In Defense of Some ‘Cartesian’ Assumptions Concerning the Brain and Its Operation

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I argue against a growing radical trend in current theoretical cognitive science that moves from the premises of embedded cognition, embodied cognition, dynamical systems theory and/or situated robotics to conclusions either to the effect that the mind is not in the brain or that cognition does not require representation, or both. I unearth the considerations at the foundation of this view: Haugeland's bandwidth-component argument to the effect that the brain is not a component in cognitive activity, and arguments inspired by dynamical systems theory and situated robotics to the effect that cognitive activity does not involve representations. Both of these strands depend not only on a shift of emphasis from higher cognitive functions to things like sensorimotor processes, but also depend on a certain understanding of how sensorimotor processes are implemented - as closed-loop control systems. I describe a much more sophisticated model of sensorimotor processing that is not only more powerful and robust than simple closed-loop control, but for which there is great evidence that it is implemented in the nervous system. The is the emulation theory of representation, according to which the brain constructs inner dynamical models, or emulators, of the body and environment which are used in parallel with the body and environment to enhance motor control and perception and to provide faster feedback during motor processes, and can be run off-line to produce imagery and evaluate sensorimotor counterfactuals. I then show that the emulation framework is immune to the radical arguments, and makes apparent why the brain is a component in the cognitive activity, and exactly what the representations are in sensorimotor control.

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