What makes a system cognitive? Both the information processing and the dynamicist paradigms in cognitive science can be shown to be too liberal in their characterization of cognitive systems and their demarcation from the non-cognitive. Whereas informational processes spread over the realm of living systems and technological artifacts, dynamical systems are ubiquitous in the physical realm. The question of the origins and minimal characterization of living systems has faced similar problems. It provides a point of departure towards increasingly complex forms of living agency and cognition. The evolution of cognition faced a number of problems and major transitions from the appearance of unicellular motility to multicellularity, the origin of the nervous system, the appearance of bilateral symmetry and mechanically articulated bodies, until the appearance of encephalized and corticalized systems whose agential capacities are the result of a developmental process of self-monitored behavioral bootstrapping. Under certain body and environmental conditions the nervous system will evolve so as to make possible more plastic, flexible, and integrated (i.e., more complex) behavior. In turn, complex behavior requires the emergence of a new level of normativity and functionality in living beings, that provided by the developmental history of neural organization, leading to a progressive autonomy of sensorimotor interactions. In analogy with the far-from-equilibrium and self-sustained organization of living systems, the new form of neurodynamic organization found in higher animals can be called "Mental Life." The mind has a life of its own: a self-maintaining dynamic organization that remains open to its world in order to maintain its coherency and identity. We defend the claim that the appearance of an open process of sensorimotor interactions sustained by the nervous system and normatively regulated by its bioregulatory embodiment (an emotional world) gives rise to cognitive phenomena, embedded on but distinct from biological organization.
Dr. Xabier E. Barandiaran is a philosopher of biology, cognitive neuroscience, and robotics with a special focus on robotic simulation modelling techniques as integrative tools for the study of cognitive systems. He obtained his MSc on Evolutionary and Adaptive System from COGS, University of Sussex, UK, and his PhD on "Mental Life. A Naturalised Approach to the Autonomy of Cognitive Agents" (supervised by Prof. Alvaro Moreno) from the University of the Basque Country . He is currently a visiting researcher at the KLI and a post-doctoral researcher in the ICEA project (Integrating Cognition, Emotion, and Autonomy) at the Autonomous Systems Lab, School of Industrial Engineering, Polytechnical University of Madrid. His list of publications can be found at http://ehu.es/ias-research/barandiaran/publications