Gualtiero Piccinini (St Louis)
Situated Neural Representations: Solving the Problems of Content
Situated approaches to cognition maintain that cognition is embodied, embedded, enactive, and affective (and extended, but that is not relevant here). Situated approaches are often pitched as alternatives to computational and representational approaches, according to which cognition is computation over representations. I argue that, far from being opposites, situatedness and neural representation are more deeply intertwined than anyone suspected. To show this, I introduce a neurocomputational account of cognition that relies on neural representations. I argue not only that this account is compatible with (non-question-begging) situated approaches, but also that it requires embodiment, embeddedness, enaction, and affect at its very core. That is, constructing neural representations and their semantic content, and learning computational processes appropriate for their content, requires a tight dynamic interaction between nervous system, body, and environment. Most importantly, I argue that situatedness is needed to give a satisfactory account of neural representation: neurocognitive systems that are embodied, embedded, affective, dynamically interact with their environment, and use feedback from their interaction to shape their own representations and computations (1) can construct neural representations with original semantic content, (2) their neural vehicles and the way they are processed are automatically coordinated with their content, (3) such content is causally efficacious, (4) is determinate enough for the system’s purposes, (5) represents the distal stimulus, and (6) can misrepresent. This proposal hints at what is needed to build artifacts with some of the basic cognitive capacities possessed by neurocognitive systems.