Been meaning for months to link & quote this excellent article by Amanda Gefter in Nautilus about plant cognition. Here’s one of many good parts:
“Wild cognition,” as Barrett puts it, is more akin to a candle flame than to a computer. “We are ongoing processes resisting the second law of thermodynamics,” she says. We are candles desperately working to re-light ourselves, while entropy does its damnedest to blow us out. Machines are made—one and done—but living things make themselves, and they have to remake themselves so long as they want to keep living.
And the stuff about 4E cognition is really amazing find for me as well:
From a 4E perspective, minds come before brains. Brains come into the picture when you have multicellular, mobile organisms—not to represent the world or give rise to consciousness, but to forge connections between sensory and motor systems so that the organism can act as a singular whole and move through its environment in ways that keep its flame lit.
“The brain fundamentally is a life regulation organ,” Thompson says. “In that sense, it’s like the heart or the kidney. When you have animal life, it’s crucially dependent for the regulation of the body, its maintenance, and all its behavioral capacities. The brain is facilitating what the organism does. Words like cognition, memory, attention, or consciousness—those words for me are properly applied to the whole organism. It’s the whole organism that’s conscious, not the brain that’s conscious. It’s the whole organism that attends or remembers. The brain makes animal cognition possible, it facilitates and enables it, but it’s not the location of it.”
Here’s a quick good supplementary video about 4E/5E/6E:
And the article quotes a 1991 article by Rodney Brooks:
“Explicit representations and models of the world simply get in the way. It turns out to be better to use the world as its own model.”
This article is great in that it elegantly puts a pin in and deflates a lot of the nonsensical schoolyard arguments about AI being conscious and alive. I won’t try to rehash all of it here…
“The mistake was to think that cognition was in the head,” Calvo says. “It belongs to the relationship between the organism and its environment.”
This all to me is huge, and I need more time to digest and properly process all of this, but it just feels so intuitively right. And also it’s one more argument strongly in favor of doing everything one possibly can to enhance biodiversity, so as to strengthen the resiliency of “mind” affixed to place. Genius loci.
Just wanted to capture one last thought, relative to this idea that life is a candle flame trying to keep itself from blowing out. Namely, Gandalf on the bridge at Khazad-dum in LOTR, speaking to the Balrog:
“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”