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Feminists never bought the idea of the computational mind set free from its body. Cognitive science is finally catching up. Or are we? Rather, this movement is suggestive of what happens when a particular cast of mind, built on the sediment of centuries of philosophy, is taken to its logical extreme.
Since Plato, generations of philosophers have been gripped by a fear of the body and the desire to transcend it — a wish that works hand-in-hand with a fear of women, and a desire to control them. Here Plato deploys a well-worn technique for suppressing corporeal angst: carving off the mind rational, detached, inviolable, symbolically male from the body emotional, entangled, weak, symbolically female.
Humans were believed to be in possession of an immortal soul, which reason and restraint should shield from the corrupting influence of earthly pleasures. With the advent of modernity and the Enlightenment, this wish to detach from the material became a self-consciously scientific and rational enterprise.
Francis Bacon, a polymathic pioneer of the scientific method, was particularly fond of deploying sexual imagery to capture the relationship between reality and its observer. The concept of reason itself is fashioned from a profoundly gendered blueprint. Fresh theories and findings about human cognition suggest that those feminised zones of physicality, emotion and desire not only affect the way we think, but are the very constituents of thought itself. T he way we think about thought is political. The gauntlet she throws down to Descartes, however, is anything but feeble-minded.
In his Meditations on First Philosophyhe had claimed that the mind and body were made from two distinct substances, one immaterial and self-contained, the other material and extended out into the world. Elisabeth sees that this dualism poses a problem: how could such a floaty, incorporeal thing as the mind cogito cause a body to do anything, if each is made from quintessentially different stuff? Descartes is faced with a choice: either provide an of some medium within which these substances interact, or admit that the mind is nothing special, emerging from matter just like everything else.
The first option seems strange and unparsimonious, while the latter leaves no space for the mind to really do anything, since in principle it could be explained away by the underlying physical processes that bring it about. This basic framing of the mind-body relationship remains dominant in both philosophical and scientific frameworks for the study of the mind.
Since the midth century, the most influential theorists and experimentalists have interpreted this Cartesian divide using the metaphor of computing. The brain is cast as a rule-based mechanism for manipulating abstract symbols and internal representations that somehow arrive at our awareness from the world outside via our perceptions. These perceptions are transformed into inner states such as beliefs, intentions or desires, and then translated algorithmically into actions.
The brain needs a body, to be sure, but only the way a parasite needs a host, or software needs some kind of hardware on which to run. You are just executing programs. Embrace the reality of what you are. But the mind-matter split, and its cognitive-computational descendants, are not logical necessities that follow from all attempts to understand the nature of thought.
Surely doing the right thing depends on many things beyond our control, Elisabeth argues — freedom from too many burdens, the correct upbringing, good health. One might think that her concerns — as for many women, in fact, and other oppressed peoples throughout history — were not really about how to bridge a gaping chasm between some enclosed inner world and a remote outer one. Feminist theory, concerned with the operation of patriarchy and the liberation of women, is a powerful tool for revealing the pernicious effects of setting women to the side — including how such exclusion might permit unexamined assumptions and questionable theories to persist.
In her classic text The Second Sexthe French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir performed just such a move against the bedrock of Enlightenment philosophy, the knowing human subject. The very idea of the Human is not some universal given, de Beauvoir claimed, but a byproduct of how societies have systematically degraded women:.
More trenchantly, she is arguing that women become women precisely so that men can become Human. While the Human has access to Cartesian qualities of reason, truth and clarity, the Other is linked to irrationality, emotion and vagueness; where the Human has civilisation and culture, the Other is aligned with nature and matter; and where the Human has a honed and powerful mind, the Other is at the mercy of the body. De Beauvoir writes:. Drawing on child and developmental psychology, Nussbaum says that the human condition is framed by an awareness of vulnerability on the one hand, and the desire to change and control our reality on the other.
This inescapable bind creates a universal impulse towards narcissism and disgust, she says. We feel disgust at our own mortal and fleshly nature, and at any reminders of our finitude and fragility as creatures. So we subordinate Sexy single girls in Achilles Virginia in order to project onto them all the qualities that we wish to deny in ourselves — that they are base, animal, Other — while we imagine ourselves as transcending to the realm of the mighty, truly Human.
We transformed anxiety about determinism of nature into an equally untenable claim about determinism of culture. Armed with these arguments, feminists appear to face a stark choice. They can argue that women should be allowed to ascend from their denigrated state to the domain of the fully free and rational human, the move of a classic liberal feminist such as Mary Wollstonecraft.
Just as men are not defined by their bodies, nor should we be. This strategy was undeniably transformative, but it also came at a cost. For one, the body began to occupy some sort of liminal state, at once profoundly important and oddly obscured. Feminists wrote about how it was policed, represented and symbolised, but it became difficult to talk about embodiment in overtly scientific or material terms, as if that would let some sort of malign, deterministic genie out of the bottle.
Critics had rightly observed that biology and technoscience had been weaponised time and again to serve the needs and desires of men. These practices certainly deserved corrective doses of critique, but the decision to do so ended up trading away feminist influence on the scientific process from within.
Moreover, it meant that if some area of the relations between men and women was to be transformed — childrearing, the workplace, sexuality — feminists had to frame gender, not sex, as the underlying cause of the problem. In this way, we transformed an anxiety about a determinism of nature into an equally untenable claim about a determinism of culture.
Meanwhile, as feminists turned their attention away from the life sciences, deeming them suspect beyond redemption, biologists and evolutionary psychologists continued to expand their influence and capture the attention of the public and policymakers. In other words, a feminist suspicion of instrumental scientific reasoning about the body — especially the sexed body — was totally understandable, but somewhat shortsighted. Either they can push back against each claim about the causal role of the biological body.
I magine that someone presents you and a friend with a box, and asks you to take turns picking it up. According to the computational model of the mind, your brain takes in perceptual inputs from the body about the weight of the box, which then produces the feeling of how heavy it is when you lift it. Provided you and your friend are equally strong, then your sense of the weight of box should be similar. These researchers found that people who felt themselves to be socially powerful experienced the physical burden as lighter than those with less social power.
Computational thinking remains dominant within cognitive science and philosophy of mind. But new frontiers are opening up that view the body as something more than just a brain-carrying robot. In doing so, they have created the potential for alliances with feminist thinkers influenced by the likes of Fausto-Sterling. Within a broad church that can be called — not uncontentiously — embodied cognitiona growing of psychologists, scientists and theorists are approaching mental life as something that is not just contingent on, but constituted by, the state of our bodies.
The mind is moulded by forces operating both within it and upon it, but also linked up to the world and the body as a single, dynamic yet mostly stable system. It takes only a small leap to see the political potential of embodied cognition for feminists seeking a path out of the quagmire of sex and gender — or indeed any other critical social theorists keen to overthrow falsely naturalised and unjust hierarchies.
Embodied cognition allows us to recognise the agency of biology without ceding the ificance of power or politics. While embodied cognition has grown in popularity in recent years, it flows from a long history of counter-Cartesian philosophical psychology that predates the mainstream model of the computational mind.
Recognising that hammer, in terms of understanding what it is Sexy single girls in Achilles Virginia what it can do, will depend on your prior bodily experience with a hammer. To recognise a hammer is to appreciate its ificance to youin that moment, which inturn requires you to Sexy single girls in Achilles Virginia some prior feeling for the action of hammering.
The case of Mike May, an American professional skier, shows what this might mean in practice. At the age of three, May lost his sight when a chemical explosion from a lantern destroyed his left eye and scarred his right cornea. Remarkably, inat the age of 46, his sight was restored by a corneal transplant. But that did not mean he could seein any standard sense of the word. Instead of cars, cats, people and trees, May saw only moving lines and blotches of colour.
In their view, humans do not use our senses to develop an abstract representation of objects in the world, and only then graft on our feelings about such things. We do not reason from a position of detachment, but rather with a history of embodied encounters under our belts that allows us to make sense out of the world, quite literally.
Like Heidegger, the American philosopher and psychologist William James also believed that our core cognitive processes were afterimages of the ebb and flow of our various bodily states as we navigated the world. While computationalism has dominated mainstream psychology for decades, this countercurrent of emotional and embodied approaches to the mind has continued to pulse beneath the surface.
Gibson argued that the computational mind, manipulating content-bearing representations, was not the correct way to understand perception. Seeing whether a berry was red or green might have allowed us to figure out whether it was ripe or poisonous. They are differences that have come to matterto have ificance for that creature in the context of its life and objectives.
Affordances, in other words, are inextricable from the meaning and purpose of our actions. What the world affords you depends on your history: on what the world has already afforded you. Water affords breathing to a fish but not to a flamingo; stairs afford walking to someone with functioning legs, but not to someone in a wheelchair. Moreover, what the world affords you depends on your history: on what the world has already afforded you, or on what affordances you have acquired from your experience. That is, perceptions and actions exist in a feedback loop.
A notepad affords note-taking to a writer, but sketching to an artist, and possibly very little to someone who has been denied an education and is illiterate. One of the most recent, and increasingly influential, strands of the embodied picture concerns the role of expectations in shaping our experience.
For some, such as the philosopher Jakob Hohwy at Monash University in Australia, talk of prediction heralds a return to a Cartesian picture of a detached, hypothesising cogito ; but for many others, such as Andy Clark at the University of Edinburgh, these predictions are necessarily built from experience, and have a richer relationship to action and embodiment. In broad terms, to see a cat means having a pre-existing model of a cat that predicts its existence, and then to fit the data to that model. If one accepts the Gibsonian picture of cognition, what we are expecting is in fact a changing landscape of affordances, those felt, meaningful aspects of the world that we perceive — and predict — in order to facilitate our actions.
These models are born of feedback loops as well as sifting out information that does not conform to our predictions. For that reason, we also tend to act in a way that ensures our sense-data matches what we expect. All this talk of expectations and affordances le to a potentially troublesome consequence: cognition can no longer be cleaved apart neatly from politics. If I am black, my prediction of what a police officer might afford me is likely to be very different to that of my white friend, as well as eliciting very different felt responses and perceptions.
Undoing such expectations which it might well be reasonable for me to hold is not just a matter of changing my beliefs, but of modifying longstanding physiological reactions. Similarly, as Sexy single girls in Achilles Virginia woman, I might not expect a dark and deserted street to afford me walking down it at night, while my male partner might be entirely at ease in that space. The fact that I feel myself to be vulnerable, in a very visceral way, means that I will avoid putting myself in that position, and so my predictions will be tacitly reinforced.
The embodied world, as each of us encounters it, is a product of such self-reinforcing causal loops. There are certainly hints of what a more malleable and creative feminist biopolitics might look like. In Testo Junkiethe Spanish activist and writer Paul Preciado, ly Beatriz Preciado, gives a vertiginous of his illicit application of topical testosterone. The body becomes a malleable substance — something that Preciado can toy and tinker with, rather than control and engineer.
Preciado displays neither a nostalgia for biological fixity, nor some techno-fantasy of embodiment as something that can be simply cast aside. These entities are a far cry from the demigods that Silicon Valley has in its sights.
To recognise that our bodies are steeped in and fashioned by culture also means facing up to the unpleasant fact that we are vulnerable to manipulation and control. The infiltration of digital devices into the most intimate crannies of our lives makes it harder and harder to cling to the belief that humans possess truly autonomous, bounded, sovereign minds.Sexy single girls in Achilles Virginia
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