Cognition In Nature: Information, Explanation, And Embodiment
Philosophy of Science
This dissertation advances a novel view about how to understand cognition as a phenomenon arising from the coordination of brain, body, and environment. The project starts by articulating a question about how to account for the characteristic, intentional nature of cognitive processes as based in a world described by neurophysiology, chemistry, and physics. After posing this question and contextualizing and previewing the sort of answer I develop, in Chapter 1, the proceeding three chapters each address a major part of this puzzle about cognition in nature. Chapter 2 defends a view of Natural Information as Factive and Nomic. I show how the reasoning behind non-Factive approaches conflates two different problems with a Dretskean view. I argue one problem can be addressed by relying on a more precise understanding of natural laws and law-like invariance, while the other – the reference class problem – is not something to be solved in terms of a theory of information. In Chapter 3, I defend a view of the sense in which dynamic relations “give rise to” cognitive processes, investigating the relation between a higher-level phenomenon and its explanatory basis. I illustrate the features of dyamical systems models that play an important role in this investigation of cognition, highlighting the way lower-order components can be more global than then phenomena they give rise to. I then describe Constitutivism, which I take to be a widespread idea about explanatory basis of cognition. I argue that Constitutivism does not provide a plausible view of dynamically arising, higher-order phenomena that are local with respect to their components. I therefore support an alternative, generative, dynamical view of the explanatory basis of cognition. In Chapter 4, I advance a view of cognition as embodied, in the sense of arising with respect to a particular body. Toward this end, I articulate an original, formal notion of the relevant kind of Body. I argue that the examination of the explanatory role of the body has been limited by its focus on perception and action, and offer an understanding of embodiment centered on the body itself.