5 Mar 2013

Andy Clark. Ch1.Pt5 Supersizing the Mind “Sensing for Coupling”

summary by Corry Shores
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Andy Clark

Supersizing the Mind:

Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension

The Active Body

Part 1.5
Sensing for Coupling

Brief Summary:
Our senses not only give our brain information, they couple us to the world in such a way that our cognitions and actions are directly and immediately influenced by environmental factors.


Clark refers to the role of sensing in an example he discussed previously [since we did not summarize that part, we skip the details here]. Clark observes how in this case:

Sensing here acts as a constantly available channel that productively couples agent and environment rather than as a kind of “veil of transduction” whereby world-originating signals must be converted into a persisting inner model of the external scene. (15d)

Clark offers another example, catching a fly ball in baseball. We might think that our visual systems give our brains information so to reason the trajectory for our running to catch it. However, it might be that we are using Linear Optical Trajectory; it could be that we are running in such a way that the ball appears to be moving in a straight line when in fact its movement is a parabola. “the point is simply that the canny use of data available in the optic flow enables the catcher to sidestep the need to create a rich inner model to calculate the forward trajectory of the ball.” (16b)

What works best is when the senses also directly modify our actions.

Important for present purposes, such strategies suggest (see also Maturana 1980) a very different role for the perceptual coupling itself. Instead of using sensing to get enough information inside, past the visual bottleneck, so as to allow the reasoning system to “throw away the world” and solve the problem wholly internally, they use the sensor as an open conduit allowing environmental magnitudes to exert a constant influence on behavior. Sensing is here depicted as the opening of a channel, with successful whole-system behavior emerging when activity in this channel is kept within a certain range. What is created is thus a kind of new, task-specific agent-world circuit. In such cases, as Randall Beer puts it, “the focus shifts from accurately representing an environment to continuously engaging that environment with a body so as to stabilize appropriate co-ordinated patterns of behavior” (2000, 97). [16c]

People often are unaware they are using these perceptual shortcuts. (16d)


The embodied agent is empowered to use active sensing and perceptual coupling in ways that simplify neural problem solving by making the most of environmental opportunities and information freely available in the optic array. (17b)

Andy Clark. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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