Doing Your Mind

Research, comments and musings about active minds.

Representation in oscillations

I’ve just started reading György Buzsáki’s (2006) Rhythms of the Brain, which looks very promising. The book is an examination of the brain as a set of oscillators (at the neuron and neuron-group levels – he points out that there are many forms of periodicity in the brain and central nervous system that he was forced to put beyond the scope of the volume).

In Chapter 1 Buzsáki (2006, p.11) offers this interesting definition:

‘Representation’ of external reality is therefore a continual adjustment of the brain’s self-generated patterns by outside influences, a process called ‘experience’ by psychologists. From the above perspective, therefore, the engineering term ‘calibration’ is synonymous with experience.

He has here managed to give a concise expression to a way of thinking about the mind that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, but which I have never articulated.

Insofar as the need for representation is discussed by many cognitive scientists it is done so in terms of the need for cognition to be appropriately accountable to reality. Cognition must fit the world if it is to have any hope of being successful, the simplest way of doing this is finding some means of reproducing key characteristics of the world within the operations of the cognitive system itself – representations.

Of course, in a system whose activity is largely produced endogenously then representation is less usefully described in terms of bringing something into that system, but rather the modulation of the already on-going activity of that system – a calibration of the activity of the cognitive system rather than a programming of it, as it were.

I think that the enactive approach can be happy enough with this kind of discussion of representation (it’s as much a matter of taste as a matter of fact as to whether you call it representation, really).

Buzsáki, G. (2006). Rhythms of the Brain (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

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