools and materials, each with its own qualities. Indeed, the majority of human practice has this dimension, from cooking to driving to building a dry-stone wall. The artisanal crafts – blacksmithing, weaving, potting – are paradigmatic in this regard. Laboratory and clinical practices and playing sports all share in this bodily, material and contextual integration.

Any useful attempt to understand cognition in such contexts demands consideration of these embodied, temporal qualities. The study of the ‘mental’ aspects of cognition separate from temporally ongoing, spatial, material and social engagement creates false dichotomies between mind and body, self and world. Such false dichotomies have characterised studies of cognition over the last century (gaining force with the rise of computing and computationalism in the second half of last century).

Explanations of ‘creative cognition’ and the ‘intelligences of the arts’ arising from such paradigms have lacked explanatory power. The new cognitive science discourses (embodied, enactive, extended, distributed, etc.) which have emerged and grown over the last three decades provide new perspectives from which to establish a new language for embodied creative cognition, which promises to provide new ways of understanding arts practices, broadening discourses about intelligence generally.