IAS-Research Seminar (Online) by Tiago Rama (UAB) and Xabier Barandiaran (UPV/EHU), “An organismic path for teleosemantics: from biological to cognitive autonomy”

To participate, please contact: alejandra.mtz.quintero@gmail.com

On June 15, 2021, at 11:30.

ABSTRACT
The most widespread attempt to explain cognitive norms in naturalistic terms is etiological teleosemantics (Millikan, 1989; Neander, 1991). However, the neo-Darwinian bases on which etiology is hosted have been severely challenged in the philosophy of biology,  confronting the teleological account that departs from orthodox natural selection adaptationism. Organismic Biology (Camazine, 2003; Etxeberria & Umerez, 2006; Gilbert & Sarkar, 2000; Goodwin, 2001; Kauffman, 1995, 1995; Müller & Newman, 2003; Walsh, 2015) is an increasingly widespread alternative to this evolutionary adaptationist framework. There is, however, still little development of how organicism can contribute to teleosemantics and to transit from biological to cognitive norms. A prominent area to approach natural normativity within organismal biology is Autonomous System Theory (Barandiaran, 2008; Bechtel, 2007; Bickhard, 2000; Moreno et al., 2008; Moreno & Mossio, 2015; Ruiz-Mirazo et al., 2004). Within this approach normative behaviour has been conceptualized as that which operates in accordance with the viability conditions of a recursively self-sustaining system (Barandiaran et al., 2009; Barandiaran & Egbert, 2013; W. D. Christensen & Bickhard, 2002). Departing from different works on sensorimotor theory and the autonomy of cognition (Barandiaran, 2008; Barandiaran & Di Paolo, 2014; Barandiaran & Egbert, 2013; W. Christensen, 2012; W. D. Christensen & Bickhard, 2002; Di Paolo et al., 2017; Egbert & Barandiaran, 2014) we extend and discuss the notion of cognitive normativity from an organismic perspective that understands cognitive norms as emerging from interdependencies between sensorimotor habits. We attempt to refine the different sensorimotor layers that build cognitive norms, from the intrinsic normativity of a single habit to that of networks of habits up to the emergence of social habits. We identify minimal requirements for a system to be teleosemantic: 1. That its behaviour is goal directed (minimally pre-intentional), 2.  That its behaviour must potentially be judged (naturalistically) as erroneous, and 3. That its behaviour be (at least potentially) corrected by the organism as a result of it being detected as erroneous. Next we apply the organismic approach to cognitive normativity to a simple example of sensorimotor behavior that satisfies the minimal teleosemantic requirements. Finally, we discuss the advantages of an organismic path to teleosemantics by addressing core challenges in the literature: a) the Swampman scenario (and the Swampfrog variant we will suggest); b) the relation between normal and natural normativity c) the plasticity of cognitive norms.

Bio: Tiago Rama (Autonomous University of Barcelona, UAB) trama.folco@gmail.com and Xabier E. Barandiaran (University of Basque Country, UPV/EHU)

IAS-Research Seminar by Izar Agirresarobe-Pineda (EHU/UPV) and Iñigo R. Arandia (EHU/UPV)

To participate, please contact: alejandra.mtz.quintero@gmail.com

On May 18, 2021, at 11:30. This session consists of three small talks:

 

Izar Agirresarobe-Pineda (EHU/UPV) and Iñigo R. Arandia (EHU/UPV)

  1. “Placebo, addictions, and the interplay between pre-reflective and reflective activity”

Background: Placebo and addictive phenomena share a controversy between reflective volition and uncontrollable bodily responses. Motivated by the conscious/nonconscious divide, they also share explanations in terms of (conscious) expectations and (nonconscious) conditioning. However, this dichotomy is problematic: it assumes a passive mechanistic account of bodies difficult to extrapolate beyond controlled experimental settings, and it renders the nonconscious as an almost inaccessible black-box.

Methods: We assess empirical evidence and theoretical explanations on placebo and addictive phenomena employing the dynamic interplay between pre-reflective (more implicit and automatized) and reflective (more explicit and controllable) aspects of agency derived from embodied cognitive science. We take the intersubjective domain as constitutive of experience, following the notion of “ontological intimacy” developed by philosopher Kym Maclaren.

Results: The pre-reflective/reflective interplay allows to investigate the influence of habits and other interrelated behavioral patterns, personal narratives, and a variety of tacit interactive elements (body language, speech tone, moods, atmospheres) that are fundamental to understand placebo phenomena and addictive behavior. Social interactions, including therapeutic encounters, cannot be reduced to exchanges of information that shape expectations only in a reflective manner. Social encounters always affect (positively or negatively) the ongoing constitution of our personhood in pre-reflective and reflective ways.

Conclusions: We suggest placebo and addictive phenomena should be investigated as meaningful interactive experiences involving a dynamic interplay between pre-reflective and reflective activity. This interplay, capturing essential sensorimotor and intersubjective influences, offers more flexibility than the conscious/nonconscious dichotomy. These categories might also provide insights for other conditions such as phobias or traumas.

Iñigo R. Arandia (UPV/EHU)

2. “Placebo from an Enactive Perspective”

Background: A set of problematic assumptions pervades research into placebo effects. These include various kinds of dualisms (physiology/psychology, object/subject, known/knower), and tendencies towards reductive explanations based on passive individuals and mechanistic conceptions of the body.
Methods: We review an alternative theoretical framework in embodied cognitive science that rejects these assumptions—the enactive approach to life and mind—and evaluate the conceptual tools it offers for placebo research. We overview enactive concepts such as dimensions of embodiment, agency, and sense-making. We also introduce the ontology of individuation developed by Gilbert Simondon to offer a processual account of placebo phenomena.
Results: Based on empirical evidence, we interpret placebo interventions not as originating causal chains, but as triggers in the regulation of existing tensions between bodily and interpersonal processes. These processes involve looping effects through three intertwined dimensions of embodiment: organic, sensorimotor, and intersubjective. From this perspective, placebo responses are individuation processes triggered to regulate ongoing tensions in biopsychosocial processes. We defend the need to investigate therapeutic interactions in terms of participatory sense-making, going beyond the identification of individual social traits that modulate placebo effects to the investigation of patterns and kinds of social interaction.
Conclusions: We offer enactive proposals to overcome limiting assumptions common in placebo research and clinical practice, and discuss their resonances and differences with traditional explanations in terms of expectations and conditioning, and other approaches based on meaning responses and phenomenological/ecological ideas.

Iñigo R. Arandia (UPV/EHU)

3. “Social Interaction and Not Just Social Skills Affect Placebo Phenomena”

Background: Placebo effects are not predictable nor easily manipulable at an individual level. We suggest that a poor understanding of individual experiences and of social interactions contributes to discrepancies between placebo as robust group effects, and individual variability. Social influences on placebo are considered as external factors to be controlled for. The focus is on individual social traits, reducing the complex interactive experience to personal expectations, personality traits, motivational goals, or beliefs, downplaying interactive aspects such as patterns of coordination, asymmetries, and dissonances.
Methods: Following the enactive concept of participatory sense-making, we propose that a kind of interactive autonomy emerges in the therapeutic encounter, constituting a third element that depends on both patient and practitioner but is not controllable by either. Social interaction cannot be reduced to information transmission shaped by individual characteristics (empathy, trust, warmth).
Results: A successful encounter demands the capacity of relatedness from both sides in order to construct shared meaning and adequately modulate hopes and expectations. The few studies that gather data about interaction dynamics support the hypothesis that engaged forms of participation correlate with placebo effects. This perspective is compatible with the ‘placebo by proxy’ hypothesis and can account for evidence showing the impact of parental expectations on placebo effects in children.
Conclusions: Looking at phenomenological, anthropological and biomedical research, we show the necessity to investigate concrete situated and interactive experiences to gain generalization ability. Enactive theory bridges the gap between placebo effects measured at the group level and variability at the individual level.

Bio: Izar Agirresarobe-Pineda (EHU/UPV) and Iñigo R. Arandia (EHU/UPV)

IAS-Research Seminar (Online) by Alejandro Merlo (EHU/UPV), “Life and thermodynamics: the contribution of Earth system science”

On May 11, 2021, at 11:30.

To participate, please contact: alejandra.mtz.quintero@gmail.com

Abstract: The classic thermodynamic account of life describes organisms as open systems, which compensate their internal low entropy by an increased dissipation in their surroundings. An intuitive consequence of this account is that complex living systems would seem to necessarily decrease the potential for life in their environment by their increased entropy production.

Within this framework, some accounts have attempted to explain biological organisation as a manifestation of the second law and the tendency to increase entropy; others have rejected this position as reductionist and moved to an account of biological organisation in non-thermodynamic terms. However, even if thermodynamics cannnot give a full account of biological organisation, there is in all cases a thermodynamic background to biological phenomena which needs to be accounted for in an understanding of the materiality of life.

In this context, James Lovelock’s idea, according to which a planet with life could be distinguished because of a thermodynamic disequilibrium in its atmospheric composition, shifts the discussion to the planetary scale, where the presence of Life becomes the explanans of a certain thermodynamic configuration. This observation, which corresponds to the Gaïan principle according to which Life modifies its physical environment to improve and maintain its own conditions of existence, has been recently developed in a systematic way by German physicist Axel Kleidon.

From this planetary standpoint, it is Life together with its physical environment that has to be considered as the primordial open, far from equilibrium dissipative system. So, while individual organisms or complex organisations within the Earth can be described as dissipative systems if considered separately from the whole, a full thermodynamic account needs to integrate them in the planetary scale, where they might (or might not) function as part of the global material organisation that sustains a low entropy environment.

Bio: Alejandro Merlo Ote (EHU/UPV)