One of the key reactions against classical cognitive science was connectionism. A second reaction against the classical approach has also emerged. This second reaction is called embodied cognitive science, and the purpose of this chapter is to introduce its key elements.
Embodied cognitive science explicitly abandons the disembodied mind that serves as the core of classical cognitive science. It views the purpose of cognition not as building representations of the world, but instead as directing actions upon the world. As a result, the structure of an agent’s body and how this body can sense and act upon the world become core elements. Embodied cognitive science emphasizes the embodiment and situatedness of agents.
Embodied cognitive science’s emphasis on embodiment, situatedness, and action upon the world is detailed in the early sections of the chapter. This emphasis leads to a number of related elements: feedback between agents and environments, stigmergic control of behaviour, affordances and enactive perception, and cognitive scaffolding. In the first half of this chapter these notions are explained, showing how they too can be traced back to some of the fundamental assumptions of cybernetics. Also illustrated is how such ideas are radical departures from the ideas emphasized by classical cognitive scientists.
Not surprisingly, such differences in fundamental ideas lead to embodied cognitive science adopting methodologies that are atypical of classical cognitive science. Reverse engineering is replaced with forward engineering, as typified by behaviourbased robotics. These methodologies use an agent’s environment to increase or leverage its abilities, and in turn they have led to novel accounts of complex human activities. For instance, embodied cognitive science can construe social interactions either as sense-act cycles in a social environment or as mediated by simulations that use our own brains or bodies as physical stand-ins for other agents.
In spite of such differences, it is still the case that there are structural similarities between embodied cognitive science and the other two approaches that have been introduced in the preceding chapters. The current chapter ends with a consideration of embodied cognitive science in light of Chapter 2’s multiple levels of investigation, which were earlier used as a context in which to consider the research of both classical and of connectionist cognitive science.