Catching Ourselves in the Act

From Complex Adaptive Systems

Catching Ourselves in the Act

Situated Activity, Interactive Emergence, Evolution, and Human Thought

By Horst Hendriks-Jansen

A Bradford Book





Catching Ourselves in the Act uses situated robotics, ethology, and developmental psychology to erect a new framework for explaining human behavior. Rejecting the cognitive science orthodoxy that formal task-descriptions and their implementation are fundamental to an explanation of mind, Horst Hendriks-Jansen argues for an alternative model based on the notion of interactive emergence.

Situated activity and interactive emergence are concepts that derive from the new discipline of autonomous agent research. Hendriks-Jansen puts these notions on a firm philosophical basis and uses them to anchor a "genetic" or "historical" explanation of mental phenomena in species-typical activity patterns that have been selected by a cultural environment of artifacts, language, and intentional scaffolding by adults. Situated robotics, allied with techniques and principles from ethology, allows the testing of hypotheses framed in terms of natural kinds that can be grounded through the theory of natural selection. This approach negotiates the "nature versus nurture" dispute in a radically new way.

Catching Ourselves in the Act provides a thorough overview of autonomous agent research in America and Europe, focusing in particular on work by such eminent researchers as Rodney Brooks, Pattie Maes, Maja Mataric, and Rolf Pfeifer. It reassesses the basic principles of artificial life and explores the repercussions of autonomous agent research for human psychology and the philosophy of mind, as well as its affinities with the "contextual revolution" in sociology and anthropology.

A Bradford Book. Complex Adaptive Systems


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262082464 379 pp. | 6.3 in x 9 in


  • Another shot across the bows of the establishment in the new cognitive revolution, Hendriks-Jansen takes us through various stances to the problems of intelligence, its evolution, engineering, and development. A broad spectrum of such perspectives is carefully considered in terms of their explanatory value, in the course of which a new agenda is unfolded which is dynamic, situated and historic in approach. It is cognitive behaviorism with an open mind.

    Brendan McGonigle

    Director, Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience and Intelligence Systems, and Reader in Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Edinburgh

  • This is a provocative and wide-ranging book. It combines a radical critique of current cognitive science with constructive suggestions about other explanatory possibilities. Behavioral science, as a result, looks even more difficult than we always knew it was—and even more interesting.

    Margaret A. Boden

    Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, University of Sussex; editor, Dimensions of Creativity

  • For 40 years the computational model of the mind has been the mainstay of cognitive psychology and AI. Now, in fields as diverse as situated robotics, ethology and infant development, this model is being discarded; it is more rewarding to describe cognition as arising from a personal history of the situated, embodied experience. In this wide-ranging and important book, Hendriks-Jansen shows through careful, detailed analysis how this perspective can form the basis for a science of behavior. Required reading for those who want to follow through the implications of these new ideas.

    Dr. Inman Harvey

    Research Fellow in Evolutionary Robotics, University of Sussex

  • In Catching Ourselves in the Act, Horst Hendriks-Jansen has produced an impressive and scholarly book. This should be recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the role of scientific explanations within cognitive science, ethology, developmental psychology, and behavior-based robotics. It is an important study, crafting a synthesis from diverse sources to arrive at an exciting and persuasive conclusion which is likely to provoke fruitful debate.

    Maja J. Mataric

    Volen Center for Complex Systems, Computer Science Department, Brandeis University

  • This book presents a thorough, clear, and penetrating treatment of the full range of important concepts and ways of thinking in modern cognitive science and work on adaptive behavior. In so doing it provides a large part of the philosophical backing needed by behavior-based and situated robotics. It shows us how we really can let go of the classical notions and to what we need to take hold of in their stead. The more people who read this book, the better will be the practice of our science of cognitive and adaptive behavior.

    Tim Smithers

    Visiting Professor; Faculty of Informatics, University of the Basque Country

  • Catching Ourselves in the Act is no less than an attempt to explain intelligence. Delightful how the author dismantles traditional views in psychology, artificial intelligence, ethology, and philosophy. But he goes beyond criticism by providing alternative explanations, drawing on recent work in situated robotics. A masterpiece in combining detailed analysis with grand theorizing. A must for any cognitive scientist.

    Rolf Pfeifer

    AI Laboratory, Computer Science Department, University of Zurich