Embodiment and Enactivism

In Benjamin D. Young & Carolyn Dicey Jennings (ed.), Mind, Cognition, and Neuroscience: A Philosophical Introduction (2022)


Typically, we think of the brain as responsible for cognition. But the brain is, importantly, embedded in a body—a body that moves around and interacts with features of the environment. What role, then, does the body play in cognition? Some philosophers would argue that it has no significant role in determining how we think about cognitive processing. But others argue that the body is fundamental to cognition, because the body is deeply involved with cognitive processes such as acting and perceiving. Embodied and enactive cognition are theories that emphasize the importance of the body in understanding cognition. This chapter discusses how some philosophers and cognitive scientists have investigated bodily involvement in cognition. We begin in Section 1 by providing an overview of the historical developments that influenced enactive and embodied cognitive science, namely, phenomenology, ecological psychology, and the phenomenological critique of artificial intelligence. We show how these developments were advanced by the introduction of dynamical systems theorizing in psychology and situatedness in robotics. Embodied, extended cognition and enactivism are then introduced as theories that emerge from this discussion. In Section 2, we consider some key debates in embodiment and enactivism, including those over the role of representations and the status of dynamical modeling. We end in Section 3 by highlighting some of the innovative research developments that have come out of an embodied approach to cognition, with a focus on insights regarding social cognition.

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Amanda Corris
Wake Forest University
Anthony Chemero
University of Cincinnati

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