Material Minds: Exploring the Interactions between Predictive Brains, Cultural Artefacts, and Embodied Visual Search

Led by
Felipe Criado-Boado (Archaeology)
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 XSCAPE 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 historic 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 practical core of the project comprises a series of 41 different world-wide case studies. Together, these will constitute the largest ecological experiment on embodied visual perception ever attempted. A successful Pilot Study (described in detail in the main text) using eye-tracking analysis as applied to the visual exploration of archaeological artefacts already demonstrates the scientific and practical feasibility of our approach. For the simulations, we will use the emerging paradigm known as ‘active inference’ 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 this 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.
Archaeology. Cognitive Sciences. Predictive Brain. Situated Cognition. Mind. Visual Cognition. Material Culture. Agency. Visual Statistics. Cognitive Primitives. Perception. Inference. Causality. Attention. Visual Search. Gestural Exploration. Human Behaviour. Social Complexity. Architecture. Landscape perception.
05/11/2020 - 30/09/2027
Kind of participation
Funding mode
Public in competition
Research sub-lines
Landscape Archaeology and Cultural Landscapes
Material Culture and Formalization Processes of Cultural Heritage
Departament of Philosophy - Univ of Sussez
Department of Informatics -Univ of Sussez
Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology - Kiel
Instituto de Neurociencias del CSIC
European Research Council-ERC