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today in class we've got a topic that most of you are probably somewhat unfamiliar with the term biosemiotics is not in widespread use um and but it represents a very very
important reference point when we come to theories of embodied cognition the founder of biosemiotics is typically held to be jacob von xcool
biosemiotics is a field within the broader domain of semiotics which considers the manner in which meaning arises through various forms of mediation such as signs indices indexes
symbols and the like vonukescull's contribution to semiotics was to take the body very very seriously he was doing his work the work we're going to be considering is in the 1920s
and 1930s and it's done by this character you can only say character he's an estonian of german descent an aristocrat has his own castle which becomes relevant in the context of
his research um but we need to understand what the tradition is that he is feeding from and how what his orientation is he is
taking his own work to be an extension of the work of immanuel kant now if you have not noticed anything in the history of philosophy of mind please
notice descartes and kant those are the two principal landmarks so many others but kant had died at the very start of the 19th century kant was working within a
physical framework that was newtonian in which space and time are simply blocks containers within which things unfold mechanistically that was the metaphysics available to
kant was asking with that metaphysics how do we come to know anything now he had the cogito of descartes very much on his mind but also the the empiricists
concerns with the role of the senses following the tradition of hume and kant attempted to resolve this by noting that there were some things that could not be learned from the world that had
to be in place before any knowledge of the world can happen at all he called these the synthetic a prioris those things that well nothing forces the manas but we can't begin to make
sense of the notion of knowledge without prior notions of time and space and causality this is a difficult position to occupy and can't argumentation was developed in very many ways and gave rise to very many
different kinds of science thereafter for the thing in itself this shell is not knowable rather i encountered a phenomenon of the shell the phenomenon of the shell
through mediated through the senses and the body and i can never thus get to the shell itself this is of course the paradox underlying all representational theories
of perception which is that they seem to leave you estranged from the world and not in contact with the world all knowledge seem to be mediated through the sensors so it need you need
to bootstrap knowledge with these synthetic api ras for accounts this is immanuel kant dies at the start of the 19th century and then about
1870 something like scientific psychology starts to emerge and there's a wide variety of approaches they're drawing among other things from kant but they're not following one
unified agenda funux comes in here and he sees himself as taking kant seriously and he's going to develop in his context in the 1920s and 1930s
the notion of a synthetic a priori changes now instead of the physicalist model of time and space and as containers that we have with kant the body is the ultimate synthetic a
priori for von neux cool epistemology or how a being comes to know the world will only be ever understood through careful attention to the structures of and processes of the body
he says to quote the task of biology consists in expanding in two directions the results of cancer investigations by considering the part played by our body and especially by our sense organs
and central nervous system you can see the basic parameters of what we now call cognitive science are coming into being here and by studying the relation of other subjects to objects
it's the subject that kant wants to take seriously that notion is still very undefined and notice here the term animal other subjects so the
animal is a subject here he's trying to take a stance that is not that doesn't traffic in human exceptionalism that takes the embodied being seriously and for him that means something that's
straightforwardly an animal a dog a cat a scientist a limpet and he's going to consider them all with much the same theoretical vocabulary he's pitching in here in 1926
but i want to take you back to our lecture on cognitivism where we surveyed among other things the origins of this notion of a psychological subject within our inner architecture
that comes into being in 1896 john dewey wrote a very famous article called the reflex arc concept in psychology you may have missed it it's listed it's provided on
the page for cognitivism and what dewey was doing was surveying the very many very diverse uh research activities that were beginning to bring into being something like a
psychological science there was so many questions so many methods and a single theoretical construct had emerged that many people were leaning on to and was acting as a kind of a unified
construct with which notions of mind and body might be brought together that notion is the reflex arc now the reflex arc you may be familiar with from physiology if you touch something hot
then we can follow a physiological path from the receptors in the skin in this case if you touch a hot stove we can follow a very short path that goes through the spinal cord and immediately causes you
to move your hand away no thinking involved that's a reflex and you're familiar with the notion of reflex but that notion had been elaborated and was being developed by many people into a picture of the an account of the
embedding of the entire body and nervous system in the world john dewey was saying don't do that stop doing that it's a serious critique of this input output model and the
reflex arc starts with a stimulus and results in action and as a one-way throughput john dewey correctly said that an input output model reduces
the intervene the thing in the middle into a puppet there is no subjectivity possible here now this is a fundamental critique as the fundamental shift in perspective we're adopting in
this module which is to get away from the silly notion of the body and person and subject as being driven by inputs producing the
ghost of the cognitive sandwich there we go you've got the cognitive sandwich you've got sensation providing input you've got action on the output in between you have a great big mystery stuffed into the head it's very easy to make fun of this as
susan hurley does with her term cognitive sandwich it's much more difficult to make fun of exactly the same thing when we draw it like this there is an orthodox belief in our
society our society works on the assumption that there is the psychological subject who has inner processes of perception feeding into inner processes of higher cognition
all fueled by the world through senses and this model doesn't even have an output such constructive psychological representational stories typically
ignore action altogether so the cognitive sandwich may be ridiculous when we look at it in one way but it is also the most wide held belief in our society about the person and we
institute our laws our education systems our workplaces are built on this problematic model so now we go back to jakub von ogskul and we find him critiquing exactly the
same thing for exactly the same reasons 30 years after john dewey there on the left he has picked out the reflex arc pointing out that it is a linear throughput which leaves no room
for subjectivity no room for intentional action no room for meaning to arise if you if the middle is only animated by inputs then it's a puppet
he replaces this with a model on the right that will whose terms will not be entirely clear to you as you read the article but i want you to notice one thing about it it's circular it's not a linear
throughput it's circular he starts by noting the embeddedness of the body in the world and the fact that the activity of the
body is meaningful at all times and not separable into inputs and outputs his replacement of the linear throughput with this circular model that he elaborates in various ways
is remarkably prescient of the basic cybernetic insight that will arise after the second world war in which it's all feedback systems positive feedback systems negative feedback systems
homeostatic systems um reciprocity is always involved the fact that you do something and something is done to you at the same time that that we dance in the world
rather than standing apart from it and recording a movie of it so his um uncovery of this basic cybernetic principle with which one might approach the body and its being in the world is
remarkably prescient but these profound ideas of vulnerable are often hidden because he's well frankly so charming well he's a problematic character as we'll see lately
but he tells a good story and he does cool experiments my favorite is this one he's built a little toy he's built a treadmill for a snail isn't that wonderful he's a genuine scientist he's doing lots and lots of experiments with
animals they're very creative experiments in this case he's built a treadmill for a snail so the snail is held by a vice on a rotating ball and the snail is then um approached by
the investigator who chucks it under the chin like this and if you chuck the snail under the chin like this the snail will recoil not surprising i
would recall it as well but as you speed up the frequency of these chucks under the chin at about five hertz once you pass a frequency of about five chucks per second
the snail's behavior changes remarkably instead of being perturbed and trying to withdraw it tries to crawl onto onto something the qualitative nature of what's happening
to the snail has changed for the snail and its response or it's it's um sense making is altered and it's tried it perceives seems to perceive now a constant surface onto which it might
crawl now that might seem strange to you but i'll remind you that if we flash a light for you five times a second you'll see a light flashing and if we speed up the interval
then we shorten the interval between flashes to make them faster there comes a critical point at about 20 site flashes per second where you no longer perceive individual flashes but you
perceive a continuous light something like this underlies the magic that happens with moving pictures as well where you know that the action you see in the cinema is a bunch of projected still pictures
but they um have this character of continuous movement for you likewise in sound if we play that for you you hear a bunch of disconnected claps but if we shorten the
interval between the claps and speed it up there comes a point at which it changes into a continuous low pitch and that happens again about 20 hertz at about 20 cycles per second now for this snail
that border is at a different place it's at about five cycles per second what this shows is quite profound remember kant's synthetic a prioris
time for this snail is different than time for you the time that arises as a function of the body of the snail has this border at about five hertz where you have one at about 20 hertz
his basic insight is that worlds arise for snails that are not commensurable with worlds that arise for humans with which are not commensurable with worlds that arise for earthworms
the notion of an umvelt we get to determine a minute is used to describe this bodily specific arising of a world together with time and space
now i said it's rather weird to think of time being fundamentally different for an animal of a different constitution but i'll remind you that we can use our cinematic tricks to make ourselves aware of our own
limitations on the left there through high-speed photography we managed to make perceptible an event which we cannot otherwise see the event that you see there with the splash is
perfectly real but we can only make it manifest through high-speed photography similarly whoops there are processes going on around us
that we do not perceive and we can use time-lapse photography to make those to speed them up so that they become perceptible to us something like the blooming of a flower or the battles intricate battles fought
between brambles and hedges these make us aware that we perceive time as unfolding at a rate dictated by our own metabolism and bodily processes so this idea that time and space
are considered very different from count but very much tied now to the body this is quite radical so if we've looked at the synthetic a priori of time he also addresses the synthetic a priori of
space and one very interesting distinction he draws is between animals who have semi-circular canals in their heads somewhere and animals which don't now we do fishes do
limpets don't for an animal with semicircular canals the word this the nature of space is to have right left up down forward backwards it's to be suspended or the
head to move through a volumetric space that we is so familiar with us we think of that as space as simply existing an animal not so endowed with no
semicircular canals encounters space in an entirely different way and he discusses how space arises for something like a limpet or a paramecium so he has taken the synthetic a prioris
of time and space and reconsidered them in a manner appropriate to the 1920s and 30s paying keen attention to the structures and processes of the body
this is work that we still need to do let's read just a little quote from him now we might assume that an animal is nothing but a collection of perceptual and effector tools connected by an integrating apparatus
which though still a mechanism is yet fit to carry on life functions he's saying that you can build up a mechanistic picture of the functioning of the body in in that world
but he said this is indeed the position of all mechanistic theories whether their analogies are in terms of rigid mechanics or more plastic dynamics and one might mention pretty much all contemporary psychological theories
they brand animals as mere objects the proponents of such theories forget that from the first they have overlooked the most important thing the subject which uses the tools perceives and functions with their age
he's trying to take this word subject very seriously don't confuse the subject with the person this isn't he's trying to begin to find the vocabulary to elaborate how we can speak of meaningful
being in the world without a subject there is no meaning his notion of the umvelt or the world as it arises for a specifically embodied organism
is not the same thing as environment he tries to make this distinction clear it's not entirely successful but here you can see he distinguishes on the left between what we might think of the environment of a honeybee which is a
field of flowers and on the right he's tried to draw the umvelt of the the field of flowers from i'm going to use this word from the point of view of the bee now it's unfortunate to have to use
visual metaphors there that's our language that's the way we talk about these things the processes are much more generic but we will inevitably use the language of vision when we're talking about such
things so he's tried fancifully to draw a meaningful umvelt as it might appear to a be we keep falling into this visual metaphor when we're when we talk about um subjectivities
we keep coming back to the notion of seeing which is most unfortunate when we discuss the umwelt you shouldn't think of something which the b sees
the um belt has two sides to it which are not separable in german they're the merkveld and the virgvelt the merkwelt is the umvelt considered
from the aspects of semiotics or signs or meaningful stimuli things to differentiations one might draw distinctions one might draw that are available to one the virgvelt is the same thing
considered under a different aspect which is the space of possible effective actions to draw a distinction is now to move in knowledge of that distinction
this notion of the virgvelt will will appear later in ecological psychology with the notion of affordance and and again a concept that follows totally nails long before it appears in the literature
so when you hear umwelt try not to think entirely visually but to recognize that we we're dealing here with a concept which must be understood as a sort of a stereoscopic fusion
of the idea of meaningful appearance meaningful showing up and capacity for action because of the difficulties in disciplining this view of this emerging
view of the subject you won't find it easy to interpret vulnerability in terms of personal experience he vacillates here and our vocabulary is still not great here but the umvelt has
this important character of being neither a theory of perception or theory of action in keeping with all embodied theories later perception and action are absolutely indistinguishable but we can characterize them in this
with this dual aspect manner so when you encounter sketches like this he's full of bold imaginative sketches in his work this is the umvelt of a
mollusk a muscle it's not a picture of experience what he's trying to show is like a like he's making a map an imaginative map yes but of the potential
visual distinctions that might be drawn by the mollusk so try when you're reading vanuck school not to think of experience as a picture or as a film you will unders you will get much more
from his work when you understand where it sits in history in the history of ideas that is after kant developing cans but developing content in new social context
in a new context of physical theory is making moves that have never been made before but they are continuous with the development of philosophy of mind and philosophy of the organism
now i went looking i'm sure these plots are too small for you to see but i had a look at using google search terms at the frequency of the term cognitive that's that green line that you see there and
that green line starts to rise about 1960 and there's a very popular term since i notice you're studying cognitive science since about the 1960s cognitive has been a a very important term
here's the term embodiment and that one only starts to take off in the 1990s the term embodiment becomes something that is discussed in the 1990s the term biosemiotics there's vastly
fewer references but interestingly it takes off after about the year 2000. so this work of vanuk's crew from the 20s and 30s is somehow necessary for us today it has been
picked up by roboticists has been picked up by ecological psychologists and has been picked up by inactive theorists so it's not to be consigned to a past it is of its time and when you meet
vernucci and his charming stroll through the worlds of animals and men you're meeting a complex character who is of his time he's an aristocrat he's a racist he has nazi sympathies he develops a view of
nature and biology that allows him to see the state as a natural kind of organism and to perceive hitler as a kind of a doctor so it's not all entirely charming
our view of our nuclear within embodied cognitive science has been greatly helped by an article written last year by elmo felton mined after ook school a foray into the world of ecological psychologists and an
activist this shows you how this work from the 1920s appears to contemporary embodied cognitive scientists and we're going to have the good luck that elmo will join us in class so we should have a very
productive discussion about the very strange world of jakob von ogsku
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