Saturday, 2 January 2016

(11a. Comment Overflow) (50+)

(11a. Comment Overflow) (50+)


  1. This is an interesting idea that I am quite sympathetic to. But for the sake of this course, what gives?
    To complicate the matter a bit more, do you think it might be possible/interesting to talk about extended feelings? For example, how should we consider an intimate and disclosive diary entry? A poem? These artifacts both store and convey feelings. Are we then tempted to say that they extend our feeling capacity outside our selves? Or is it that they convey information that we in turn interpret and feel inside ourselves?

  2. Hmm.. Chalmers has argued here that there is this coupling between our internal processing of information that goes on in our minds with external processes that are happening in our environment. I had actually never considered that anything outside of our brain could be sharing our cognition. It was an interesting read, however I am not left very convinced by the arguments put forth.
    Let's consider the case of Otto and Inga trying to go to that museum on 53rd street. Inga goes to this street through her belief that is recalled in memory. In Otto's case however, since he has Alzheimer's disease and cannot remember this information, he regularly consults his notebook to help himself out. Yes, one could say Otto is relying on information from his environment (the notebook is apparently "coupled" to his mind), but Inga is just as well relying on information she had once learned FROM her environment (through directions, a map, a friend explaining or whatnot). If we consider both kinds of beliefs about the museum being on 53rd street as occurent (if we accept that the external world is a part of Otto's cognitive processing) then when this belief is not accessed, it is in a dispositional state. This means that the beliefs are implicit in the present tense and require this sort of specific activation, or specific occurrence, to become explicit.

    1) How do we know when the belief is actually explicit or implicit to the individual? In Otto's case, does his implicit belief truly lie in his notebook?

    2) Since Otto is relying solely on his perception (looking and reading and processing the written language contained in his notebook), how can we really argue that this particular notebook is part of the unified system (himself and external world)? Just about anything that can be written on or even a communicative device that will audibly sound out the location of the museum can then be said to be a part of the external processing world.

    3) Speaking of a unified system, this entire argument sounds a lot like the systems reply in which it is argued that the understanding lies within the system as a whole and not solely in the cognizing (but not understanding) human. If we go back to Searle's CRA for a second, then that means that the walls that contained all of these symbols and symbol rules were contributing to the understanding of Searle inside the room. Then it is thought that the understanding cannot be placed in one singular location and is instead embodied in the entire room (with Searle included!). This sort of example with Otto does not serve as compelling evidence for any sort of consciousness or cognition (or a relative degree of it) lying within an arbitrary object like a notebook!

    It just seems to me that WE, us humans, carry the real cognition and that yes, the external environment HELPS us with some processing (just tools!) but it is NOT PART of the cognizing system! I do not see it realistically being part of the cognitive loop. Anyone disagree?

  3. As an aside, I think it is interesting that on the first page of the paper it is indicated that “Authors are listed in order of degree of belief in the central thesis.” Considering the gravity of the authors’ argument, which is questioning the very nature of cognition and the self as we perceive it, I think it detracts from the argument to include that the second of the two authors “believes” in the central thesis less; if Chalmers wasn’t prepared to assert the theories proposed in the paper to their entirety, I have to question if he should even be an author on a paper that is making such (arguably) radical metaphysical claims.

    Regarding the body of the paper, I found the points on mental versus physical rotation as exemplified in Tetris fascinating. In thinking back to when I played Tetris, I remember rotating the shape physically (using the buttons) many times to visualize how I could make it fit with the existing blocks instead of just thinking about where and how it could fit and then rotating it directly to that position. As Clark and Chalmers write “Kirsh and Maglio…present compelling evidence that physical rotation is used not just to position a shape ready to fit a slot, but often to help determine whether the shape and the slot are compatible.” Kirsh and Maglio, in their paper "On Distinguishing Epistemic Action from Pragmatic Action", write:

    “We have found that some of the translations and rotations made by players of [Tetris] are best understood as actions that use the world to improve cognition. These actions are not used to implement a plan, or to implement a reaction; they are used to change the world in order to simplify the problem-solving task. Thus, we distinguish pragmatic actions—actions performed to bring one physically closer to a goal—from epistemic actions—actions performed to uncover information that is hidden or hard to compute mentally.”

    I think this differentiation is both intuitive and well-explained. This concept describes the nature of an important dynamic interaction between cognitive processes and the environment—one that is not exactly the same as the interaction examined by Clark and Chalmers, but related; the concept of epistemic action describes actions that seek to procure relevant, unknown information from the environment, rather than abstracting the interaction between cognition (as a process in the brain and body and also as a process in the mind which may be both internal and external to the physical body) and the environment in a more holistic way. I think that Kirsh and Maglio’s paper describes the cognition-environment interaction without the addition of vague concepts like the “more natural explanation of all sorts of actions” that is “[allowed] by embracing an active externalism”. This statement is an example of a claim made by Clark and Chalmers’s that lacks the substance and clarity that is provided in the distinction between epistemic and pragmatic actions as linchpins of cognition. This claim, like multiple others made in the present paper, seems to hinge on theoretical examples that use thought experiments or overly philosophical reasoning (in my opinion; I do not believe that philosophical reasoning is incorrect or not useful) rather than clear explanations. That being said, I think that Clark and Chalmers’s example of the fish as an efficiently designed swimming device, where the success of the fish lies in the coupling of the fish’s behaviours with environmental factors such as the kinetic energy in the water it swims in, was an excellent illustration of the interplay between cognitive processing and the context/situation/environment it occurs in.