The embodiment of attention in the perception-action loop


Decades ago, the sciences of mind were busy drawing insights from computer engineering. Cognitive scientists reasoned that if a computer can process information in an intelligent fashion, perhaps humans are exhibiting their intelligence via similar mechanisms. It was thought that we could “reverse engineer” the human mind by drawing an analogy to how a computer is engineered. Of course, this was not the ?rst time that a new and exciting piece of technology had been used as a metaphor for the mind. The Greeks likened to the mind to a water pump, eighteenth-century Western philosophers likened the mind to a clock, and then theories of cognition were inspired by the steam engine, then by the telegraph, then by relay circuits, and now the computer (see Daugman, 1993). After using the computer metaphor for several decades now, is it possible that the insights it can provide have all been plumbed? This chapter describes a series of examples of where the computer metaphor of the mind breaks down, with a special emphasis on attention, and points to an embodied and situated account of mind that can naturally accommodate those problematic phenomena that undermine the computer metaphor. Rather than proposing the next new metaphor for the mind, we instead encourage drawing eclectic inspiration from embodied cognition (to appreciate how the body itself performs some cognitive operations), ecological psychology (to appreciate how the relation between organism and environment produces cognition), dynamical systems theory (to carry out analog information-processing simulations), and cognitive neuroscience (to stay grounded with the real physical material that lies at the hub of cognitive phenomena).

Publication Title

The Routledge Handbook of Embodied Cognition