DS-2018-04: Anticipating Affordances: Intentionality in self-organizing brain-body-environment systems

DS-2018-04: Bruineberg, Jelle (2018) Anticipating Affordances: Intentionality in self-organizing brain-body-environment systems. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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The topic of this dissertation is the naturalization of skilled intentionality in terms of the concepts of affordance and anticipation. Skilled intentionality is the kind of intentionality exhibited by skilled agents when acting in everyday situations and is characterized as selective openness to affordances. A main task of a skilled agent is to be sensitive to how well its faring in its interactions with the environment and to selectively change its openness to affordances when things are not going as well as anticipated. The question is how this is possible.

The aim of this dissertation is twofold. On the one hand, it is an attempt to develop a conceptual framework for the study of skilled intentionality in terms of dynamical systems theory and predictive processing. On the other hand, it presents the argument that predictive processing, and especially its systems theoretic cousin, the free-energy principle, are best understood in terms of an ecological and enactive philosophy of mind, and not in the rationalist philosophy of mind it is standardly associated with.

The free-energy principle is a principled and formal attempt to describe the `fit' between an embodied agent and its ecological niche, and to explain how agents perceive, act, learn, develop and structure their environment in order to optimize their fitness, or minimize their free-energy. The quantity of free-energy is an information-theoretic measure that captures the discrepancy between an agent (generative model) and its niche (generative process). The free-energy principle shares with ecological and enactive philosophy of mind an emphasis on self-organization and adequate coupling with the environment, while at the same time it seems to share with more cognitivist approaches to philosophy of mind a commitment to inference and representation. I will attempt to solve this puzzle.

The dissertation contains an extensive introduction in which the stage is set, followed by five independently readable chapters.

Chapter 1 develops a conceptual framework for Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience. The first part of the chapter introduces skilled intentionality and the structure of the landscape of affordances. The second part of the chapter relates skilled intentionality to theories of self-organization and neurodynamics, such as the free-energy principle. The third part of the chapter exemplifies the integrative approach by relating our conceptual framework to a study of the impact of Deep Brain Stimulation on affordance responsiveness.

Chapter 2 develops the link between ecological-enactive cognitive science and the free-energy principle. The first part of the paper presents the free-energy principle and its commitment to the mind-life continuity thesis. In the second part of the chapter, the `crooked-scientist' metaphor is developed as a way to make sense of the integration of value and epistemics under the free-energy principle. In the third part of the chapter, the link between internalism, inference and Markov blankets is challenged by discussing coupled clocks as an intuition pump

Chapter 3 compares a rationalist Helmholtzian, a cybernetic and an ecological-enactive interpretation of predictive processing. In the second part of the chapter, the discussion focusses on how each of these three interpretations conceives of the sense of agency and intentionality in different ways.

Chapter 4 focusses on the structure of the socio-material environment. In particular, it presents a novel account of ecological information designed to work for cases of `higher' cognition. Introducing the notion of general ecological information, an account is given of these regularities in terms of constraints, information and the form of life or ecological niche.

Chapter 5 uses computational simulations of a free-energy minimizing agent to show that free-energy is a relational quantity, pertaining to the `fit' between an embodied agent and its econiche. A formal similarity between the way an agent remembers its environment and the way the environment `remembers' the behavior of an agent is exploited, and it is shown how niche construction is critically dependent on the learning rate of the agent, and the `inertia' or malleability of the environment.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2018-04
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2018
Subjects: Cognition
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:17
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:17
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2153

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