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Radical Embodied Cognitive Science

A proposal for a new way to do cognitive science argues that cognition should be described in terms of agent-environment dynamics rather than computation and representation

By: Anthony Chemero(Author)

252 pages, 19 b/w illustrations, 1 table

MIT Press

Paperback | Sep 2011 | #236216 | ISBN-13: 9780262516471
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £18.99 $25/€22 approx
Hardback | Sep 2009 | #236215 | ISBN-13: 9780262013222
Out of Print Details

About this book

While philosophers of mind have been arguing over the status of mental representations in cognitive science, cognitive scientists have been quietly engaged in studying perception, action, and cognition without explaining them in terms of mental representation. In Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, Anthony Chemero describes this nonrepresentational approach (which he terms radical embodied cognitive science), puts it in historical and conceptual context, and applies it to traditional problems in the philosophy of mind.

Radical embodied cognitive science is a direct descendant of the American naturalist psychology of William James and John Dewey, and follows them in viewing perception and cognition to be understandable only in terms of action in the environment. Chemero argues that cognition should be described in terms of agent-environment dynamics rather than in terms of computation and representation. After outlining this orientation to cognition, Chemero proposes a methodology: dynamical systems theory, which would explain things dynamically and without reference to representation. He also advances a background theory: Gibsonian ecological psychology, "shored up" and clarified. Chemero then looks at some traditional philosophical problems (reductionism, epistemological skepticism, metaphysical realism, consciousness) through the lens of radical embodied cognitive science and concludes that the comparative ease with which it resolves these problems, combined with its empirical promise, makes this approach to cognitive science a rewarding one.

"Jerry Fodor is my favorite philosopher," Chemero writes in his preface, adding, "I think that Jerry Fodor is wrong about nearly everything." With Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, Chemero explains nonrepresentational, dynamical, ecological cognitive science as clearly and as rigorously as Jerry Fodor explained computational cognitive science in his classic work The Language of Thought.

"If you want to know what RECS is about, this [book] is a good clear place to turn. If you already like RECS, but want to understand the conceptual basis and implications, this is for you."
– David Cole, Minds and Machines

"In this challenging, wide-ranging, and truly provocative treatment, Anthony Chemero presents a vision of cognition in which unified animal-environment systems take center stage, and in which complex couplings un-chaperoned by internal representation are the stuff of which minds are made. Recommended reading for all those who fear that the embodied mind is just the disembodied mind with wheels on."
– Andy Clark, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

"Shall we be present, or shall we re-present? Chemero argues for the former view in a volume that is smart, accessible, and engaging. The book provides an excellent summary of the central conceptual issues in cognitive science, focusing on the role of the ecological approach to perception and action in the development of embodied cognitive science. It is rambunctious, opinionated, and heterodox. It is also fun to read."
– Thomas A. Stoffregen, School of Kinesiology, University of Minnesota

"This is a timely and provocative presentation of what cognitive science without computation or inner representations might look like. Driven by real science rather than abstract thought-experiments, Chemero weds two underappreciated frameworks – dynamic systems theory and Gibsonian ecological psychology – to construct a compelling picture of embodied cognitive science. Anyone interested in situated or embedded cognition, or, for that matter, in intriguing new ways of thinking about thinking, ought to read this book."
– William Ramsey, Department of Philosophy, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

"Behavior and cognition are grounded in the dynamical interaction of brains, bodies, and environments! In a refreshingly clear-headed model for how philosophical analysis can contribute to the science of cognition, Chemero articulates a vision for radical embodied cognitive science composed of equal parts dynamical systems theory and Gibsonian ecological psychology. A rich and fascinating book."
– Randall D. Beer, Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University

"Chemero's cognitive science is a science of the animate (not the artificial) and its philosophical trappings are those of pragmatism (not computational functionalism). It is advanced without hubris, emerging from select hypotheses, data, and models interwoven with critical examinations of the ideas of both friend and foe. Newcomers to the travails of cognitive science will find much to bother about, hardened old timers will find much to be bothered by. In short, Radical Embodied Cognitive Science is a book for the science's generations."
– Michael T. Turvey, Trustees' Distinguished Professor (Emeritus), University of Connecticut, and Senior Research Scientist, Haskins Laboratories

"Using an artful combination of dynamical systems theory and the overarching framework of ecological psychology along with clear-cut examples, Chemero offers a radical alternative to classic representationalist accounts of cognition. What makes this book an exceptional read is not just that it's written with wit and style, but that Chemero does not beat about the bush. He actually wants to get rid of internal representations altogether and proposes a way to do it."
– J. A. Scott Kelso, Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, and co-author of The Complementary Nature

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Anthony Chemero is Associate Professor in the Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind Program at Franklin and Marshall College.

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