I've just discovered a treasure trove of 30 talks recorded at the 2015 International Conference on Perception and Action (the main US ecological psychology conference). I just watched this one by Brett Fajen on some work he's done on how far ahead you have to look in order to control walking over irregular terrain. The answer is 'just far enough ahead so you can parameterise the passive dynamics of the walking system and then leave it to execute the step without additional control requirements'. It's a cool talk, some fun data and it's been tied to some cool simulations of the relevant dynamics.
This is a nice empirical demonstration of the kind of hard core embodied cognition that the ecological approach involves. Embodied cognition in all it's forms is roughly the hypothesis that the form of our bodies and our engagement with the world shape cognition. This means that if you want to understand cognition, you have to understand what kind of contribution the body is making so that you know what's left over for things like representations to do. Fajen's study gets serious about quantifying what the body contributes to performance of this task and uses that to learn a lot about what perception has left to do. The net result is that human locomotion becomes extremely efficient - control pops in and out as required and the rest is effectively for free.
The strong 'replacement', 'radical' argument is that embodiment changes the game so much that what's left over to do, if anything, doesn't need things like representations. This talk isn't directly about these underlying issues. But it is a nice data set about how our perceptual engagement with the world (specifically, where and when we look around us as we locomote through a cluttered environment) is shaped and tuned so as to provide information in 'just-in-time' fashion so as to control a particular dynamical device with maximum efficiency. There's no planning, modelling, rehearsing, predicting - there's just carefully timed perception-action loops shaped by the dynamics of the task at hand. This is, in essence, what we think is going on all the time for basically everything.
This talk won't convince anyone to be radical anything if you aren't already; after all, it's still "merely" perception and action, not the juicy stuff like language. That's fine. But it's a nice example of all the pieces of this kind of research programme, plus I'm getting increasingly interested in Brett's work more generally anyway, so I thought I'd link to it here.
Fajen, B. R. (2013). Guiding locomotion in complex dynamic environments. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7:85.
Matthis, J. S., Barton, S. B., & Fajen, B. R. (2015). The biomechanics of walking shape the use of visual information during locomotion over complex terrain. Journal of Vision, 15(3), 10.
Matthis, J. S., & Fajen, B. R. (2014). Visual control of foot placement when walking over complex terrain. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 40(1), 106-115.
Spike activity 29-04-2016
14 hours ago