Recent evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests that certain cognitive processes employ perceptual representations. Inspired by this evidence, a few researchers have proposed that cognition is inherently perceptual. They have developed an innovative theoretical approach that rests on the notion of perceptual simulation and marshaled several general arguments supporting the centrality of perceptual representations to concepts. In this article, I identify a number of weaknesses in these arguments and defend a multiple semantic code approach that posits both perceptual and non-perceptual representations.
A great deal of research has focused on the question of whether or not concepts are embodied as a rule. Supporters of embodiment have pointed to studies that implicate affective and sensorimotor systems in cognitive tasks, while critics of embodiment have offered nonembodied explanations of these results and pointed to studies that implicate amodal systems. Abstract concepts have tended to be viewed as an important test case in this polemical debate. This essay argues that we need to move beyond a (...) pretheoretical notion of abstraction. Against the background of current research and theory, abstract concepts do not pose a single, unified problem for embodied cognition but, instead, three distinct problems: the problem of generalization, the problem of flexibility, and the problem of disembodiment. Identifying these problems provides a conceptual framework for critically evaluating, and perhaps improving upon, recent theoretical proposals. (shrink)
A growing body of evidence suggests that cognition is embodied and grounded. Abstract concepts, though, remain a significant theoretical chal- lenge. A number of researchers have proposed that language makes an important contribution to our capacity to acquire and employ concepts, particularly abstract ones. In this essay, I critically examine this suggestion and ultimately defend a version of it. I argue that a successful account of how language augments cognition should emphasize its symbolic properties and incorporate a view of embodiment (...) that recognizes the flexible, multi- modal and task-related nature of action, emotion and perception systems. On this view, language is an ontogenetically disruptive cognitive technology that expands our conceptual reach. (shrink)
Recently, there has been a great deal of interest in the idea that natural language enhances and extends our cognitive capabilities. Supporters of embodied cognition have been particularly interested in the way in which language may provide a solution to the problem of abstract concepts. Toward this end, some have emphasized the way in which language may act as form of cognitive scaffolding and others have emphasized the potential importance of language-based distributional information. This essay defends a version of the (...) cognitive enhancement thesis that integrates and builds on both of these proposals. I argue that the embodied representations associated with language processing serve as a supplementary medium for conceptual processing. The acquisition of a natural language provides a means of extending our cognitive reach by giving us access to an internalized combinatorial symbol system that augments and supports the context-sensitive embodied representational systems that exist independently of language. (shrink)
Our thoughts depend on knowledge about objects, people, properties, and events. In order to think about where we left our keys, what we are going to make for dinner, when we last fed the dogs, and how we are going to survive our next visit with our family, we need to know something about locations, keys, cooking, dogs, survival, families, and so on. Researchers have sought to explain how our brains can store and access such general knowledge. A growing body (...) of evidence suggests that many of our concepts are grounded in action, emotion, and perception systems. We appear to think about the world by means of the same mechanisms that we use to experience it. Abstract concepts like ‘democracy,’ ‘fermion,’ ‘piety,’ ‘truth,’ and ‘zero’ represent a clear challenge to this idea. Given that they represent a uniquely human cognitive achievement, answering the question of how we acquire and use them is central to our ability to understand ourselves. This book argues that abstract concepts are heterogeneous and pose three important challenges to embodied cognition. They force us to ask: How do we generalize beyond the specifics of our experience? How do we think about things that we do not experience directly? How do we adapt our thoughts to specific contexts and tasks? It argues that a successful theory of grounding must embrace multimodal representations, hierarchical architecture, and linguistic scaffolding. Abstract concepts are the product of an elastic mind. (shrink)
Philosophers have traditionally treated physicalism as an empirically informed metaphysical thesis. This approach faces a well-known problem often referred to as Hempel’s dilemma: formulations of physicalism tend to be either false or indeterminate. The generally preferred strategy to address this problem involves an appeal to a hypothetical complete and ideal physical theory. After demonstrating that this strategy is not viable, I argue that we should redefine physicalism as an interdisciplinary research program seeking to explain the mental in terms of the (...) physical that encompasses the physical sciences, the psychological and brain sciences, and philosophy. Redefining physicalism in this way improves upon previous reconstructive accounts while avoiding the indeterminacy associated with orthodox forms of futurist physicalism. (shrink)
Consciousness and Physicalism: A Defense of a Research Program explores the nature of consciousness and its place in the world, offering a revisionist account of what it means to say that consciousness is nothing over and above the physical. By synthesizing work in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of science from the last twenty years and forging a dialogue with contemporary research in the empirical sciences of the mind, Andreas Elpidorou and Guy Dove advance and defend a novel (...) formulation of physicalism. Although physicalism has been traditionally understood to be a metaphysical thesis, Elpidorou and Dove argue that there is an alternative and indeed preferable understanding of physicalism that both renders physicalism a scientifically informed explanatory project and allows us to make important progress in addressing the ontological problem of consciousness. Physicalism, Elpidorou and Dove hold, is best viewed not as a thesis (metaphysical or otherwise) but as an interdisciplinary research program that aims to compositionally explain all natural phenomena that are central to our understanding of our place in nature. Consciousness and Physicalism is replete with philosophical arguments and informed, through and through, by findings in many areas of scientific research. It advances the debate regarding the ontological status of consciousness. It will interest students and scholars in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of cognitive science, and philosophy of science. And it will challenge both foes and friends of physicalism. -/- . (shrink)
The Phenomenal Concept Strategy offers the physicalist perhaps the most promising means of explaining why the connection between mental facts and physical facts appears to be contingent even though it is not. In this article, we show that the large body of evidence suggesting that our concepts are often embodied and grounded in sensorimotor systems speaks against standard forms of the PCS. We argue, nevertheless, that it is possible to formulate a novel version of the PCS that is thoroughly in (...) keeping with embodied cognition, focuses on features of physical concepts, and succeeds in explaining the appearance of contingency. (shrink)
What role does language play in our thoughts? A longstanding proposal that has gained traction among supporters of embodied or grounded cognition suggests that it serves as a cognitive scaffold. This idea turns on the fact that language—with its ability to capture statistical regularities, leverage culturally acquired information, and engage grounded metaphors—is an effective and readily available support for our thinking. In this essay, I argue that language should be viewed as more than this; it should be viewed as a (...) neuroenhancement. The neurologically realized language system is an important subcomponent of a flexible, multimodal, and multilevel conceptual system. It is not merely a source for information about the world but also a computational add-on that extends our conceptual reach. This approach provides a compelling explanation of the course of development, our facility with abstract concepts, and even the scope of language-specific influences on cognition. (shrink)
The role played by language in our cognitive lives is a topic at the centre of contemporary debates in cognitive (neuro)science. In this paper we illustrate and compare two theories that offer embodied explanations of this role: the WAT (words as social tools) and the LENS (language is an embodied neuroenhancement and scaffold) theories. WAT and LENS differ from other current proposals, because they connect the impact of the neurologically realized language system on our cognition to the ways in which (...) language shapes our interaction with the physical and social environment. Examining these theories together, their tenets and supporting evidence, sharpens our understanding of each, but also contributes to a better understanding of the contribution that language might make to the acquisition, representation and use of abstract concepts. Here we focus on how language provides a source of inner grounding, especially metacognition and inner speech, and supports the flexibility of our thought. Overall, the paper outlines a promising research program focused on the importance of language to abstract concepts within the context of a flexible, multimodal, and multilevel conception of embodied cognition. (shrink)
More and more researchers are examining grammar acquisition from theoretical perspectives that treat it as an emergent phenomenon. In this essay, I argue that a robustly developmental perspective provides a potential explanation for some of the well-known crosslinguistic features of early child language: the process of acquisition is shaped in part by the developmental constraints embodied in von Baer’s law of development. An established model of development, the Developmental Lock, captures and elucidates the probabilistic generalizations at the heart of von (...) Baer’s law. When this model is applied to the acquisition of grammar, it predicts that grammatical achievements that are more generatively entrenched will emerge earlier in development and will be more developmentally resilient than those that are less generatively entrenched. I show that the first prediction is supported by a wealth of psycholinguistic evidence involving typically developing children and that the second prediction is supported by numerous studies involving both children who receive deficient linguistic input and children who experience various language impairments. The success of this model demonstrates the analytic potential of a developmental approach to the study of language acquisition. (shrink)
Given that Pickering & Garrod's (P&G's) account integrates language production and comprehension, it is reasonable to ask whether it is compatible with embodied cognition. I argue that its dependence on rich intermediate representations of linguistic structure excludes embodiment. Two options are available to supporters of embodied cognition: They can adopt a more liberal notion of embodiment or they can attempt to replace these intermediate representations with robustly embodied ones. Both of these options face challenges.
Physicalism demands an explication of what it means for something to be physical. But the most popular way of providing one—viz., characterizing the physical in terms of the postulates of a scientifically derived physical theory—is met with serious trouble. Proponents of physicalism can either appeal to current physical theory or to some future physical theory (preferably an ideal and complete one). Neither option is promising: currentism almost assuredly renders physicalism false and futurism appears to render it indeterminate or trivial. The (...) purpose of this essay is to argue that attempts to characterize the mental encounter a similar dilemma: currentism with respect to the mental is likely to be inadequate or contain falsehoods and futurism leaves too many significant questions about the nature of mentality unanswered. This new dilemma, we show, threatens both sides of the current debate surrounding the metaphysical status of the mind. (shrink)
The Free Energy Principle (FEP) states that all biological self-organizing systems must minimize variational free energy. The acceptance of this principle has given rise to a popular and far-reaching theoretical and empirical approach to the study of the brain and living organisms. Despite the popularity of the FEP approach, little discussion has ensued about its ontological status and implications. By understanding physicalism as an interdisciplinary research program that aims to offer compositional explanations of mental phenomena, this paper articulates what it (...) would mean for the FEP approach to be part of research program physicalism and to corroborate a physicalist outlook. In doing so, this paper contributes both to philosophical discussions regarding the FEP approach and to the literature on physicalism. It does the former by explicating the metaphysical standing of the FEP approach. It does the latter by showing how cutting-edge research in the empirical sciences of the mind can inform our attitudes regarding physicalism. (shrink)
Embodied cognition represents one of most important theoretical developments in contemporary cognitive science. Many cognitive processes appear to be influenced by body morphology, emotions, and sensorimotor systems. This perspective is supported by an ever increasing collection of empirical studies that fall into two broad classes: one consisting of experiments that implicate action, emotion, and perception systems in seemingly abstract cognitive tasks and the other consisting of experiments that demonstrate the contribution of bodily interaction with the external environment to the performance (...) of such tasks. Now that embodied cognition is fairly well established, the time seems right for assessing its further promise and potential limitations. This research topic aimed to create an interdisciplinary forum for discussing where we go from here. Given that we have good reason to think that the body influences cognition in surprisingly robust ways, the central question is no longer whether or not some cognitive processes are embodied. Other questions have come to the forefront. To what extent are cognitive processes embodied? Are there disembodied processes? Among those that are embodied, how are they embodied? Is there more than one kind of embodiment? Is embodiment a matter of degree? Extending the Research ProgramMany of the contributions to this research topic involve experiments that extend the empirical reach of embodied cognition. For instance, Soliman, Gibson, and Gl... (shrink)
In this commentary, I make three points concerning Machery's response to neo-empiricism. First, his methodological critique fails to remove the threat that neo-empiricism poses to his conceptual eliminativism. Second, evidence suggests that there are multiple semantic codes, some of which are not perceptually based. Third, this representational heterogeneity thwarts neo-empiricism but also raises questions with respect to how we should.