Philosophy and Mathematics of
Conference at the University of Oulu, Finland, June 5-8, 2023
Philosophy and Mathematics of Situated Agency brings together world-leading thinkers in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, mathematics of cognition, and robotics. Recent advances in computational neuroscience, enactivist cognition and artificial intelligence enable - and also necessitate - profoundly new ways of thinking of perception and cognitive agents within their environment. This conference focuses on the embeddedness of the mind, shedding light on the role of context and the structure of affording situations. It offers a platform for profound conversation about these and related themes, across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers
Aims of the Conference
The Philosophy and Mathematics of Situated Agency conference aims to bring together world-leading thinkers in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and mathematics of logic and cognition. Recent advances in computational neuroscience, enactivist theory of cognition and AI enable and necessitate profoundly new ways of thinking of perception and cognitive agents within their environment. This conference strikes at the heart of the issue across disciplinary boundaries.
We note that although classical cognitivism has a mathematical foundation, Enactivism so far does not. Enactivists refer to basic concepts like situatedness and attunement, but the conceptual foundations of these concepts still rest unclear. The aim of our conference is to take steps towards understanding what being embedded, situatedness and context-sensitivity means.
In particular, the emerging so-called “4E”-paradigm (enactive, embodied, embedded, extended mind) has crucial, game-changing implications for other fields of science. The paradigm is rooted in European traditions and its development and research is strongly centered in Europe, including the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Our conference reflects this in that the majority of the invited speakers are from European institutions.
The conference also links with global trends in the development of artificial environments such as the ’metaverse’, which has been hailed as a paradigm shift in social interaction in the coming decades. Although the ’rise of virtual reality’ has been anticipated since the turn of the millennium, its technological and conceptual challenges have proved difficult to overcome. Steven LaValle’s ERC Advanced Grant project ILLUSIVE at the University of Oulu aims to drive deep into the core of these challenges and develop novel mathematical frameworks to address them. This makes Oulu a focal point for advances in the mathematical, philosophical, and computational understanding of enactive, embedded cognitive agents.
Mathematical and Philosophical Goals
The conference's anchor point is the currently emerging understanding of the mind advanced by the 4E- paradigm. In this revolution in contemporary cognitive science and philosophy, perception is seen as an active sensorimotor process in which perceptual reality is not “transmitted from the environment to the agent through the senses”, but is rather created through an embodied and sensorimotor coupling of the agent with its environment. From the point of view of mathematical logic this contrast can be formulated as follows: in classical logic, the semantics of formulae are given by a function that maps symbols to their referents, called the interpretation function. In the novel approach one does not assume the a priori existence of such a mapping; rather, one asks how agents’ embodiment and situatedness gives rise to semantics.
Another contrast can be observed between the logical theories of cognition and the promising new field of active inference. Active inference, based on the Free Energy Principle proposed by Karl Friston, states that cognitive agents act to minimize the surprise associated with their sensory input. In this inherently probabilistic in-terpretation, every self-sustaining entity is seen as unwittingly performing Bayesian inference about the hidden states of its environment. Emphasizing the deep connection between action and sensing, active inference can also be seen as a mathematical expression of situation concepts from phenomenology and pragmatism, according to which the skillful agent and its environment are co-defined.
The quest for a mathematical foundation of such 4E-approaches on situated agency demands intense collaboration between philosophers, mathematicians, roboticists and perception researchers from other fields such as VR and psychology.
From a philosophical perspective, our conference wants to focus on the concept of “embeddedness” or “being situated”. Despite its pivotal position and inflationary use in the 4E-explanatory paradigm, it is still left unanalyzed what “environment”, “context of agency” or “situation” clearly mean, compared to the attention devoted to the other “E” notions. Standard basic concepts of the debate, “affordance”, “involvement”, “attunement” or “engagement”, presuppose a framework in which agent and context of agency neither can be decoupled nor, most importantly, can be theoretically reduced to one another. However, this framework, its scope and structure are still unclear and create a tension with a scientific outlook. This is because the agent is neither entirely “in” a situation as a causal or spatial object among other objects is, nor can an environment, taken as a set of framed, engaging and normed opportunities, be reducible to a bundle of impersonal, empirical facts. Complementary to such an objectivistic misunderstanding, the engaging and demanding situation itself is hardly a subjectivistic make-up of the agent as an isolated, autopoietic, or introspective subject. These questions present only one out of several dimensions which demand clarification to what the often merely evoked “context” or “situatedness” of agency and meaningfulness amounts to. Both phenomenology and philosophy of cognitive science must take steps towards each other to intensify their discussion concerning this crucial but mostly neglected tenet of the 4E-revolution. Our conference wants to contribute to that indispensable dialogue.
Erkki Koiso-Kanttilan katu 1, Oulu, Finland