Volume 9 · Number 1 · Pages 73–84
Investigating Extended Embodiment Using a Computational Model and Human Experimentation

Yuki Sato, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami

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Context: Our body schema is not restricted to biological body boundaries (such as the skin), as can be seen in the use of a cane by a person who is visually impaired or the “rubber hands” experiment. The tool becomes a part of the body schema when the focus of our attention is shifted from the tool to the task to be performed. Problem: A body schema is formed through interactions among brain, body, tool, and environment. Nevertheless, the dynamic mechanisms underlying changes in the body schema are still not fully understood. Method: To study the changing conditions of the body schema (e.g., a shift of attention), a simulation model of object discrimination was extended to differentiate between two kinds of sensitivities – sensitivity to an object being directly manipulated and sensitivity to another object being manipulated by the first. The proposed model consisted of windmills with different numbers of vanes. A model agent was required to determine the number of vanes on a windmill by touching the vanes blindly with an arm controlled by a neural network. Placing a second windmill beside the first and gearing the two windmills to move associatively resulted in the agent using the first windmill as a tool with which to discern the number of vanes on the second windmill. In other words, an agent’s body schema can shift from its arm tip to the boundary between the first and second windmills. We then introduced an experiment with a real windmill model to test the hypothesis demonstrated by the theoretical model. Results: We demonstrated that even simple computational agents can have two different sensitivities to the windmills. One agent becomes sensitive to the first windmill and insensitive to the second one. Another agent becomes insensitive to the first windmill and sensitive to the second one by using the first one as a tool. Therefore, we concluded that the boundary of the body schema was extended to the first windmill in the case of the latter agent because paying attention to the task to be performed instead of the tool itself is essential for the tool to be considered as part of the body schema. Analysis of the experiments using a computational model and human experimentation revealed that a shift from an irregular to a regular movement of a windmill is an indication of extension of the body schema. Constructivist content: Our insights are beneficial for enactive cognitive science. This is because an extended body schema questions the Cartesian separation between subject and object, and the self and the environment.

Key words: Lived body, sensor-motor flow, emergent self, figure/ground reversal.


Sato Y., Iizuka H. & Ikegami T. (2013) Investigating extended embodiment using a computational model and human experimentation. Constructivist Foundations 9(1): 73–84. http://constructivist.info/9/1/073

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