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Artificial Life

Winter-Spring 2005, Vol. 11, No. 1-2, Pages 233-244
(doi: 10.1162/1064546053279008)
© 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Beyond the Flesh: Some Lessons from a Mole Cricket
Article PDF (121.48 KB)
Abstract

What do linguistic symbols do for minds like ours, and how (if at all) can basic embodied, dynamical, and situated approaches do justice to high-level human thought and reason? These two questions are best addressed together, since our answers to the first may inform the second. The key move in scaling up simple embodied cognitive science is, I argue, to take very seriously the potent role of human-built structures in transforming the spaces of human learning and reason. In particular, in this article I look at a range of cases involving what I dub surrogate situations. Here, we actively create restricted artificial environments that allow us to deploy basic perception-action-reason routines in the absence of their proper objects. Examples include the use of real-world models, diagrams, and other concrete external symbols to support dense looping interactions with a variety of stable external structures that stand in for the absent states of affairs. Language itself, I finally suggest, is the most potent and fundamental form of such surrogacy. Words are both cheap stand-ins for gross behavioral outcomes, and the concrete objects that structure new spaces for basic forms of learning and reason. A good hard look at surrogate situatedness thus turns the standard skeptical challenge on its head. But it raises important questions concerning what really matters about these new approaches, and it helps focus what I see as the major challenge for the future: how, in detail, to conceptualize the role of symbols (both internal and external) in dynamical cognitive processes.