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Multiscale contextual emergence of neural dynamics, cognition, and action

Michael Silberstein (2023). ​ Multiscale contextual emergence of neural dynamics, cognition and action.

Journal of Multiscale Neuroscience 2(1), 221-239    



There is growing evidence that brain processes involve multiscale overlapping networks and that the mapping between such neural processes and cognitive functions is many-to-many. So, the answer to the question what spatiotemporal scales in the brain are most relevant for cognition, action, experience, etc., is that several inextricably interconnected and integrated scales are relevant. There is also growing evidence that brains and embodied agents (people) are part of “larger” distributed “bio-psycho-social networks.” One cannot fully appreciate what brains do and how they work in isolation from these larger multiscale, multi-level, and multi-faceted “4E” networks (embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive). Nor can one explain human experience, cognition, or action without such an understanding. Establishing these claims is the purpose of this paper. Part 1 will unpack the claim that the brain itself is best viewed as several multiscale, dynamical, multifunctional, coordinated, and fully integrated overlapping networks. Furthermore, such individual brain networks and conscious cognitive agents are embedded in “larger” “4E” dynamical networks. Part 2 argues that the best characterization of such 4E networks is not in terms of mechanistic reduction or modularity, but contextual emergence. Part 3 will draw key connections between contextual emergence and the related work of other philosophers and neuroscientists. Lastly, Part 3 will conclude that conscious cognitive agents are reasonably conceived of as highly non-decomposable “4E” contextually emergent multiscale dynamical systems. In short, people are not brains and brains are not computers.

Keywords:   Multiscale overlapping brain networks; 4E cognition; contextual emergence.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest

This article belongs to the Special Issue

                      The Mind and the Brain: A Multiscale Interpretation of Cognitive Brain Functionality                   Lead Editor:

                       Prof Michael J Spivey, Author of "The Continuity of Mind".

                       Department of Cognitive and Information Sciences,
                       University of California, Merced, USA

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