Material Minds: a new collaborative project for Incipit

What material culture and its embodied visual search can tell us about mind and predictive brains

Material Minds (acronym XSCAPE) is a newly awarded ERC Synergy Grant project, as announced by the European Research Council on Nov 5, 2020; find below the link.

The Material Minds research problem is, in short: How do the worlds we build alter our own minds and the ways we process information? Do the material structures of our settlements, buildings, roads, and artefacts actively change patterns of thought and attention, so that understanding change in these ‘material codes’ becomes part and parcel of understanding the emergence of the modern mind?



To answer these questions, the “Material Minds” Project brings together a unique team from archaeology, vision science, and cognitive philosophy. Using a carefully curated set of materials, spanning a range of cultures and a wide sweep of archaeological, historic, ethnoarchaeological and contemporary settings, we aim to test, for the first time, the hypothesis of materiality-driven cognitive change. To this end we will use a new synergistic methodology that combines multiple real-world case studies with state-of-the-art visual neuroscience, and simple agent-based simulations.

The project relies in 41 different world-wide case studies. Together, these will constitute the largest ecological experiment on embodied visual perception ever attempted. A couple of successful pilot studies (below) using eye-tracking analysis and an active inference based simulation study applied to the visual exploration of archaeological artefacts already demonstrated the scientific and practical feasibility of the approach. The project will use the emerging paradigm known as ‘predictive processing’ which describes a principled means of linking perception, attention, and actions (including eye-movements) with cognitive change and learning. This will deliver insights into the fundamental principles that may be guiding materiality-driven cognitive change.



Using a unique combination of archaeological materials, visual neuroscience, and simulation-based studies, XSCAPE will deliver the first fully-integrated framework for understanding the potent yet ill-understood cycles by which we humans make and transform the landscapes, practices, and artefacts that make and transform our minds. Thus, the project will explore how material artefacts and active engagement alter and transform human thought and patterns of attention. It aims to shed new light on the many ways, and the many interacting timescales, in which materiality affects cognition. Along the way, we hope to address and resolve how artefactual evolution correlates with, even if not always help cause, deep and abiding cognitive change. “Materiality” here refers to material culture: human made cultural artefacts that include portable objects but also buildings, landscapes and ornamentations.

By synergistically combining frontline cognitive scientific work on visual search and embodied interaction with detailed archaeological and historical scholarship, a better understanding of this topic will offer new insights into the ways humans build worlds that alter and transform human minds. We use the XSCAPE acronym to capture the idea of many interacting arenas (landscapes, cityscapes, skyscapes, seascapes) each involving different sets of opportunities and constraints.

The Principal Investigators of XSCAPE are Felipe Criado-Boado (corresponding PI) of the Incipit, plus Luis M. Martínez-Otero of the Institute of Neurosciences (joint centre of CSIC and UMH), Andy Clark, of the Departments of Informatics and Philosophy of the University of Sussex, and Johannes Müller, of the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology of Kiel University. The total funding of the project is euro 10 million and will last six full years. The project team will join 42 researchers and technicians, plus a big net of collaborators for field case studies in different countries. We´ll keep informing about the development and outputs from the project. First and last, XSCAPE will address innovative ways to engage the public and the citizenship in different stages of the research and will produce an open repository to provide full open access to the raw data and outcomes produced by the project.

Publications:

Criado-Boado, F., Alonso-Pablos, D., Blanco, M.J. … & Martínez, Luis M. Coevolution of visual behaviour, the material world and social complexity, depicted by the eye-tracking of archaeological objects in humans. Sci Rep 9, 3985 (2019). doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39661-w

Constant, A., Tschantz, A., Millidge, B., Criado-Boado, F., Martinez, L. M., Müller, J., & Clark, A. (2020, September 3). The Acquisition of Culturally Patterned Attention Styles under Active Inference. doi: https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/rchaf

ERC press release and the full list of winning projects: https://erc.europa.eu/news/erc-2020-synergy-grants-results

Material Minds: a new collaborative project for Incipit

What material culture and its embodied visual search can tell us about mind and predictive brains

Material Minds (acronym XSCAPE) is a newly awarded ERC Synergy Grant project, as announced by the European Research Council on Nov 5, 2020; find below the link.

The Material Minds research problem is, in short: How do the worlds we build alter our own minds and the ways we process information? Do the material structures of our settlements, buildings, roads, and artefacts actively change patterns of thought and attention, so that understanding change in these ‘material codes’ becomes part and parcel of understanding the emergence of the modern mind?



To answer these questions, the “Material Minds” Project brings together a unique team from archaeology, vision science, and cognitive philosophy. Using a carefully curated set of materials, spanning a range of cultures and a wide sweep of archaeological, historic, ethnoarchaeological and contemporary settings, we aim to test, for the first time, the hypothesis of materiality-driven cognitive change. To this end we will use a new synergistic methodology that combines multiple real-world case studies with state-of-the-art visual neuroscience, and simple agent-based simulations.

The project relies in 41 different world-wide case studies. Together, these will constitute the largest ecological experiment on embodied visual perception ever attempted. A couple of successful pilot studies (below) using eye-tracking analysis and an active inference based simulation study applied to the visual exploration of archaeological artefacts already demonstrated the scientific and practical feasibility of the approach. The project will use the emerging paradigm known as ‘predictive processing’ which describes a principled means of linking perception, attention, and actions (including eye-movements) with cognitive change and learning. This will deliver insights into the fundamental principles that may be guiding materiality-driven cognitive change.



Using a unique combination of archaeological materials, visual neuroscience, and simulation-based studies, XSCAPE will deliver the first fully-integrated framework for understanding the potent yet ill-understood cycles by which we humans make and transform the landscapes, practices, and artefacts that make and transform our minds. Thus, the project will explore how material artefacts and active engagement alter and transform human thought and patterns of attention. It aims to shed new light on the many ways, and the many interacting timescales, in which materiality affects cognition. Along the way, we hope to address and resolve how artefactual evolution correlates with, even if not always help cause, deep and abiding cognitive change. “Materiality” here refers to material culture: human made cultural artefacts that include portable objects but also buildings, landscapes and ornamentations.

By synergistically combining frontline cognitive scientific work on visual search and embodied interaction with detailed archaeological and historical scholarship, a better understanding of this topic will offer new insights into the ways humans build worlds that alter and transform human minds. We use the XSCAPE acronym to capture the idea of many interacting arenas (landscapes, cityscapes, skyscapes, seascapes) each involving different sets of opportunities and constraints.

The Principal Investigators of XSCAPE are Felipe Criado-Boado (corresponding PI) of the Incipit, plus Luis M. Martínez-Otero of the Institute of Neurosciences (joint centre of CSIC and UMH), Andy Clark, of the Departments of Informatics and Philosophy of the University of Sussex, and Johannes Müller, of the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology of Kiel University. The total funding of the project is euro 10 million and will last six full years. The project team will join 42 researchers and technicians, plus a big net of collaborators for field case studies in different countries. We´ll keep informing about the development and outputs from the project. First and last, XSCAPE will address innovative ways to engage the public and the citizenship in different stages of the research and will produce an open repository to provide full open access to the raw data and outcomes produced by the project.

Publications:

Criado-Boado, F., Alonso-Pablos, D., Blanco, M.J. … & Martínez, Luis M. Coevolution of visual behaviour, the material world and social complexity, depicted by the eye-tracking of archaeological objects in humans. Sci Rep 9, 3985 (2019). doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39661-w

Constant, A., Tschantz, A., Millidge, B., Criado-Boado, F., Martinez, L. M., Müller, J., & Clark, A. (2020, September 3). The Acquisition of Culturally Patterned Attention Styles under Active Inference. doi: https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/rchaf

ERC press release and the full list of winning projects: https://erc.europa.eu/news/erc-2020-synergy-grants-results