ArgLab • Colloquium

Dave Ward

Friendly Sensorimotor Generalists

I draw together various strands of recent philosophy and cognitive science to argue for a new explanatory framework for embodied cognition. Drawing on recent work in affective neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and cultural evolution, I argue that the distinctive properties of human cognition are explicable in terms of two distinctive properties of human cognizers. First, we are sensorimotor generalists – instead of specialising in a particular sensorimotor skill, human adaptive success involved becoming able to acquire an open-ended range of skills, tailored to the particular opportunities and demands of their local environment. Second, we are distinctively friendly – we are predisposed to attain the approval of other humans, and to avoid their disapprobation, and shape our behaviour in ways that meet those aims. I present some recent work that foregrounds these properties of human cognition, and argue that emphasising these properties extends the explanatory scope of embodied cognitive science. Being friendly sensorimotor generalists allows humans to soak up progressively more complex sensorimotor regularities and forms of life from their environment, and suggests a way of explaining how sophisticated capacities for conceptual and normatively-constrained cognition could emerge from a backdrop of embodied skills.


Dave Ward, The University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom)