Bridging Neuroscience and Embodiment: The Many Bodies of Embodied Cognition

Venue: Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown


Danbee Tauntau Kim, Raphael Steinfeld, Rita Venturini (Champalimaud)


Rui Costa, DVM, PhD
 João Frazão
 Adam Kampff, PhD
 Gonçalo Lopes, 2010 INDP PhD student
 Zach Mainen, PhD
 Tyler Marghetis, PhD candidate, Cognitive Science UCSD
 Guido Orgs, PhD
 Joe Paton, PhD
 Rolf Pfeifer, PhD
 Alfonso Renart, PhD
 José Santos-Victor, PhD

 Michael Spivey, PhD

Course Aims:

The term “embodied cognition” appears with increasing regularity in cognitive science, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and cognitive neuroscience. But what could possibly be exciting about the claim that cognition is embodied? After all, if the brain is part of the body, and thinking goes on in the brain, then isn’t cognition trivially embodied?

The goal of this course is to explore these claims of Embodied Cognition, connecting them to the questions, concepts, and concerns of systems neuroscience. Throughout, the focus will be on encouraging cross-talk between disciplines and engaging in critical reflection on what is gained by adopting an “embodied” perspective. The resulting cross-disciplinary dialogue will hopefully lead to a fruitful exchange of ideas on how to interpret data, how to design experiments that take seriously the role of the body, and how best to think about the dynamic coupling of brain, body, and environment.

Course Objectives:

In this week-long course, we will critically examine the diverse claims that fall under the umbrella of “Embodied Cognition.” Traditional approaches have assumed that cognition occurs entirely within the brain, operates on abstract representations, and remains divorced from the rest of the body and the environment. Researchers within Embodied Cognition have attacked every aspect of this traditional view.

On successful completion of this course, you should be able to understand and discuss the following claims:

  • Bodily activity might not only reflect but actually constitute cognition, playing a functional role in planning, decision making, creativity, memory, etc.
  • Cognition is not divorced from the world but is the accomplishment of a tightly coupled system that spans brain, body, and environment, with dynamic, bidirectional coupling between all parts of the system.
  • Perception is never a passive, receptive process, but an active process involving embodied exploration of the world.
  • Even within the brain, “higher” cognitive processes like reasoning, categorization, or language comprehension may depend on neural circuits specialized for perception and action — ”‘embodied” brain areas — so that complex, abstract thought may be a new machine built from evolutionarily older parts.

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