Mental Life

In analogy with the essential organization of life, that of a recursively self-maintaining system, I take the mind to have a life of its own, which is underdetermined by biological organization and constraints. Minds require the emergence of a new form of individuality and normativity distinct from generic biology: a form of adaptive self-maintenance of the organization of behaviour that becomes autonomous through a developmental/historical process of self-determination through sensorimotor interactions. This is what I call Mental Life

Conceptual Diagram of Mental Life
Conceptual Diagram of Mental Life

Traditional cognitive science (representational, computational and, often, adaptationist) conceives the mind from a functionalist point of view where mental mechanisms are defined on the basis of their abstract functional role within an evolutionary or cognitive optimization framework. Mental Life, on the contrary, is ment to capture an open dynamic organization that is self-sustaining and self-regulating; meaning that neurodynamic and sensorimotor patterns are organically structured; that is, the main organizational principle is not the optimization of external norms (evolutionary or rational) but, preciselly, the generation and maintenance of such norms, in the form of global stability dependencies between sensorimotor schemes and the world. Aspects of this view of the Mind can be traced back to Merleau-Ponty’s notion of «Structure du Comportement», Piaget’s sense of sensorimotor organization and adaptation (as an equilibration between processes of assimilation and accommodation), Ashby’s notion of «ultrastability» in the nervous system or Francisco Varela’s notion of nervous system autonomy. More recently different approaches to the philosophy of mind might be thought of as converging on a similar view of the mind: sensorimotor accounts of consciousness and cognition (O’Regan and Nöe), large-scale views of neuronal integration and synchronization (Edelman, Buzsaki, Tononi, Engel, Llinas, Freeman, etc.) and enactive cognitive science (Thompson, Di Paolo, etc.), …

My current research tries to formalize and model this type of dynamic form of organization-through-interactions, within a Piagetian dynamical sensorimotor framework and inspired by protocellular theoretical modelling. I am currently exploring the notion of a habit (understood as a self-sustaining pattern of sensorimotor correlations) as a potential building block of the organizaton of Mental Life. For doing so I have developed and evolutionary robotics model in which hebbian homeostatic plasticity is optimized in a robot both to solve a minimally (and non-trivial) cognitive task and to develop and sustain the stability of the controller through interactions. I am also working, together with Ezequiel Di Paolo on a review and re-appraisal of the notion of habit in the history of philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

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