Recasting cognition as layered agency: developing a dynamical,situated and embodied view
01 / 2003 - 02 / 2008
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
This project aims to develop the idea that the heart of cognitionconsists of agency rather than of inner reasoning, the usual view in the cognitive sciences. Agency is the capacity of aphysically embodied agent to act in a real physical, and sometimes social, environment. In this view, cognitionbecomes much wider applicable than previously thought and includes all neurally modulatedperception-action couplings, whether they are performed byjellyfish or humans. The huge differences between such widelydiverging agents are not accounted for by presuming a general dichotomy between automatic, reflex-like behaviorand cognitively guided behavior. Increasingly complex, and eventually human cognition is viewed as aresult of adding specific, action-related layersof neural modulation on top of existing perception-actioncapabilities (e.g. Brooks, 1999). Recasting cognition as layered agency is a promising way to develop a coherent conceptualfoundation for the cognitive sciences that: (a) builds on the increasing awareness within the cognitive sciencesof the central importance of dynamical, bodily and situational factors for cognition, (b) accommodates manyotherwise counterintuitive empirical findings within the cognitive sciences, and (c) sets the concept of cognition firmlyin a biological and neural context. The proposed project consists of three subprojects. The subproject of theapplicant targets the general conceptual changes that accompany this shifting the cognitive core from thinkingto agency. Two AIO projects investigate the repercussions of this shift for two widely used concepts: reflexesand perception.