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The Brain Evolved to Guide Action

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Abstract

In the 19th century, major movements in both psychology and neuroscience were profoundly influenced by Darwin. William James argued for a view of psychology which ultimately came to be known as functionalism; in neuroscience, Herbert Spencer and Santiago Ramon y Cajal argued that one needed to study the mind and brain as adaptations to the environment. In both cases, this evolutionary approach forced a focus on the role of the brain in action guidance. These approaches were revived at the end of the 20th century in the form of embodied cognitive science, which focuses on the importance of action in understanding cognition. Embodied cognitive science calls for an understanding of the brain as having evolved initially for perception and action. It suggests that even complex cognitive abilities such as language and reasoning will use neural resources which initially evolved to guide action.

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... However, importantly, the design of autonomous robotic agents is not only a suitable use case for neuromorphic systems per se, but may also be an essential step for bottom-up analysis by synthesis. Indeed, achieving cognition and neuromorphic intelligence in silico may not be possible without a body that interacts and adapts continuously with the environment [303], as it is one of the very purposes biological brains evolved for [304], [305]. ...
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• The four parts of which this work consists, though intimately related to each other as different views of the same great aggregate of phenomena, are yet, in the main, severally independent and complete in themselves. The General Analysis is an inquiry concerning the basis of our intelligence. Its object is to ascertain the fundamental peculiarity of all modes of consciousness constituting knowledge proper—knowledge of the highest validity. The Special Analysis has for its aim, to resolve each species of cognition into its components. Commencing with the most involved ones, it seeks by successive decompositions to reduce cognitions of every order to those of the simplest kind; and so, finally to make apparent the common nature of all thought, and disclose its ultimate constituents. The General Synthesis, setting out with an abstract statement of the relation subsisting between every living organism and the external world, and arguing that all vital actions whatever, mental and bodily, must be expressible in terms of this relation; proceeds to formulate, in such terms, the successive phases of progressing Life, considered apart from our conventional classifications of them. And the Special Synthesis, after exhibiting that gradual differentiation of the psychical from the physical life which accompanies the evolution of Life in general, goes on to develop, in its application to psychical life in particular, the doctrine which the previous part sets forth: describing the nature and genesis of the different modes of Intelligence, in terms of the relation which obtains between inner and outer phenomena. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved) • The four parts of which this work consists, though intimately related to each other as different views of the same great aggregate of phenomena, are yet, in the main, severally independent and complete in themselves. The General Analysis is an inquiry concerning the basis of our intelligence. Its object is to ascertain the fundamental peculiarity of all modes of consciousness constituting knowledge proper—knowledge of the highest validity. The Special Analysis has for its aim, to resolve each species of cognition into its components. Commencing with the most involved ones, it seeks by successive decompositions to reduce cognitions of every order to those of the simplest kind; and so, finally to make apparent the common nature of all thought, and disclose its ultimate constituents. The General Synthesis, setting out with an abstract statement of the relation subsisting between every living organism and the external world, and arguing that all vital actions whatever, mental and bodily, must be expressible in terms of this relation; proceeds to formulate, in such terms, the successive phases of progressing Life, considered apart from our conventional classifications of them. And the Special Synthesis, after exhibiting that gradual differentiation of the psychical from the physical life which accompanies the evolution of Life in general, goes on to develop, in its application to psychical life in particular, the doctrine which the previous part sets forth: describing the nature and genesis of the different modes of Intelligence, in terms of the relation which obtains between inner and outer phenomena. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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In this article I outline, apply, and defend a theory of natural representation. The main consequences of this theory are: (i) representational status is a matter of how physical entities are used, and specifically is not a matter of causation, nomic relations with the intentional object, or information; (ii) there are genuine (brain‐) internal representations; (iii) such representations are really representations, and not just farcical pseudo‐representations, such as attractors, principal components, state‐space partitions, or what‐have‐you; and (iv) the theory allows us to sharply distinguish those complex behaviors which are genuinely cognitive from those which are merely complex and adaptive.
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To accept that cognition is embodied is to question many of the beliefs traditionally held by cognitive scientists. One key question regards the localization of cognitive faculties. Here we argue that for cognition to be embodied and sometimes embedded, means that the cognitive faculty cannot be localized in a brain area alone. We review recent research on neural reuse, the 1/f structure of human activity, tool use, group cognition, and social coordination dynamics that we believe demonstrates how the boundary between the different areas of the brain, the brain and body, and the body and environment is not only blurred but indeterminate. In turn, we propose that cognition is supported by a nested structure of task-specific synergies, which are softly assembled from a variety of neural, bodily, and environmental components (including other individuals), and exhibit interaction dominant dynamics.
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Artificial intelligence research has foundered on the issue of representation. When intelligence is approached in an incremental manner, with strict reliance on interfacing to the real world through perception and action, reliance on representation disappears. In this paper we outline our approach to incrementally building complete intelligent Creatures. The fundamental decomposition of the intelligent system is not into independent information processing units which must interface with each other via representations. Instead, the intelligent system is decomposed into independent and parallel activity producers which all interface directly to the world through perception and action, rather than interface to each other particularly much. The notions of central and peripheral systems evaporate—everything is both central and peripheral. Based on these principles we have built a very successful series of mobile robots which operate without supervision as Creatures in standard office environments.
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This paper briefly introduces radical embodied cognitive science (RECS) and places it in historical perspective. Radical embodied cognitive science is an interdisciplinary approach to psychology that combines ideas from the phenomenological tradition with ecological psychology and dynamical systems modeling. It is argued that radical embodied cognitive science has a long history; it is as a direct descendent of the Jamesian functionalist approach to psychology. This approach to psychology is contrasted with the current trend of supplementing standard cognitive psychology with occasional references to the body. In contrast with these trends, radical embodied cognitive science is skeptical of the explanatory usefulness of mental representations. The future prospects of radical embodied cognitive science and the broader functionalist framework are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
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One of the major challenges in imaging neuroscience is the integration of cognitive science with the empiricism of neurophysiology. The cognitive architectures and principles offered by cognitive science have been essential in shaping experimental design and image analysis strategies from the outset. Now some of the cognitive models and their assumptions (for example, cognitive subtraction) are being re-evaluated in the light of how the brain actually implements putative components and processes. In this review we will consider experimental designs that go beyond cognitive subtraction and also consider how functional imaging can be used to assess the context-sensitivity of cognitive processing (using conjunction analyses), and the integration of different processes (in terms of interactions, using factorial designs) and how both these themes can be developed in the context of parametric designs. These new approaches reflect an ongoing discourse between cognitive science and the emerging principles of functional anatomy.
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Is the human mind/brain composed of a set of highly specialized components, each carrying out a specific aspect of human cognition, or is it more of a general-purpose device, in which each component participates in a wide variety of cognitive processes? For nearly two centuries, proponents of specialized organs or modules of the mind and brain--from the phrenologists to Broca to Chomsky and Fodor--have jousted with the proponents of distributed cognitive and neural processing--from Flourens to Lashley to McClelland and Rumelhart. I argue here that research using functional MRI is beginning to answer this long-standing question with new clarity and precision by indicating that at least a few specific aspects of cognition are implemented in brain regions that are highly specialized for that process alone. Cortical regions have been identified that are specialized not only for basic sensory and motor processes but also for the high-level perceptual analysis of faces, places, bodies, visually presented words, and even for the very abstract cognitive function of thinking about another person's thoughts. I further consider the as-yet unanswered questions of how much of the mind and brain are made up of these functionally specialized components and how they arise developmentally.
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InCognitive Integration: Attacking The Bounds of Cognition Richard Menary argues that the real pay-off from extended-mind-style arguments is not a new form of externalism in the philosophy of mind, but a view in which the 'internal' and 'external' aspects of cognition are integrated into a whole. Menary argues that the manipulation of external vehicles constitutes cognitive processes and that cognition is hybrid: internal and external processes and vehicles complement one another in the completion of cognitive tasks. However, we cannot make good on these claims without understanding the cognitive norms by which we manipulate bodily external vehicles of cognition.
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Paramagnetic deoxyhemoglobin in venous blood is a naturally occurring contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). By accentuating the effects of this agent through the use of gradient-echo techniques in high fields, we demonstrate in vivo images of brain microvasculature with image contrast reflecting the blood oxygen level. This blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrast follows blood oxygen changes induced by anesthetics, by insulin-induced hypoglycemia, and by inhaled gas mixtures that alter metabolic demand or blood flow. The results suggest that BOLD contrast can be used to provide in vivo real-time maps of blood oxygenation in the brain under normal physiological conditions. BOLD contrast adds an additional feature to magnetic resonance imaging and complements other techniques that are attempting to provide positron emission tomography-like measurements related to regional neural activity.
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In a task designed to elicit the production of verbs, the patients known as AN-1033 and Boswell consistently produced the correct target words, performing no differently from normal controls. However, in a similar task designed to elicit the production of nouns, both patients performed quite defectively, and their scores were many SDs below those of controls. Language processing was otherwise normal--i.e., there were no impairments in grammar, morphology, phonetic implementation, or prosody; reading and writing were normal. In a third patient (KJ-1360), we obtained the reverse outcome--i.e., retrieval of common and proper nouns was preserved, but verb retrieval was defective. Together, the findings in the three patients constitute a double dissociation between noun and verb retrieval. In AN-1033 and Boswell, the lesions are located outside the so-called language areas (left frontoparietal operculum, posterior temporal region, inferior parietal lobule), where damage is associated with aphasia. The region of damage shared by the two patients is in left anterior and middle temporal lobe. This sector of left hemisphere contains systems for the retrieval of nouns that denote concrete entities. We propose that those systems are not essential for the retrieval of verbs and not involved in the vocal implementation of word forms. Those systems perform a two-way lexical-mediation role for concrete nouns and promote the reconstruction of a word form after the processing of sensory-motor characteristics of the entity denoted by that word. The findings in patient KJ-1360, whose lesion is in left premotor cortex, suggest that equivalent mediation systems for verbs are located in the left frontal region.
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Two parallel studies using positron emission tomography, one conducted in neurological patients with brain lesions, the other in normal individuals, indicate that the normal process of retrieving words that denote concrete entities depends in part on multiple regions of the left cerebral hemisphere, located outside the classic language areas. Moreover, anatomically separable regions tends to process words for distinct kinds of items.