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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.




We need new ways of thinking to create a new future

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”

— Peter Drucker

There is a global consensus amongst leaders and experts that we need new ways of thinking to go beyond the very approaches that got us where we are today.

There are simple questions on change leaders’ minds:

  • We know that to enable us to innovate we need to change the way we think. But how do we actually change our thinking and have evidence that it changed?
  • Why is it that, even when we attend special creativity and innovation programs, or learn new knowledge, we still gravitate to our fixed thinking when under pressure?
  • Why is it that, despite our best intentions, our leadership cultures continue to fall back to the very approaches that we are trying to change?”

Why achieving breakthrough thinking is difficult

“Current leadership  development practice relies heavily on the use of models and theories, and the development of self‐awareness. Findings from neurosciences suggest that use of models and theories do not impact the regions of the brain required for behavioural change. They also suggest that self‐awareness, while an essential starting point, may not be enough. ” (Peter  Hamill: Embodied leadership: towards a new way of developing leaders”, Strategic HR Review, Vol. 10 Iss: 5, pp.5 – 10)

Changing our minds is not easy.  Even the great Steve Jobs had some fixed ideas that resulted in failures.

Canadian neuroscientist Donald  Hebb, the father of neuropsychology, famously explained the dilemma with what is now known as the Hebbian theory:

“Neurons (cells) that fire together wire together.”   In layman’s terms this means that when brain cells are simultaneously activated, it results in increases in the synaptic strength between those cells. This creates a strong connection between these cells which eventually become neuro-pathways.  As a consequence, this results in loss of connection between other cells.

This ability to create neuropaths is important as it helps us make sense of the more than 4 billion bits of information that we have to filter every second so that we only pay attention to what is important to us.

The downside of this however, is that, over time, this becomes what we would call a “mindset”, resulting in unconsciously ignoring information that does not fit into our neuropaths or in other words, our paradigms.

How do you overcome the “fixed thinking” dilemma so that you can cultivate new thinking (and therefore see trends that are shaping the emerging future)?

It is actually possible to develop new neuropaths. The brain is “plastic”. That means when you start paying attention to new ideas and things and act on them, you will eventually develop new neuro-pathways, and therefore new ways of thinking.

A simple example will describe how this works.

Most of us have gone through the process of buying a car or helping someone else buy a car. Say you are thinking of buying a red all-wheel drive car that is big enough for your family.  Have you noticed that you suddenly start spotting lot more red all-wheel drive cars wherever you travel?

The reason for this is very simple.  It is not as if there was a sudden and dramatic increase in sales for red all-wheel vehicles.  They have always been there, but because you are now starting to think about it and do research about it, you see more of them.  In other words, you are now paying more attention and also with more quality of attention due to the new focus and information you are gathering.  In this way you started creating a new neuropath.

Similarly, you need to start seeing new possibilities by shifting your attention away from what you currently preoccupied with towards new unknown ideas and objects. This does not require too much time or effort.

Simple actions to achieve breakthrough thinking

Connect with different communities outside your normal networks

The best source of new information and ideas come from people who think completely differently to you.  By connecting with these communities you will be exposed to new paradigms and thinking while you make new friends and business partners.

An example is crypto-economics. Here new business models and economic values are developed by a community of passionate inventors and innovators who are unafraid to challenge the status quo.

“A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.” The first sentence from Satoshi Nakamoto: Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System (A disruptive technology to addresses inherent weaknesses with current systems.)

Stop reading mainstream literature on business and leadership

Give your mind a rest from the business and leadership literature. Start reading up on digital futures, fuzzy logic, neurosciences, philosophy or anthropology.  Have conversations with experts in these fields and attend lectures. Participate actively in learning about new topics you find interesting, such as music or surfing.

If you continue such neuro-changing intention activities for a period of about six months, you will realize how you are building a new paradigm for yourself. And from this new emerging paradigm, your thinking will change. You will see more possibilities, generate more choices, and develop improved solutions.

(Note, this article was originally published by Presidents of Enterprising Organizations during 2012 as part of an insight series for executes which was authored by MaRi Eagar. It has been adapted in November 2017 to reflect the impact of the release of Satoshi Nakamoto’s White Paper, October2008.)

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.)