Eco-Cognitive Computationalism From “Mimetic Minds” to Morphology-Based Enhancement of “Mimetic Bodies”
Eco-cognitive computationalism sees computation as active in physical entities suitably transformed so that data can be encoded and decoded to obtain fruitful results. When physical computation is seen in the perspective of the ecology of cognition it is easy to understand Turing’s ideas concerning the emergence of information, cognition, and computation in organic, inorganic, and artefactual agents. Turing’s speculations on how the so-called “unorganized brains” are transformed in organized “machineries” are very important. Brains are of course continuous systems that can be treated as discrete systems able to perform “discrete” computations, so that we can describe the possible states of these brains as a discrete set, with the motion occurring by jumping from one state to another. Turing clearly says: “The cortex of an infant is an unorganized machinery, which can be organized by suitable interference training. The organization might result in the modification of the machine into a universal machine or something like it. […] This picture of the cortex as an unorganized machinery is very satisfactory from the point of view of evolution and genetics” (Turing, Intelligent machinery, 1948). This intellectual perspective first of all clearly depicts the evolutionary emergence of information, meaning, and of the first rudimentary forms of cognition, as the result of a complex interplay and simultaneous coevolution, in time, of the states of brain/mind, body, and external environment. At the same time it furnishes the conceptual framework able to show how thanks to an imitation of the above process the subsequent invention of the Universal Practical Computing Machine is achieved, as the externalization of computational capacities in those artefactual physical entities that compute for some human or artefactual agents: those computers that in this perspective offered by Turing I called “mimetic minds”. It is in this framework that we can limpidly see that the recent emphasis on the simplification of cognitive and motor tasks generated in organic agents by morphological aspects implies - in robotics - the need not only of further computational mimesis of the related performances - when possible - but also the construction of appropriate “mimetic bodies” able to render the accompanied computation simpler, according to a general appeal to the “simplexity” of animal embodied cognition.