Symposium I: Dynamics of agent-environment interaction


In 1950 Alan Turing proposed a measure of intelligence based on the linguistic interaction between humans and artifacts. Sixty years later language has lost its privileged status as the exclusive locus of intelligence, but a further contribution remains essential to Turing’s early proposal to measure cognitive capacities: the centrality of interaction to characterize cognition. This interaction has traditionally or classically been conceived as mediated by representations and therefore subordinated to the internal computational processing of such representations. As a result the focus of attention for cognitive science turned into internal processes, cognition is about having the right representations and operating rationally on them.
It was not until relatively recently that the interaction itself became the focus of attention of situated, embodied and enactive approaches (Varela et al. 1991, Port and van Gelder 1995, Beer 1995, Clark 1997). Despite the early progress and enthusiasm of these approaches, 20 years later the representational and passive conception of cognition is still predominant. Some recent advances in embodied, enactive, situated and dynamical approaches to cognitive science have opened new avenues to conceptualize, measure and empirically assess the dynamic nature of intelligent agent-environment interaction. Some of these recent progresses include: the first brain-body-environment coupled dynamics of a whole organism C. elegans (Izquierdo and Lockery 2010), measurements of types of coupling (Van Orden et al. 2003, Dotov et al. 2010), integration between informational and dynamical modes of explanation of sensorimotor coupling (Williams and Beer 2010), modelling and conceptualization of non-animal intelligent/adaptive behaviour (Calvo and Keijzer 2011), direct learning (Jacobs and Michaels 2007), formalization of perception-action dynamics (Warren 2006, Beer 2003), sensorimotor contingency theory (O’Regan and Noe 2001, Noë 2003) or new experimentation with sensory substitution devices (Bach-y-Rita and Kercel 2003), among others.
The symposium aims at targeting some of the following questions: What makes a dynamic interaction cognitive or agential as opposed to a mere physical dynamic coupling? What is the best mathematical formulation for the relationship between agent and environment? Can adaptive, agentive, cognitive or psychological interaction dynamics be measured? Are sensorimotor coupling dynamics constitutive of cognition or merely instrumentally or causally relevant? Can non-animal (cellular or plant) interactions be considered intelligent or cognitive? How can sensorimotor substitution devices open up new forms of cognitive experience? The workshop covers formal-computational, experimental and theoretical contributions to the understanding of agent-environment interactions from a dynamicist perspective.

Some topics

  • Ecological psychology and perception-action coupling
  • Sensorimotor contingencies and cognition
  • Autonomous and situated robotics and simulation models of agent-environment interaction
  • Philosophy of dynamical, situated and enactive approaches to cognitive science
  • Self-organization and behavioural neuroscience

Invited speakers


               Randall Beer                                  Willian Warren                              


Suggested Reading Material

  • Warren, W. H. (2006). The dynamics of perception and action. Psychological review, 113(2), 358.
  • Beer, R. D. (1997). The dynamics of adaptive behavior: A research program. Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 20, 257–289.
  • Lee, D. N. (1998). Guiding Movement by Coupling Taus. Ecological Psychology, 10(3-4), 221–250. doi:10.1080/10407413.1998.9652683
  • Rabinovich, M. I., Huerta, R., Varona, P., & Afraimovich, V. S. (2008). Transient Cognitive Dynamics, Metastability, and Decision Making. PLoS Comput Biol, 4(5), e1000072. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000072
  • Turvey, M. T. (2007). Action and perception at the level of synergies. Human Movement Science, 26(4), 657–697. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2007.04.002. 
  • Van Orden, G. C., Holden, J. G., & Turvey, M. T. (2003). Self-organization of cognitive performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 132(3), 331–350. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.132.3.331