• Joshs
    1.3k


    The point I'm making is that we can't (as the phenomenologists would have us do) reverse-engineer this effect, because the 'task' that's relevant to the priors is not necessarily one we're even aware of, and certainly one on many going on at the same time.Isaac

    We're never doing one thing at once, there's never 'a task' for our brain to be holistically oriented toward.Isaac

    This needs to be clarified. First, there is a distinction to be made between the views of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, and the current crop of writers( Varela, Thompson, Gallagher , Ratcliffe ) who incorporate elements of their work in their own models. I don’t think any of these current writers would disagree with the idea that partially independent subprocesses functioning in parallel underlie, and are hidden from conscious awareness.

    Varela writes:

    “...the overall picture of mind not as a unified, homogenous entity, nor even as a collection of entities, but rather as a disunified, heterogenous collection of networks of processes seems not only attractive but also strongly resonant with the experience accumulated in all the fields of cognitive science.”


    On the other hand, you would be right to claim that Heidegger, Husserl and MP would argue that the idea of partially independent subsystems functioning in parallel violates the organizational grounding of phenomenology in temporality. But I don’t think this is relevant to the critiques being leveled against pp models from enactivist writers.

    In approaches like that of Matthew Ratcliffe and Varela, the emphasis is not on WHAT is taking place when one has the sort of experience Barrettdescribes, but on HOW one has it, in the sense of how one is finding oneself in the world, one’s comportment toward events.
    — Joshs

    I'm not sure I follow. 'How' in what sense? (I'm afraid 'finding oneself in the world' hasn't made it any clearer
    Isaac

    Afterall, the world is not altered for us in any one unique way when we're anxious, any more than our physiological states are in any one unique set up. What Barrett is trying to say is that the way the world appears to change is one of the factors involved in the model.Isaac

    But how is the way the world appears to change related to the aims of the system, and what lends coherence to these aims? Is there in fact a system at all
    for Barrett in the sense of an integrated normative directionality? I get the sense that for Barrett all these sources of input into the system are a jumbled accumulation of semi-independent and semi-arbitrary bits of information , and that human goal-directedness is not much more than a more sophisticated, action-oriented pattern-matching version of S-R( judges in a cited study rule more negatively before lunch than after, thanks to the brain’s interpreting of the arbitrary negative interoceptive reinforcement from the ‘body budget’). I imagine Barrett as a psychotherapist treating the client’s aims, goals, desires and feelings as being at the mercy of internal and external circumstance, and in fact signifying nothing more than an arbitrary transition from dominating circumstance to circumstance. Better yet, to the extent that her model is in line with that of Friston, the reductionistic plumbing metaphors of Freud’s id-ego-superego paychodynamics seem to be a good fit for her approach.

    (The default-mode, ego-functions and free-energy: a neurobiological account of Freudian ideas.
    R. L. Carhart-Harris, K. J. Friston. Brain, Volume 133, Issue 4, April 2010)


    The ‘how’ of finding oneself in the world that enactivists talk about depends on their viewing a cognitive-environmental system as normative in character, that is, as functioning as an autonomous whole in a certain reciprocal causal exchange with its world. This normativity creates the criteria for what perturbs it , not discrete packets of environmental information that it has to match itself to. And this normativity allows us to talk of emotions as just special versions of an affective attunement toward the world which is always present in cognitive functioning, indicating how interactions with the world either facilitate or degrade the system’s autonomy.
    I could be wrong, but I don’t see how one could call a cognitive system’s attempt to match external input with internally generated representations fully normative.

    Friston’s free energy model posits minimization of surprise(disorder) in pursuit of homeostasis as the normative aim of a living system in a non-equilibrium steady state, and defines autonomy on the basis of a markov blanket distinguishing between internal and external states, but these are weak notions of autonomy and normativity, in contrast to many enactivist versions. It’s not surprising, then, that Friston chooses Freud’s realist model ( Friston’s characterization of schizophrenic disturbance as ‘false belief’ indicates his realist bent) as a good realization of his neuroscientific project, given that Freud, like Friston, turns autonomy and normativity into a conglomeration of external pushes and internal pulls on a weakly integrated system. This is posited as an ‘internal’ environment indirectly exposed to an outside, in classic Cartesian fashion, as Barrett express here:
    “ Like those ancient, mummified Egyptian pharaohs, the brain spends eternity entombed in a dark, silent box. It cannot get out and enjoy the world’s marvels directly; it learns what is going on in the world only indirectly via scraps of information from the light, vibrations, and chemicals that become sights, sounds, smells, and so on.”” From your brain’s point of view, locked inside the skull, your body is just another part of the world that it must explain.”

    By contrast , autonomy for the enactivist isnt the property of a brain box hidden behind a markov blanket, distinguishable not only from the world but from its own body, but the autonomy of a brain-body system, whose elements cannot be separated out and for whom interaction with a world is direct rather than. indirect.

    “One of the basic propositions of the enactive approach is that being autonomous is a necessary condition for a system to embody original intentionality and normativity.
    Sense-making is the interactional and relational side of autonomy. An autonomous system produces and sustains its own identity in precarious conditions and thereby establishes a perspective from which interactions with the world acquire a normative status. Certain interactions facilitate autonomy and other interactions degrade it.
    Information-processing models of the mind leave unexplained the autonomous organization proper to cognitive beings because they treat cognitive systems as heteronomous systems. These models characterize cognitive systems in terms of informational inputs and outputs instead of the operational closure of their constituent processes. As a result, they do not explain how certain processes actively generate and sustain an identity that also constitutes an intrinsically normative way of being in the world.”(Thompson)
  • Isaac
    4.3k
    The ‘how’ of finding oneself in the world that enactivists talk about depends on their viewing a cognitive-environmental system as normative in character, that is, as functioning as an autonomous whole in a certain reciprocal causal exchange with its world.Joshs

    autonomy for the enactivist isnt the property of a brain box hidden behind a markov blanket, distinguishable not only from the world but from its own body, but the autonomy of a brain-body system, whose elements cannot be separated out and for whom interaction with a world is direct rather than. indirect.Joshs

    An autonomous system produces and sustains its own identity in precarious conditions and thereby establishes a perspective from which interactions with the world acquire a normative status. Certain interactions facilitate autonomy and other interactions degrade it.Joshs

    As a result, they do not explain how certain processes actively generate and sustain an identity that also constitutes an intrinsically normative way of being in the world.Joshs

    From my current knowledge of cognitive science, all this sounds like nothing more than wishful thinking. I've not read (nor here been presented) with any actual empirical evidence of this holistic normative actually taking place in cognitive functions. The work for Feldman Barrett, Seth and Friston is based on what they see happening inside the brain, It's not an overarching philosophical model, it's a theory posited to explain the neurological phenomena they have observed. I'm left, after multiple pages, still unclear as to what neurological phenomena the approaches you're describing are trying to model.
  • Joshs
    1.3k


    .
    The work for Feldman Barrett, Seth and Friston is based on what they see happening inside the brain, It's not an overarching philosophical model, it's a theory posited to explain the neurological phenomena they have observed. I'm left, after multiple pages, still unclear as to what neurological phenomena the approaches you're describing are trying to model.Isaac

    Barrett, Friston and Seth’s work doesn’t amount to an explicitly conceived overarching philosophical model, because they are not philosophers. But it implicitly rests on such overarching philosophical assumptions, just as does every empirical enterprise.

    What’s at stake here is not what neurological phenomena enactivist approaches are trying to model, but a more fundamental questioning: what is a natural object like a neuron, a brain or a body, what do we mean when we talk about observing such phenomena, what is an internal and an external environment and how do these all relate to each other? These are primarily philosophical and not empirical questions and they require a philosophical investigation. I’m not saying there’s no room at all for empirical clarification, but that must come after the conceptual work.

    The work for Feldman-Barrett, Seth and Friston, is, prior to being about any phenomena like the ‘inside of a brain’, based on a certain set of philosophical pre-suppositions that make such notions as ‘inside brains’ and ‘computational representations’ meaningful in the way they are to them in the first place and justify their research project.

    I have now read carefully a number of writings by Clark , Friston and Barrett, and I can say with confidence that their thinking is squarely within the realist tradition( not naive realism, as Barrett points out, but a more sophisticated neo-Kantian version which distinguishes between real sense data and constructed human realities.

    So, far from being mere ‘observation’ (observation, I suppose, in Barrett’s sense of looking at ‘real’ natural phenomena. As she writes “...concepts exist in your human mind that is conjured in your human brain, which is part of nature. The biological processes of categorization, which are rooted in physical reality ...are observable in the brain and body”) , the natural phenomena to be observed come already-pre-interpreted.

    You have said things over the course of our discussion that led me to think that perhaps your view of the basis of science is a full-going post-realist one. But I have to assume your philosophical assumptions underlying your thinking about psychological phenomena jibes with the authors you follow.

    If the following quotes from Barrett don’t raise red flags for you, or strike you as in any way problematic , then no amount of empirical evidence from enactivist quarters will make any difference.

    “If you talk to a chemist, “real” is a molecule, an atom, a proton. To a physicist, “real” is a quark, a Higgs boson, or maybe a collection of little strings vibrating in eleven dimensions. They are supposed to exist in the natural
    world whether or not humans are present—that is, they are thought to be perceiver-independent categories. If all human life left this planet tomorrow, subatomic particles would still be here.”

    “ Plants exist objectively in nature, but flowers and weeds require a perceiver in order to exist. Common sense leads us to believe that emotions are real in nature and exist independent of any observer, in the same manner as Higgs bosons and plants.”

    I know that your field is neuroscience, not philosophy, but if the only thing that would make the enactivist perspective( or any of a whole slew of post-realist arguments ) convincing to you is empirical evidence or a model written in the language of neuroscience, then you’re missing the point. This is a philosophy forum, not a neuroscience blog. As Jerry Fodor pointed out, "In intellectual history, everything happens twice, first as philosophy and then as cognitive science.”.

    If I were to start this discussion over from scratch , I would collect quotes like the above from Barrett, Friston and Seth and simply ask you which philosophical perspectives you think would find them troublesome and why. If your answer is you’d prefer to remain within the confines of contemporary neuroscientific discourse, we could end the conversation there because, while there may be a bevy of such activity, I’m not familiar with its details. More importantly , as I mentioned, whatever neuroscientific work is being done within post-realist approaches will not be decipherable without an understanding of the philosophical pre-suppositions undergirding it. That means it should not be necessary for this discussion to delve into the world
    of neuroscience. To help make my point, Barrett’s writing, and Clark’s also , is loaded with references to philosophical frameworks that their thinking breaks free of ( for instance, Barrett’s mention of naive realism, and Clark’s references to Cartesian dualism and essentialism). So it seems to me they are quite awareness of the philosophical underpinnings of approaches they are rejecting. As impressed as I am sure they have been with empirical findings that surprised them or seemed initially counterintuitive, I believe they would acknowledge that
    the neuroscientific evidence alone could not have formed the backbone of pp models. If you asked Barrett or Clark what a neuroscientific model looks like that is grounded in naive realism, essentialism or Cartesian dualism, I think they could tell you.
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