Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Clark vs Varela

Ok: Eileen beat me to using this quote as a post, but I am interested in how Clark views the Embodied Mind:

Varela et al. use their reflections as evidence against realist and objectivist views of the world. I deliberately avoid this extension, which runs the risk of obscuring the scientific value of an embodied, embedded approach by linking it to the problematic idea that objects are not independent of the mind. My claim, in contrast, is simply that the aspects of real-world structure which biological brains represent will often be tightly geared to specific needs and sensorimotor capacities. (p. 173)

Clark’s “deliberate” avoidance of, presumably, the Buddhist aspect of The Embodied Mind is puzzling to me. I am not sure how Varela et. al run the risk of obscuring scientific value; as far as I am concerned, they are placing the scientific value in the wider context of other forms of human knowledge. Moreover, Clark’s claim that “the aspects of real-world structure which biological brains represent will often be tightly geared to specific needs and sensorimotor capacities” is not a “contrast” to Varela et al, unless I am misreading the text.

I am also interested in the footnote that Eileen picked up. why bring up the fact that the three authors disagreed on certain points of their thesis? It seems to me that, though a fantastic read, Clark has some real problems with the incorporation of other thought systems into The Embodied Mind. I really would like to know why; the book is so nuanced, thoughtful and clear that it is puzzling to me why he is making these distinctions. Unless, of course, I am missing some crucial part of the text (which is entirely possible).

2 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Sean-

I think you're right about Clark's issues with Varela et. al., a couple of points about that:

1) I think the use of buddhist thought in science just gives cognitive scientist an icky feeling, no matter how cutting edge they think they are.

2) He does this little "disagreement bit" in a footnote - a place where he can sort of hide what we're reading as disdain or discomfort with Varela.

12:21 PM  
Blogger gfp said...

Good questions, Sean.

I think that, in order to make his argument resound as strongly as possible to a "thought collective" trained in computational and connectionist views, Clark dropped the buddhist component of Varela's argument. I know that for me it was more comfortable discussing emergence in this format, in which the results of the discussion didn't naturally lead to Nietsche. However, I agree that the footnote is a wee bit odd....
Greg

12:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home