Embodied metacognition: how we feel our hearts to know our minds
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date23/11/2023
The aim of the present work is to make a plausible case for the phylogenetic origin of self-knowledge, one which is compatible with a prevalent view about its ontogenetic origin, the social-scaffolding view. Essentially, the phylogenetic origin is generally argued to be evaluative metacognition, i.e. a system of cognitive control mechanisms, while the ontogenetic origin is generally argued to be mindreading, i.e. cognitive capacities supporting mental state attribution. So put simply, the present work aims to provide a plausible solution to the problem of how to establish metacognition as a significant precursor to mindreading. Previous attempts to establish metacognition as an evolutionary precursor to mindreading have struggled to account for the exact relevance that metacognition has for the origin of self-knowledge. This present work analyses this struggle as first having to solve ‘the problem of triviality’, explain how metacognitive mechanisms are more sophisticated than mechanisms enabling basic cognitive feats. Once this problem is solved, however, the problem develops into having to show that the added layers of sophistication warrant construing metacognition as a significant precursor to self-knowledge. This latter problem is analysed as the ultimate problem, referred to here as simply ‘the problem of the origin of self-knowledge’. Thus, the present work seeks to offer a plausible solution to both of these problems. The solution to these problems is argued to be embodied metacognition, cognitive control mechanisms that enable conscious self-control of information-seeking behavior through the production of strongly embodied feedback signals. These feedback signals, often called ‘noetic feelings’, are theorized to motivate, demotivate, and guide cognitive acts to be more accurate. Here it is argued that these signals are strongly embodied, characterizing conscious emotional states constituted by psychological imperatives, states with external manifestations in the form of bodily expressions that can be detected, monitored, and regulated by individuals in the subject’s socio-cultural environment. To argue for this, I augment evaluative metacognition in light of evidence from recent interoception-based research in metacognition which reveals the degree to which noetic feelings are strongly embodied. They are thus argued to be cerebrally generated feedback signals produced by cognitive comparators that become intricately intertwined with bodily processes. Recent evidence suggests these signals come to fulfill their role in cognition through the conscious perception (the interoception) of internal bodily changes, specifically cardiovascular changes, and hence the subtitle of the present work, “How We Feel Our Hearts to Know Our Minds”. Reconceptualizing evaluative metacognition as embodied metacognition provides us with the tools for solving the two problems above. Concerning the first, mechanisms enabling conscious self-control of cognition are clearly more sophisticated than mechanisms that enable basic feats of cognition, such as reinforcement learning. Moreover, appealing to strongly embodied noetic feelings offers the possibility of solving the first problem in such a manner that the second problem is also solved. As conscious expressions of emotions, noetic feelings demand robust information-seeking behaviours and manifest feelings of confidence and uncertainty externally, thus they are well-suited to link metacognition to the social-scaffolding view about the origin of self-knowledge.