Sunday 18 October 2015

Dynamic Mechanistic Explanations in Radical Embodied Cognitive Science

I'm on my way back from an enactivist/embodiment conference in Warsaw. I gave a talk (slides) in which I argued that in order to make theories of distributed/embodied cognition work, you have to have something like a theory of ecological information as the glue to hold it all together. All the talks I saw that discussed any kind of plan for distributing cognition were missing this piece and desperately needed it, so I'm hoping the talk will make people realise this tool exists and can help. Drop me a line if you would like any help!

I argued specifically that information lets us propose mechanistic explanations for distributed cognitive systems. We recently came across the philosophical literature on what mechanisms are and how to make them, and it seemed immediately clear that we should be doing this (and that we already are; see below). 

It turns out, though, that some of the radical camp (specifically Chemero and Silberstein) don't think we can have distributed cognition mechanisms, but that this is ok because we still get explanations out of our dynamical models. 

This post will briefly review what dynamic mechanistic explanation is and why they are so useful (Bechtel & Abrahamsen, 2010). I'll briefly summarise the radical opposition to mechanisms, point out their answer doesn't work, then talk an example that shows we can have radical dynamic mechanistic explanatory models without giving anything up. The trick, as ever, will be to rely heavily on information as the component part that allows cognitive mechanisms to extend out over body and environment.