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Engineering conceptual change: The Enactive Torch Workshop on Philosophy and Engineering 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering, London Tuesday, 11 November.

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Presentation on theme: "Engineering conceptual change: The Enactive Torch Workshop on Philosophy and Engineering 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering, London Tuesday, 11 November."— Presentation transcript:

1 Engineering conceptual change: The Enactive Torch Workshop on Philosophy and Engineering 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering, London Tuesday, 11 November 2008 Ron Chrisley and Tom Froese Centre for Research in Cognitive Science Department of Informatics University of Sussex, Brighton, UK Adam Spiers Bristol Robotics Laboratory Department of Mechanical Engineering University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

2 Overview This meeting: –Not just Philosophy of Engineering –But Philosophy and Engineering: includes ways in which Engineering may assist philosophy

3 Engineering for conceptual change 1.Some problems are not empirical, but conceptual: philosophy 2.Solving conceptual problems sometimes requires not just manipulation of concepts already possessed, but acquisition of new concepts 3.Acquiring the right concepts may require more than just thinking: acting/experiencing 4.Design and construction of devices may assist in providing the kinds of experiences required 5.Thus, engineering may assist philosophy in developing new tools (concepts) for solving conceptual problems 6.Example: The enactive torch

4 Example: the enactive torch Simple distal-to-tactile sensory substitution device Translates the distance measures of one ultrasonic sensor to a single tactile (rotary or vibratory) output to the hand

5 Example: the enactive torch Engineered for the purpose of solving conceptual problems in the phenomenology of perception

6 Three ways to engineer for conceptual change Design loop: Design and build artefacts that do X so that the experience of designing itself produces new concepts of X (et al) Use loop 1: Design and build artefacts the use of which produce new experiences of Y, that in turn prompt new concepts of Y Use loop 2: Design and build artefacts the use of which produce new experiences of Y, that in turn prompt new concepts of experience itself (Z)

7 Philosophy as solving conceptual problems Philosophy provides methods for conceptual analysis and development (Focus in this lecture is on the method of analytic philosophy, or at least what it is conventionally believed to be)

8 Analysis is propositional Problem solving within the analytic method is (taken to be) exclusively propositional: –Assumes a static stock C of basic concepts –Emphasis on creation of new propositions out of C –If new concepts are proposed, these are logical combinations of concepts in C

9 The limits of propositional analysis Solving some conceptual problems requires concepts not in C, nor equal to some logical combination of concepts in C If so, then solution of these problems requires methods not currently taken to be part of analytic philosophy

10 The limits of propositional analysis E.g., the mind/body problem can't be solved with only our current concepts of mental and physical: "[We] may hope and ought to try as part of a scientific theory of mind to form a third conception that does directly entail both the mental and the physical, and through which their actual necessary connection with one another can therefore become transparent to us. Such a conception will have to be created; we wont just find it lying around." (Nagel 1998)

11 Extending the analytic method This is not to say that the required new methods are not philosophical Since these methods will have the function of providing the right concepts for resolving philosophical, conceptual problems, it is right to see them as philosophical Rather, the current view of the method of analytical philosophy, either as it is, or as it could be, is incomplete

12 Beyond concept empiricism: Interactive Empiricism Concept empiricism: –The acquisition of (some) concepts requires having (certain kinds of) experience Interactive empiricism: –Concept empiricism, plus: –The acknowledgement that the required experiences are typically interactive –The experiences are not just sets of “input”, but a dynamic coupling between action and perception. (cf Held and Hein)

13 Concept acquisition as non-propositional activity Concepts are skills, and and at least some skills cannot be acquired propositionally, in the sense above (E.g., Can’t learn to ride a bicycle solely by reading about it.)

14 A role for engineering in philosophy Proposal: Engineer devices that permit new kinds of interactive experience, which in turn enable acquisition of concepts essential to solving a philosophical problem Not just technology, but iteration of design/use of the technology = engineering

15 Three ways to engineer for conceptual change Design loop: Design and build artefacts that do X so that the experience of designing itself produces new concepts of X (et al) Use loop 1: Design and build artefacts the use of which produce new experiences of Y, that in turn prompt new concepts of Y Use loop 2: Design and build artefacts the use of which produce new experiences of Y, that in turn prompt new concepts of experience itself (Z)

16 Designing for (new) experience: the enactive torch The design phase of the current prototype was (is) a cycle closely coupling first-person experience and engineering: E.g., initial output was a rotational disc which measured distance by turning under one's thumb Resulting experience of using the device was a detached, reflective attitude directed toward the position of the disc Since this was not what was sought, re-designed the device to provide more immediate involvement with the world: continuous vibrational output

17 The enactive torch and concepts of perception Conceptual problems in the philosophy of perception E.g. "Is perception independent of action?" Traditionally: Yes Enactive theories of perception: No Latter can be hard to grasp, understand, or motivate Engineering to the rescue

18 The enactive torch and concepts of perception Tom Froese: "When demonstrating the enactive torch at conferences, I initially tried to explain the basics of the enactive approach to perception first, before handing over the device. This was because it was originally conceived as a device to inform that particular debate in the cognitive sciences, and most people had never even heard about the main tenets of that approach."

19 The enactive torch and concepts of perception Tom Froese: "However, it soon became clear that this theoretical introduction was not only unnecessary, it was even confusing to most people. How do you convey a cognitive science research program in a few sentences to someone who has no idea of what cognitive science even is? It was only after using the device that many people had an "aha!" moment - now they could grasp the idea that embodied action is important for perception."

20 The enactive torch and concepts of perception Tom Froese: "So eventually, I hardly explained the device at all, and just gave it to people to try out for themselves. In this way they obtained a much better understanding of the essence of the enactive approach, in their own lived experience, without me having to explain any theoretical background at all."

21 Enactive torch design constraints Portable (non-intrusive, low energy requirements: can take to conferences!) Intuitive (minimal training) Doesn't require vision (would interfere with desired phenomenological analysis) Throw away colour information; focus on distance (ditto) Resolution of output: a)high enough to enable sensory substitution b)low enough to enable discovery of the role action plays in determining richness of experience Low cost

22 Engineering conceptual change: Toward an empirical study Proposal: Empirically measure the extent to which experience with a sensory substitution device can change one’s concepts of perception Method: Ask subjects to indicate their degree of assent to statements about perception and action before and after use of enactive torch Controls: use of normal torch (and reading philosophy texts about perception?) Similar to experimental philosophy, but emphasis on conceptual change, and engineering

23 Beyond philosophy of perception In some cases, may even be best if the philosopher is the designing engineer E.g., Tom Froese and the enactive torch Impetus of conceptual change not limited to experiences that engineered devices enable Rather, experience of designing the artefact may itself prompt the conceptual change required Problem: much harder to measure But: The proof of the pudding…

24 Thank you References: Chrisley, R. (in press). "Interactive empiricism: the philosopher in the machine", in McCarthy, N. (ed.), Philosophy of Engineering: Proceedings of a Series of Seminars held at the Royal Academy of Engineering. London: Royal Academy of Engineering. Chrisley, R. (2008). "Philosophical foundations of artificial consciousness", Artificial Intelligence In Medicine 44: Froese, T. & Spiers, A. (2007). “Toward a Phenomenological Pragmatics of Enactive Perception”, in: Proc. of the 4th Int. Conf. on Enactive Interfaces, Grenoble, France: Association ACROE, pp More information on the enactive torch is available at: Comments welcome:


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