(Grad.) Introduction to Embodied Cognitive Science

Graduate course, Technische Universität Berlin, Department of Psychology, 2021

Graduate course offered in Winter 2020/21, Summer 2021 and Winter 2021/22 to small groups (<10) of master’s and PhD students from various programs at TU Berlin, including psychology, neuroscience, human factors, computer science, human-computer interaction, and design.

The course is divided in two parts: (1) a lecture series followed by discussion sessions and a (2) seminar series with student presentations and discussion sessions.

(This course is a graduate-level elaboration of my undergraduate course PHIL1006 Introduction to Cognitive Studies, taught at the University of Cincinnati in Summer 2018. Information about the undergraduate version is available upon request.)

Course Description

An increasingly popular trend in the sciences of the mind is to emphasize the ways in which cognition is embodied, embedded, situated, extended, distributed, enactive, ecological, etc. This course combines lectures and seminars to provide an introduction to these and other approaches that fall under the umbrella of “embodied cognitive science.” The first part of the course will be lecture-based and will focus on the history and the theoretical and methodological foundations of embodied cognitive science. Having covered the basic concepts and approaches, in the second part we will turn to discussion-based seminars on cutting-edge topics in embodied cognitive science, with a special focus on the nature of affordances and their relation to the environment and to sociocultural practices.

Foundational topics discussed include: behaviorism and the cognitive revolution; the phenomenological and pragmatist traditions; the computational theory of mind and criticisms of classical computationalism; connectionism and its philosophical implications.

Topics within embodied cognitive science include: conceptual and motor grounding; distributed cognition, wide computationalism, and the extended mind; anti-representationalism in evolutionary robotics and dynamical systems theory; the enactive approach and central elements such as autonomy, sense-making and autopoiesis; ecological psychology and central elements such as its theory of direct perception and affordances.

Student work

  • weekly quizzes during lecture series
  • seminar presentations
  • final paper

Sample of readings from Part 1 (lecture + discussion)

  • Cummins, D. D. (1988) A History of Thinking
  • Miller, G. A. (2003) The Cognitive Revolution
  • Thagard, P. (2018) Cognitive Science. (from: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  • Clark, A. (2014) Mindware [selection]
  • Thagard, P. (2005) Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science [selection]
  • Dreyfus, H. (1972) What computers can’t do: A critique of artificial reason [selection]
  • Goldman, A., and de Vignemont, F. (2009) Is social cognition embodied?
  • Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. (1980) The Metaphorical Structure of the Human Conceptual System
  • Wilson, R. A. (1994) Wide Computationalism
  • Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. (1998) The extended mind
  • Hutchins, E., and Klausen, T. (1996) Distributed cognition in an airline cockpit
  • Richardson, M., and Chemero, A. (2014) Complex Dynamical Systems and Embodiment
  • Favela, L. (2020) Cognitive science as complexity science
  • McGann, M., De Jaegher, H., and Di Paolo, E. (2013) Enaction and psychology
  • Thompson, E., and Stapleton, M. (2008) Making sense of sense-making - Reflections on Enactive and Extended Mind Theories
  • Di Paolo, E., and Thompson, E. (2014) The Enactive Approach
  • Richardson et al (2008) Ecological psychology: Six Principles for an Embodied-Embedded Approach to Behavior
  • Gibson, J. (1966) The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems [selection]
  • Michaels and Palatinus (2014) A Ten Commandments for Ecological Psychology

Sample of topics & readings from Part 2 (student presentations + discussion)

  • Rietveld, E., and Kiverstein, J. (2014) A rich landscape of affordances
  • Heft, H. (2018) Places: Widening the Scope of an Ecological Approach to Perception-Action with an Emphasis on Child Development
  • de Wit, de Vries, van der Kamp and Withagen (2017) Affordances and neuroscience: Steps towards a successful marriage
  • Ingold (1996) The History and Evolution of Bodily Skills
  • Raczaszek-Leonardi (2016) How does a word become a message? An illustration on a developmental time-scale
  • van Woerkum, B. (2021) The evolution of episodic-like memory: The importance of biological and ecological constraints
  • Baber, C., Chemero, T., & Hall, J. (2019). What the jeweller’s hand tells the jeweller’s brain: tool use, creativity and embodied cognition
  • van Dijk, L., & Myin, E. (2019). Ecological neuroscience: From reduction to proliferation of our resources

Sample of student comments (from Winter 2020/21 and Summer 2021):

  • “Gui is a really friendly, very helpful and open instructor. He looks for that every student is feeling comfortable and is explaining very well. By discussing with him one is always feeling equal and on a same level to him, what is nice and shows the respect towards the other students. Also, his presentations are very well made and creative.”

  • “The course was better than I imagined, mostly because I was used to the old style of teaching. The video classes, weekly quizzes and open-ended weekly discussion really improved my enjoyment of this course far beyond what I expected.”

  • “He was quite responsive and he had a good command over the flow of the course.”

  • “fast multidirectional thinker, great videos”

  • “The instructor is helpful since I had some personal meetings with him about my academic performance and he really gave me advice to help me.”

  • “I really liked the weekly discussions, they were one of my favourite parts of the semester.”

  • “It was better than I expected. I expected to know more about psychology and ECS. The course managed to do that and also it made me think more on the subjects even after the semester.”