Uniquely Human Cognition: Shared IntentionalityA (action) & Shared IntentionalityR (representation)

Theoretical constructs at the core of Moll and Tomasello’s Vygotskian Intelligence Hypothesis (2007) for uniquely human cognition are joint action, joint attention frames, perspectival representations and shared intentionality. Drawing from cognitive, developmental and comparative psychology,  cognitive neuroscience and philosophy, I argue that that any account of uniquely human cognition needs to distinguish between shared intentionalityA (joint action based shared cognition), and shared intentionalityR (the normatively constrained ‘aboutness’ or representational nature of cognition that is shared), and provide an account of both. Building on the Vygotskian Intelligence Hypothesis, I develop the Shared IntentionalityR Hypothesis that accommodates these two distinct, but arguably related, types of intentionality in its explanatory  account. In doing so I offer a novel explanation for declarative pointing, and introduce some new conceptual distinctions and challenges to the shared cognition literature.

Tomasello, in his conception of uniquely human cognition, stresses the significance of shared  intentionalityA that allows for the creation of artifacts and social practices:

After they understand others as intentional agents like themselves, a whole new world of inter-subjectively shared reality begins to open up. It is a world populated by material and symbolic artifacts and social practices that members of their culture, both past and present, have created for the use of others.  (Tomasello 1999, p. 91)

A hypothesis I have proposed is that intersubjective artifacts are continous with  intersubjective objects and events per se. The first instances of declarative pointing, on SIR Hypothesis, are indicative of an infants early participation in a shared objective world that can be thought about : a public world that we can think about predicatively and symbolically, as having properties independent from our actions on it, and a world that is normatively constraining – in an epistemic sense – on thought and behaviour.

Pdf of paper here.

See also:

The Social Basis of Higher Cognitive Functioning. A Theory.  CMLC seminar talk. November 2008.


A Dual Process Theory of Implicit and Normative Emotion & Motivation

In recent theoretical work (2011) I have explored the claim that human affect and emotion evolved to function in motivational-cognitive systems and that emotion, motivation and cognition should be understood within a single explanatory framework.  I have developed a ‘dual process’ account that integrates emotion, motivation and cognition is put forward in which emotion plays different functional roles in implicit motivations and explicit, normative motivations.

Ashton Smith, M. (2011). Functions of Unconscious and Conscious Affect and Emotion in the Regulation of Implicit and Explicit Motivated Behaviour: A Dual Process Account. In Dr. Didem Gökçay and Gülsen Yıldırım (Eds.), Affective Computing and Interaction: Psychological, Cognitive and Neuroscientific Perspectives. IGI Global.


A Review of Normative Judgement In Development

Definition of normative: evaluative, denoting or implying goodness, desirability, what ought to be. Of, pertaining to, or using a norm or standard.

While there has interesting work on normativity in recent years in the context of the notion of shared and collective intentionality in development (e.g. Tomasello & Rakoczy, 2007, Wyman, Rakoczy & Tomasello, 2009), there has been no systematic review of the role that normativity and normative standards – understood broadly including moral and epistemic – play in the regulation of cognition and behaviour in development and adulthood. I propose to write this literature review .

Topics in the review I am currently working on include: The ontogeny of normativity in human development,  normativity (and distinctions) in the philosophical literature, biopsychological and brain research of normativity, normativity in social psychology, neuropsychological breakdowns of normativity in clinical populations, normativity in executive/controlled processes.

More information on this review can be found here.


Game Theory, Communication Theory, Cooperation and Normativity

I have been working on a theory of communication and institutional rule-based behaviour based on mechanisms for cooperation defined in game-theoretic terms. Our theory depends on a distinction between Gricean (cooperative) communication, Indirect (mixed cooperative-competitive strategies) communication, and handicapping communication (a strategy within a competitive environment).

The ideas underlying this work are worked out here:

Cooperation: Game Theory, Communication Theory & Signal Detection Theory.  CMLC seminar talk, 2009.


Constructal Theory and Embodied Cognition

Constructal Theory offers a physical law of self-organization for systems that “flow” in time (see the work of Bejan). While its disciplinary origin is thermal dynamics, it derives from the observation that if a flow system – such as a river basin or migratory path for animals – has sufficient freedom to shift its configuration, so it tends progressively to provide easier access to its flow.

According to the Constructal law, ‘for a finite-size flow system to persist in time (to live) it must evolve in time such that it provides easier access to the currents that flow through it’ (Bejan, 1996).

In collaboration with Dr Matthew Checkley, I have been exploring the applicability of Constructal Theory – originally from the field of engineering and theormodynamics – to cognition.  We develop  models of efficient information processing in the extended/embodied mind. We argue for the co-dependency of cognitive performance and efficient flow-like structures within relevant intentional artifacts. We introduce new applications of Constructal Theory to the domain of cognitive science and philosophy. We also propose a new relationships between flow “efficiency” and embodied intelligence. This theoretical framework adds to the growing literature that develops an non-dualistic embodied understanding of cognition. Technology, language and culture are seen as flowing, vascular artifacts, governed by Constructal laws.


Indexicality and Working Memory: A Theory of Consciousness

I am exploring the idea that human consciousness is all about particulars, that it’s only humans that can think about particulars (individual conspecifics aside), and that particulars are closely related to the central construct of spatial and autobiographical working memory. The ‘visuo-spatial scratch pad’ as it’s sometimes called seems to be a phenomenally powerful cognitive devise for thinking about mechanisms in a way involving particulars – objects transforming and interacting causally in various ‘plastic’ ways. It’s a medium for ‘mental modeling’, and it seems to be uniquely powerful in humans.

I am reviewing the literature in psychology on indexicals and their relationship to ‘objecthood’ – the idea of particular, discrete objects having a continuous location in space and time, and how such objects are constructed in working memory.