Embodied Cognition at the Crossroads of
Philosophy, Linguistics, Psychology and Artificial Intelligence

May 13-15, 2021, Cluj-Napoca, ROMANIA

Panel 1


Embodied Reading and Learning: Theoretical and Methodological Challenges



Thursday 13/5, 17:00-18:30


Sarah Bro Trasmundi


Stephen Cowley

Affiliation: CORC and CHI, University of Southern Denmark
TitleTowards a simplex view of reading
Abstract: As living systems co-evolve with changing worlds as they re-use simplex tricks (Berthoz, 2012; Gahrn-Andersen & Cowley, 2018). For example, inhibition serves cells, brains and, in humans, appears in displays of “respect”. For Berthoz, even human love used simplex mechanisms. If inhibition serves in reading, its epistemic and other rewards can be traced to socially constrained action (literacy practices). Hence the ‘simple’ model of reading (see, Gough and Tunmer, 1986) can be challenged by a simplex alternative. While brain enabled, a reader’s self-directed attending brings experience to the material properties of marks and symbolizations (Kravchenko, 2009). These symbolizations aid a skilled reader as she attends, orients, inhibits, understands and, using expertise, acts to manage and assess epistemic displays.
On a simplex view reading is action. There is no need to decode forms so that (hypothetical) language- systems can build a neural model to be used in “interpretation”. Indeed, the ‘simple’ model posits complex outcomes. For example, it implies that inhibition is disruptive. In neuroscience, however, brains are shown to use the trick constructively; further, intuitively, inhibition serves in skimming, scanning, re-reading etc. Such observations cast doubt on models that use mechanisms to identify linguistic forms (decoding). While they are indeed simple, the alleged products (text-based models) seem implausible. Take an occasion when a literate person finds a door with the sign “BACK IN A MOMENT”. Does she build a text-based model of its ambiguities? I suggest not: rather, she evokes motives or contexts by linking her expectations to both symbolizations and experience. Indeed, as with playing a computer game, reading activity sets off dynamics where symbolizations shape events at an experienced ‘interface’. While the actions may be routine, as for Tetris players, there is no need to know a code.
Like pictures or opportunities in games, symbolizations can lack sense, seem vague, be familiar or feel strangely appropriate. A changing sense of how to proceed is a tell-tale sign of actional functions. Given ‘confusion’, simplex tricks come to the fore. Attending can be inhibited or, of course, one can use reading strategies to counter non-understanding and/or dissatisfaction. Alphanumeric (or idiographic) marks enable one to freeze impressions as one inhibits (using working memory); then, the skilled reader looks back to re-evoke what is actually written (at times, using/imagining voicing). Reading activity connects up lived experience, embodied activity and the simplex trick of inhibition. Neither coding nor representation of marks/meanings are used in a simplex view of reading.

Berthoz, A., 2012. Simplexity: Simplifying Principles for a Complex World, (G. Weiss, Trans.). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Gahrn-Andersen, R., & Cowley, S. J. (2018). Semiosis and Bio-Mechanism: towards Consilience. Biosemiotics, 11(3), 405-425.
Gough, P. B, & Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.
Kravchenko, A. V. (2009). The experiential basis of speech and writing as different cognitive domains. Pragmatics & Cognition, 17(3), 527-548. 


Sarah Bro Trasmundi

Affiliation: University of Southern Denmark
Title: Distributed perspectives on reading
Abstract: The aim of this paper is to discuss the methodological and practical challenges and opportunities a radical embodied cognitive perspective entails for literacy and education research. Such a view opens up for a multi-scalar view on reading that pivots on how people bring life to the thoughts of the dead by drawing on personal experience and socio-cultural norms for sense-making and symbolisations.
The argument is that we need to bridge the gap between neuroscientific and classical embodied cognitive approaches if the goal is to understand the essence of reading more broadly. This task also includes bridging the gap between empirical, experiment-based research on reading (and learning) – i.e., neuroscience and psychology – and currently dominant perspectives on reading and literacy – i.e., sociocultural, semiotic, and socio-cognitive approaches. Narrow views of reading only provide limited insights into the process of reading. For instance, classical embodied approaches to reading do not pay attention to the specific function of the brain or the generic and anatomical constraints which impact on the acquisition of reading skills. And, while many neuroscientific approaches prove useful for some purposes such as how children become able to read efficiently and correctly, or how the best suited approach to reading for children with learning disabilities is applied, they treat reading as a process of problem-solving (solving the code of letter-sound correspondences). However, when reading becomes automatic, readers do much more than decipher meaning. From the global text, they understand its genre; they learn the context in which certain words are embedded; and they read experience or meaning into the text from what is not there. In that sense, people engage with texts in various ways. Thus, if reading is connotational and anticipatory, investigations of how readers draw on personal experience, socio-cultural skills and general life experiences as they serve as constraints in the activity are needed. I thus ask: How does engagement with texts, including its substrate and medium change perception of self and worlds? How does reading expand thinking and enable creative imagination? Those questions cannot be fully answered by applying only one approach or method within interaction studies, cognitive psychology, linguistics, literacy or neuroscience. Likewise, neither qualitative nor quantitative methods, in themselves, will suffice. I thus propose an integrative radical embodied cognition approach to reading that links multiple timescales in the study of reading.


Theresa Schilhab

Affiliation: University of Aarhus
Title: An embodied perspective on the use of digital technologies in nature
AbstractFrom a biological perspective, understanding relates to perceptions and experiences. We understand as a result of sense-making. And phenomena, episodes, events or occurrences make sense when they feel like something concrete that we have experienced.
In this presentation, I draw on central themes within the embodied cognition paradigm in contemporary cognitive science to discuss what happens to perception and learning when engaging with the physical 3D-world is switched for engaging with 2D-media. My aim is to unravel what natural environments offer learning. Emphasis is on how nature-bound perceptions leave room for mind wandering and spontaneous thoughts which are under increased pressure from the mobile technology induced controlled thoughts.


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