It has been some time now since we published this book. At the time I was too busy working at Barcelona City Council and could not publish a post on this blog. It is now time to do so.
Chapters 5 and 6 of the book are based on my PhD thesis and I am proud to see it published within the more ellaborate framework of this book.
From the official summary of the book: «Sensorimotor Life draws on current theoretical developments in the enactive approach to life and mind. It examines and expands the premises of the sciences of the human mind, while developing an alternative picture closer to people’s daily experiences. Enactive ideas are applied and extended, providing a theoretically rich, naturalistic account of meaning and agency. The book includes a dynamical systems description of different types of sensorimotor regularities or sensorimotor contingencies; a dynamical interpretation of Piaget’s theory of equilibration to ground the concept of sensorimotor mastery; and a theory of agency as organized networks of sensorimotor schemes, as well as its implications for embodied subjectivity.»
ABSTRACT: The notion of information processing has dominated the study of the mind for over six decades. However, before the advent of cognitivism, one of the most prominent theoretical ideas was that of Habit. This is a concept with a rich and complex history, which is again starting to awaken interest, following recent embodied, enactive critiques of computationalist frameworks. We offer here a very brief history of the concept of habit in the form of a genealogical network-map. This serves to provide an overview of the richness of this notion and as a guide for further re-appraisal. We identify 77 thinkers and their influences, and group them into seven schools of thought. Two major trends can be distinguished. One is the associationist trend, starting with the work of Locke and Hume, developed by Hartley, Bain, and Mill to be later absorbed into behaviorism through pioneering animal psychologists (Morgan and Thorndike). This tradition conceived of habits atomistically and as automatisms (a conception later debunked by cognitivism). Another historical trend we have called organicism inherits the legacy of Aristotle and develops along German idealism, French spiritualism, pragmatism, and phenomenology. It feeds into the work of continental psychologists in the early 20th century, influencing important figures such as Merleau-Ponty, Piaget, and Gibson. But it has not yet been taken up by mainstream cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Habits, in this tradition, are seen as ecological, self-organizing structures that relate to a web of predispositions and plastic dependencies both in the agent and in the environment. In addition, they are not conceptualized in opposition to rational, volitional processes, but as transversing a continuum from reflective to embodied intentionality. These are properties that make habit a particularly attractive idea for embodied, enactive perspectives, which can now re-evaluate it in light of dynamical systems theory and complexity research.
My talk started by assuming the real challenge of systematicity for dynamical approaches. The work of René Thom and Jean Petitot on morphodynamics and cognitive grammars serves as a powerful framework to solve this problem. In the second part of the talk I defend a contemporary re-appraisal of the notion of habit within the Piagetian framework, with illustrations from evolutionary robotics. You can download the pdf of the slides bellow:
Together with Ezequiel Di Paolo we embarked into a historical research on the notion of Habits as theoretical building blocks for cognitive science. Far from the simplified stimulus-response pairing conception of habits defended by behaviorism, we found that habits have long been a very rich conceptual category at the root of the sciences and philosophies of mind, until very recently. Here is a preliminary graph that summarizes some of our results (that would hopefully be published as a paper some time soon):
Phylogeny of the concept of Habit. The graph is still under development but captures the most important trends.
I gave a COGS Seminar Series talk here at Sussex. The title was «Defining Agency» where I presented the paper with the same title that I wrote together with Ezequiel Di Paolo and Marieke Rohde. I also included an example of the paper presented at ECAL2009 with Matthew Egbert. Thanks to Nicholas Hockins, there is a video of the talk available in Archive:
The video and the presentation slides can be downloaded from Archive or you can directly click on the picture above to download it (I am waiting for Archive to convert it into an online flash player).