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Embodied Cognition

Embodied cognition is the belief that many features of human cognition are shaped by aspects of the body beyond the brain. The features of cognition include high level mental constructs (such asconcepts and categories) and human performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, the body’s interactions with the environment (situatedness) and the ontological assumptions about the world that are built into the body and the brain.

The embodied mind thesis challenges other theories, such as cognitivism, computationalism, andCartesian dualism.[1][2] It is closely related to the extended mind thesis, situated cognition andenactivism. The modern version depends on insights drawn from recent research in psychology,linguistics, cognitive science, dynamical systems, artificial intelligence,robotics and neurobiology.

In philosophy, embodied cognition holds that an agent’s cognition is strongly influenced by aspects of an agent’s body beyond the brain itself.[1] In their proposal for an enactive approach to cognition Varela et al. defined “embodied”:[3]

“By using the term embodied we mean to highlight two points: first that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological and cultural context.”

— Eleanor Rosch, Evan Thompson, Francisco J. Varela: The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience pages 172–173

Reference: Wikipedia

Why EI is difficult for AI

….And what does it mean for you?

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots are expected to have a significant impact on our future.  Conversations are taking place about human skills that cannot be replicated by robots or software systems. Emotional intelligence, creativity and critical thinking are often quoted as examples of unique human attributes that will be valued for future work. And these will also evolve and be enhanced as we shape a new future at the intersection of humanity, technology and the natural world.

Can computers possess emotions and can they become emotionally mature?

Understanding emotions is critical for effective human interaction, to learn about people and the world in which we live. It is so important that Interactions between people can either increase their energy, or deplete it.


Microsoft’s chatbot Tay

Some of the familiar areas of emotions and artificial intelligence is in the field of  “Affective Computing. This is computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotion or other affective phenomena (Picard, MIT Press 1997).” A simple example of this can be the use of Facebook’s experiment to deliberately influence emotions to change user’s behavior. This can be used for positive impact (such as motivating to follow positive and healthy experiences) or for marketing and increasing shopping, which could lead to negative impact on individuals, communities and even the environment.

It is anticipated that Emotional Robots will be able to respond effectively to human emotions and provide care to, for example, elderly patients.

However, for Artificial Intelligence programs to merely influence, model and mimic emotions are not enough, as humans can quickly see through it. Here are some concepts about emotional intelligence that illustrate why human emotional capabilities will continue to be important for the unfolding robotic and artificial intelligence future.

Why emotional intelligence is difficult for robots and artificial intelligence

Emotional intelligence relates to your potential capability in the emotional domain.

Emotional competence is knowing how to separate healthy from unhealthy feelings, how to turn negative feelings into positive and the “upside” of your dark side (such as anger or anxiety). Research on emotions indicate that there are various aspects of emotions that can be developed, and that emotional response can become a conscious choice.

Emotional awareness is the ability to perceive, recognize, understand and react to the feelings of yourself and those of others. Unlike what most people believe, facial expressions are not a good universal indicator of reading emotions. Humans use a range of different cues to communicate to others how they feel, including facial, vocal, and gestural signals. Recent research indicates that “a number of primarily negative emotions have vocalizations that can be recognized across cultures, while most positive emotions are communicated with culture-specific signals”.

Emotional flexibility: One particular kind of flexibility that is of great interest to affective scientists is emotion regulation flexibility. In a nutshell, this flexibility captures people’s ability to use different emotion regulation strategies as the environment changes. This is important because the adaptiveness of regulation strategies changes as a function of contextual demands. It means 1) adapting to fluctuating situational demands, (2) reconfiguring mental resources, (3) shifting perspective, and (4) balancing competing desires, needs, and life domains.

Emotional literacy : The ability to distinguish between various feelings and to name them. To increase emotional literacy require personal increase in diverse experience of emotions and their unique qualities. Apart from the diverse range of emotions from excitement to boredom, there are also many subtle ones, such as feeling open to new ideas.

Emotional control: 1. The ability to express and control your emotions appropriately. 2. The ability to listen to others, to have empathy with them and to communicate effectively in terms of emotions and thoughts. 3. To use the information in directing your thoughts and actions 4. so that you live effectively, are motivated and have a goal in mind (relation between thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Self-awareness is about observing yourself and recognizing a feeling as it happens.

Managing emotions: Handling feelings so that they are appropriate, realizing what is behind a feeling, finding ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger and sadness. Although this sounds simple, it requires significant empathy and skill, in particular emotional flexibility to know when to deploy what is considered a negative emotion (such as anxiety) or anger as these are as important for emotional health than positive emotions.

Motivating oneself: Channeling emotions in the service of a goal, emotional self-control, delaying gratification and stifling impulses. This requires self-awareness, self-knowledge and the ability to set goals.

Empathy is sensitivity to other’s feelings and concerns, and taking their perspective; appreciating the differences in how people feel about things. In particular empathy requires imagination.  “Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.” Roman Kriznaric

Handling relationships : Managing emotions in others, social competence and social skills. The ability to be aware of the needs and feelings of others and to use this awareness effectively in interacting with them and arriving at decisions impacting on them.

Emotional resilience The ability to perform well and consistently in a range of situations and when under pressure. Interpersonal sensitivity.

Emotional leadership is the inside-out and out-side in development of the emotional capability and potential of a person to improve influence over self and others. In other words, the continuous development of your emotional potential.  The emotional leader continues to develop his/her emotional intelligence competencies.

Emotions are embodied – Emotions are not purely cognitive. Emotions are also an embodied reaction – emotions can be changed through the body. When you have an emotional reaction to something (e.g. that email that makes you angry) that reaction doesn’t appear as an idea in your head, but as a feeling in your gut. It’s an ‘embodied’ reaction.  “From a scientific perspective we don’t think of emotions as just a feeling state, it is an embodied feeling state that comes with action, urges that comes with responses to change the situation or change our thoughts”. Dr Barbara Frederickson (MOOC Course in Positive Psychology and Positive Emotions) (February 2015) (Coursera)

Emotional intelligence and competence will be as important in the future as it is today…if not more so.

To be able to learn and understand humans, computer systems (as part of their learning) would need to not only learn about emotions and also be able to cultivate and express from genuine emotions, but also experience the qualities of emotions in their bodies and the bodies of others. And they will have to learn that from humans. For example, it will be difficult for a robot to experience what “a gut feeling” is and human would need to find a way to teach that.

Emotions, our mind and bodies are more complex than just cognitive functions or computer programs build on principles of entropy that inevitably are created through the lens of human bias.

The continued use of metaphors to describe our brain as a “computer” still falls short and hints at the old mechanistic view of the world.

People with high levels of emotional awareness, flexibility and literacy will be able to identify when emotions are manipulated by computer programs (such as the Facebook experiment or marketing campaigns) and be able to live more authentically and autonomously.

With the arrival of virtual reality and ARI, our ability to distinguish between computer generated emotional experiences and other “organic” such as animals and humans, will become more cultivated and sophisticated. This means opening new possibilities for paying attention to our emotional world which is full of richness, define what a good or not so good life is about, and deepen our connection to our “energy-in-motion” for achieving happiness, success and prosperity.




Digital Transformations: Trust is the bandwidth of communication

Trust is the bandwidth of communication –Karl-Erik Sveiby   (veteran in knowledge management and intangible assets)

How can you build  more trust with your investors, clients, teams or colleagues while you have to deal with designing and implementing new solutions like blockchain, address tough business challenges and implement complex organizational change?

How do you build trust when you are a new leader who inherited an environment and team with a history of incompetence or poor performance, or uncommunicative team members?

During new technology development, proof of concept projects or an organizational change implementation a lot of effort is put into creating well-scripted and thoughtful messages using best practice methods to communicate important ideas, such as the vision for large scale transformation or the benefits of a new exciting technology revolution.

If the human trust “bandwidth” is low, it does not matter how well branded your messages are, how inspiring the words, what social media you use, the careful story telling techniques or expertise you employ… A low trust bandwidth means people will just not believe you, will maybe hear messages that are not here, make up their own stories about what is going on and probably continue with current habits that contribute to the very climate you want to change.

High trust contributes not only to more effective and sustainable investor confidence, customer service or team productivity –  it is critical for effective change, as well as individual, team and organizational success, engagement and happiness at work. Steven Covey placed trust in the centre of his Four Leadership Imperatives.

How does lack of trust between people deplete innovation, work performance, productivity and work wellbeing?

A study at the Stress Institute in Stockholm found that  employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative, were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition,

Being in an environment of low trust feels like a sense of never feeling “solidity underneath you, as if the parts continue to move all the time and you never know where it will be the next day or where you stand with someone. It uses a lot of energy in your need for constant alertness and creates a sense of anxiety about when the next unexpected event will occur.

The purpose of uncomfortable emotions, such as anxiety,  is to help you pay attention to potential risks and threats in your environment and move you into finding solutions and opportunities to address it. But being in a state of constant “alertness”  depletes valuable cognitive and physical resources. As vitality diminishes, physical health and strength diminishes, which ultimately results in loss in confidence in your physical ability to deal with the constant changes. Lack of confidence is a big reason why people don’t try out new things, lack creative options or just become apathetic or avoid change altogether.

This is a particular challenge in the current technology revolution of continuous innovation, of constantly starting and stopping (agility) or  always being in motion or increasing the speed of decision making and activities due to aggressive competitiveness in the market.

It is also present in teams and organizations where leaders are not inclusive, or try and be the “lone hero” who will solve everything on their own, or the worst – playing team members off against each other in a way to keep them “on their toes” to push for increasing productivity and high performance.

In low trust environments you will notice a lot of sarcasm, a lot of blaming and avoidance of talking about glaring issues. People will hardly ever be in open conflict with each other – a sure sign that there is no trust because people who trust each other are able to have really important conversations in a timely way.

If I don’t trust you as a leader, I will simply not tell you important things because, well –  I don’t think you will do anything with it or just take my ideas and build your career without acknowledging my contribution to your success. Why should I then give you more than the effort that my job description requires? If I am an investor, I will simply walk away to find another project to support.

How do you build trust?

Trust takes a long time to build, yet it can be destroyed in a minute if you discover that a person has not been truthful and have not operated from their best selves but instead from an self-centered  place.

A concept that people often associate with trust is valuing Consistency or what we could also call Integrity.  A good example of how I see integrity is the following analogy. If I travel with my car across a bridge, I trust in the integrity of the structure. Structure is not to be confused with bureaucracy, but could instead be simple “rules of the game”, guiding principles that are applied consistently. This allows for some sense of “predictability” in often uncertain and continuous change. Integrity creates that sense of a solid basis and provides for a source of inner strength that is crucial for times of continuous change.


Trust Building Model by MaRi Eagar

Without connection it is almost impossible to trust someone. Connection is about caring. The old saying still holds: Friendly face-to-face interaction is still the best. I know two leaders who walk “the rounds” once a month and personally interact with each person who work in their hospital. This takes them a whole day, as they not only hand out snacks to everyone, but also ask each person one simple question, personally write down each answer and then publish it for everyone to see. The questions they ask are simple and focused on cultivating positive interactions, such as “what makes you proud of your work?” or “what acts of kindness have you seen the past few days”?

Character has particular qualities that differentiates itself from ‘strengths” or skills or charisma or other leadership qualities. Leading from character strengths, per Chris Peterson, does not generate envy in others but inspires them, and makes people feel energized and motivated. Expressing and generating value from character strengths creates credibility and ethical leadership. Terry Bacon states that “Being recognized as a person of character enhances your capacity to lead and influence others because they trust your intentions, are more confident in your leadership, and see you as a person worth emulating.”

Competence is often under-estimated in a world where leadership is described as being “visionary” or “leading to purpose and passion” and so on. But competency is also about knowing what you are talking about, emotional leadership and creating opportunities to experience personal satisfaction and making a positive impact derived from work.  No-one of us will embark on a dangerous climb up a mountain without a competent guide. Why should people trust you with risky projects if you are not competent?

Investors, employees and customers or business partners do not just listen to what you say.  They see how you act around them including your behavior towards your team and clients and competitors. They determine your competence based on the outputs and the impact you make through your actions and your non-actions. The way you role model (or not). Telling people to change their habits but you yourself don’t change your own in a very visible way means they will think you are not serious about it. As a leader you need to demonstrate competence not by words and jargon or quoting best practices but in your embodiment of what and how you want the new patterns of behaviour to be.

The final component to remember is that you have to cultivate all of this as a consistent habit. Doing things on a whim diminishes trust if you only demonstrate positive qualities and take positive action on an ad hoc basis. The consistency will be what contributes to building trust, so you need to work hard at creating new habits that are visible and that people can see – frequently and over a period of time. The worst thing you can do is, for example, declare that you are now starting a more inclusive and open environment, and then fall straight back into command and control when people start behaving chaotically around you. The advantage of consistently trying to build trust is that people will be a lot more forgiving when you do make mistakes (and you will).

Trust bandwidth is increased through intentional effort.

How can you lead  in a way that increases your bandwidth of trust?



Virtual Reality Technology to connect body, mind and learning

“Only what grows out of your direct experiencing has the power to change everything.” – Dr Lisa Caparo

An exciting new opportunity is opening up to change how we grow and develop our skills through augmented virtual reality, experiential technology and neurogaming.

Instead of passively sitting and playing virtual games and simulations, a whole new paradigm is opening up with this new technology which makes reality not only a cognitive experience, but also felt in the body and emotions. This enables us to creatively nurture  somatic intelligence based on neurobiology of the embodied learning.

The Flow Dome from the Flow Genome Project is an example of applying somatic entrainment to become more familiar with the state of Flow.

Somatic leadership, for example combined with intentionally designed creative movement and technologies of mind, are new approaches that, combined with augmented virtual reality, can make change and growth fun, effective and enable innovation and leadership in a novel way.

A somatic leadership philosophy, intelligence and practices has the potential for leaders to develop new body-centric models of leadership utilizing the language of the “way of the body” to generate a body and health centered model for leadership. Fusing this with virtual reality technology takes it into a new dimension – gaming that focuses on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing while learning new skills in a fun way.

Such Embodied leadership practices can take us out of all of the “cognitive” leadership processes of a worldview that the mind is only in the brain, and gets us right back into our genuine self – as lived and expressed through our body.

Contact me to find out how I apply somatic intelligence to strategy, leadership, change and organizational development.

Neurosciences – the new frontier in leadership

Leadership is evolving to a new frontier.

As leaders continuously face new challenges and opportunities, they often search through the latest scientific research to understand new knowledge and build new skills to continuously gain advantage for themselves and their enterprises.

Research proves that by rewiring thinking patterns and controlling human response to different social or business circumstance, leaders can relearn how to be more effective in driving personal and enterprise success. Here’s why.

Introducing the science of brain-based leadership

The most important new leadership information available to leader innovation is the emerging field of brain-based leadership. Two important areas are of interest to leadership growth; first, leaders look for opportunities to significantly improve personal performance; and secondly, these leaders strive to improve social relationships and customer experiences.

Neuroplasticity — the potential to shape the brain structure and its function

Neuro-scientific research validates what leaders always knew; that experience actually changes the brain and that there is no limit to brain development. Neuroplasticity is a concept that means that the brain structure and function change all the time. External events impact on the human brain, but human beings also are able to induce self-directed changes.

The human brain is a network of approximately one hundred billion neurons. Different experiences create different neural connections which bring about different emotions. Depending on which neurons get stimulated, certain connections become stronger and more efficient while others may become weaker.

Someone who trains to be an engineer will create stronger neural connections which, in turn, generate “neuropaths” in engineering. The price that is paid, however, is that other connections become weaker if attention is not paid to these. For example, such a person might neglect to focus on empathy and, therefore, reduce their ability to feel compassion and kindness towards others and themselves.

Qualities and skills can be trained or created. Whatever an individual is doing at any time, they are physically modifying their brain to become better at it.

Important leadership qualities, such as visioning and strategic thinking all work the same way. These are neural connections that can be strengthened. Leaders can conduct research and find out, scientifically, how to create and strengthen neural connections to improve their performance.

(Note, this article was originally published by Presidents of Enterprising Organizations as part of an insight series for executes which was authored by MaRi Eagar.)