The binary divide between traditional cognitivist and enactivist paradigms is tied to their respective commitments to understanding cognition as based on knowing that as opposed to knowing how. Using O’Regan’s and No¨e’s landmark sensorimotor contingency theory of perceptual experience as a foil, I demonstrate how easy it is to fall into conservative thinking. Although their account is advertised as decidedly ‘skill-based’, on close inspection it shows itself to be riddled with suppositions threatening to reduce it to a rules-and-representations approach. To (...) remain properly enactivist it must be purged of such commitments and indeed all commitment to mediating knowledge: it must embrace a more radical enactivism. (shrink)
According to the view that has become known as the extended mind , some token mental processes extend into the cognizing organism’s environment in that they are composed (partly) of manipulative, exploitative, and transformative operations performed by that subject on suitable environmental structures. Enactivist models understand mental processes as (partly) constituted by sensorimotor knowledge and by the organism’s ability to act, in appropriate ways, on environmental structures. Given the obvious similarities between the two views, it is both tempting and common (...) to regard them as essentially variations on the same theme. In this paper, I shall argue that the similarities between enactivist and extended models of cognition are relatively superficial, and the divergences are deeper than commonly thought. (shrink)
Although the enactive approach has been very successful in explaining many basic social interactions in terms of embodied practices, there is still much work to be done when it comes to higher forms of social cognition. In this article, we discuss and evaluate two recent proposals by Shaun Gallagher and Daniel Hutto that try to bridge this ‘cognitive gap’ by appealing to the notion of narrative practice. Although we are enthusiastic about these proposals, we argue that (i) it is difficult (...) to see them as continuous with the enactivist notion of direct coupling, and (ii) the failure to account for folk psychological action interpretation suggests that the enactive approach should adopt a broader notion of coupling. (shrink)
The full scope of enactivist approaches to cognition includes not only a focus on sensory-motor contingencies and physical affordances for action, but also an emphasis on affective factors of embodiment and intersubjective affordances for social interaction. This strong conception of embodied cognition calls for a new way to think about the role of the brain in the larger system of brain-body-environment. We ask whether recent work on predictive coding offers a way to think about brain function in an enactive system, (...) and we suggest that a positive answer is possible if we interpret predictive coding in a more enactive way, i.e., as involved in the organism’s dynamic adjustments to its environment. (shrink)
Researchers in the enactivist tradition have recently argued that social interaction can constitute social cognition, rather than simply serve as the context for social cognition. They contend that a focus on social interaction corrects the overemphasis on mechanisms inside the individual in the explanation of social cognition. I critically assess enactivism’s claims about the explanatory role of social interaction in social cognition. After sketching the enactivist approach to cognition in general and social cognition in particular, I identify problems with (...) an enactivist taxonomy of roles for social interaction in the explanation of social cognition (contextual, enabling, and constitutive). In particular, I show that this enactivist taxonomy does not clearly distinguish between enabling conditions and constitutive elements, which would make them in danger of committing the coupling-constitution fallacy found in some attempts to extend cognition. I explore resources enactivism has to more clearly demarcate constitutive parts of a cognitive system, but identify problems in applying them to some of the main cases of social cognition enactivists characterize as being constituted by social interaction. I offer the mechanistic approach to explanation as an alternative that captures much of what enactivists want to say about the relations between social and individual levels, but views social interactions from the perspective of embedded cognition rather than as being constitutive of social cognition. (shrink)
In this review of Hutto and Myin's Radicalizing Enactivism, I question the adequacy of a non-representational theory of mind. I argue first that such a theory cannot differentiate cognition from other bodily engagements such as wrestling with an opponent. Second, I question whether the simple robots constructed by Rodney Brooks are adequate as models of multimodal organisms. Last, I argue that Hutto and Myin pay very little attention to how semantically interacting representations are needed to give an account of (...) choice and action. (shrink)
Among the many ideas that go by the name of “enactivism” there is the idea that by “cognition” we should understand what is more commonly taken to be behavior. For clarity, label such forms of enactivism “enactivismb.” This terminology requires some care in evaluating enactivistb claims. There is a genuine risk of enactivist and non-enactivist cognitive scientists talking past one another. So, for example, when enactivistsb write that “cognition does not require representations” they are not necessarily denying what (...) cognitivists claim when they write that “cognition requires representations.” This paper will draw attention to instances of some of these unnecessary confusions. (shrink)
In their recent book Radicalizing Enactivism. Basic minds without content, Dan Hutto and Erik Myin make two important criticisms of what they call autopoietic enactivism. These two criticisms are that AE harbours tacit representationalists commitments and that it has too liberal a conception of cognition. Taking the latter claim as its main focus, this paper explores the theoretical underpinnings of AE in order to tease out how it might respond to H&M. In so doing it uncovers some reasons (...) which not only appear to warrant H&M’s initial claims but also seem to point to further uneasy tensions within the AE framework. The paper goes beyond H&M by tracing the roots of these criticisms and apparent tensions to phenomenology and the role it plays in AE’s distinctive conception of strong life-mind continuity. It is highlighted that this phenomenological dimension of AE contains certain unexamined anthropomorphic and anthropogenic leanings which do not sit comfortably within its wider commitment to life-mind continuity. In light of this analysis it is suggested that AE will do well to rethink this role or ultimately run the risk of remaining theoretically unstable. The paper aims to contribute to the ongoing theoretical development of AE by highlighting potential internal tensions within its framework which need to be addressed in order for it to continue to evolve as a coherent paradigm. (shrink)
In this chapter, I examine how Dewey circumnavigated debates between empiricists and a priorists by showing that active bodies can perform integrative operations traditionally attributed to “inner” mechanisms, and how he thereby realized developments at which the artificial intelligence, robotics and cognitive science communities only later arrived. Some of his ideas about experience being constituted through skills actively deployed in cultural settings were inspired by ancient Greek sources. Thus in some of his more radical moments, Dewey refined rather than invented (...) the wheel, and I suggest that prominent embodiment figures have done the same, Dewey having anticipated them, particularly Noë and his version of enactivism. I urge that cognitive science may progress into relatively unexplored territory by traveling Dewey’s historically sensitive path. (shrink)
The concept of “autonomy”, once at the core of the original enactivist proposal in The Embodied Mind, is nowadays ignored or neglected by some of the most prominent contemporary enactivists approaches. Theories of autonomy, however, come to fill a theoretical gap that sensorimotor accounts of cognition cannot ignore: they provide a naturalized account of normativity and the resources to ground the identity of a cognitive subject in its specific mode of organization. There are, however, good reasons for the contemporary neglect (...) of autonomy as a relevant concept for enactivism. On the one hand, the concept of autonomy has too often been assimilated into autopoiesis and the implications are not always clear for a dynamical sensorimotor approach to cognitive science. On the other hand, the foundational enactivist proposal displays a metaphysical tension between the concept of operational closure, deployed as constitutive, and that of structural coupling ; making it hard to reconcile with the claim that experience is sensorimotorly constituted. This tension is particularly apparent when Varela et al. propose Bittorio as a model of the operational closure of the nervous system as it fails to satisfy the required conditions for a sensorimotor constitution of experience. It is, however, possible to solve these problems by re-considering autonomy at the level of sensorimotor neurodynamics. Two recent robotic simulation models are used for this task, illustrating the notion of strong sensorimotor dependency of neurodynamic patterns, and their networked intertwinement. The concept of habit is proposed as an enactivist building block for cognitive theorizing, re-conceptualizing mental life as a habit ecology, tied within an agent’s behaviour generating mechanism in coordination with its environment. Norms can be naturalized in terms of dynamic, interactively self-sustaining, coherentism. This conception of autonomous sensorimotor agency is put in contrast with those enactive approaches that reject autonomy or neglect the theoretical resources it has to offer for the project of naturalizing minds. (shrink)
The transparency of perceptual experience has been invoked in support of many views about perception. I argue that it supports a form of enactivism—the view that capacities for perceptual experience and for intentional agency are essentially interdependent. I clarify the perceptual phenomenon at issue, and argue that enactivists should expect to find a parallel instance of transparency in our agentive experience, and that the two forms of transparency are constitutively interdependent. I then argue that i) we do indeed find (...) such parallels: the way in which an action is directed towards its goal through our bodily movements parallels the way in which an experience is directed towards its object through our perceptual sensation, and ii) reflecting on sensorimotor skills shows why the two instances of transparency are constitutively interdependent. Section 4 gives reasons for generalizing beyond the cases considered so far by applying the enactive view to Kohler's landmark studies of perceptual adaptation. The final section clarifies the form of enactivism to which the previous sections point. The view that emerges is one whereby our perceptual and practical skills are interrelated aspects of a single capacity to have one's mind intentionally directed upon the world. The transparency of experience, on this view, is achieved in virtue of our capacities as agents as much as it is given in virtue of our capacities as perceivers. (shrink)
Education theorists have emphasized that transformative learning is not simply a matter of students gaining access to new knowledge and information, but instead centers upon personal transformation: it alters students’ perspectives, interpretations, and responses. How should learning that brings about this sort of self-transformation be understood from the perspectives of philosophy of mind and cognitive science? Jack Mezirow has described transformative learning primarily in terms of critical reflection, meta-cognitive reasoning, and the questioning of assumptions and beliefs. And within mainstream philosophy (...) of mind, there has been a long-standing assumption that cognition and thought are brain-based, computational, disembodied processes that occur separately from emotion and affect. According to this view, selftransformation might be construed as the forging of new neural connections and the development of new cognitive “programs.” However, I will argue that the literature on embodiment and enactivism that has emerged in recent years offers us a different and more productive way to conceptualize the intended effects of transformative learning. From the standpoint of enactivism, the experience of transformative learning is thoroughly bound up with the cognitive shifts that it involves, and it also involves significant changes to the neurobiological dynamics of the living body. Moreover, personal transformation is not simply something that happens to subjects, but rather a process in which they are actively and dynamically engaged. In addition, this enactivist approach emphasizes that the learning process is fully embodied and fundamentally affective. From a phenomenological perspective, personal transformation can be understood as a pronounced alteration in cognitive-affective orientation; and from a neurobiological perspective, the development of new habits of mind can be understood as the formation of highly integrated patterns of bodily engagement and response. The upshot is that it is not just subjects’ brains that are altered over the course of transformative learning, but also their overall bodily and affective attunement to their surroundings. (shrink)
Optimising the 4E revolution in cognitive science arguably requires the rejection of two guiding commitments made by orthodox thinking in the field, namely that the material realisers of cognitive states and processes are located entirely inside the head, and that intelligent thought and action are to be explained in terms of the building and manipulation of content-bearing representations. In other words, the full-strength 4E revolution would be secured only by a position that delivered externalism plus antirepresentationalism. I argue that one (...) view in 4E space—extended functionalism—is appropriately poised to deliver externalism but not antirepresentationalism. By contrast, in the case of a competing 4E view—radical enactivism—even if that view can deliver antirepresentationalism, its pivotal notion of extensiveness falls short of establishing externalism. These conclusions are justified via an examination of, and by responding critically to, certain key arguments offered in support of their view by the radical enactivists. (shrink)
The sensorimotor theory of perceptual consciousness offers a form of enactivism in that it stresses patterns of interaction instead of any alleged internal representations of the environment. But how does it relate to forms of enactivism stressing the continuity between life and mind? We shall distinguish sensorimotor enactivism, which stresses perceptual capacities themselves, from autopoietic enactivism, which claims an essential connection between experience and autopoietic processes or associated background capacities. We show how autopoiesis, autonomous agency, and (...) affective dimensions of experience may fit into sensorimotor enactivism, and we identify differences between this interpretation and autopoietic enactivism. By taking artificial consciousness as a case in point, we further sharpen the distinction between sensorimotor enactivism and autopoietic enactivism. We argue that sensorimotor enactivism forms a strong default position for an enactive account of perceptual consciousness. (shrink)
Many psychopathological disorders – clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) – are commonly classified as disorders of the self. In an intuitive sense this sort of classification is unproblematic. There can be no doubt that such disorders make a difference to one’s ability to form and maintain a coherent sense of oneself in various ways. However, any theoretically rigourous attempt to show that they relate to underlying problems with say, such things as minimal selves or, (...) even, so-called narrative selves – where these latter constructs are invoked to do genuine explanatory work – would require, inter alia, philosophical clarification of what it is that one is precisely committed to in talking of such things (if things they be). It would also require justification for believing in selves of these various kinds. I have elsewhere put on record some of my worries about proposed justifications for believing in minimal selves (Hutto 2008b). But – lest I be accused of favouritism – it should be noted that I also have concerns about the very idea of narrative selves. Several authors have made strong claims about the role of narratives in self constitution (e.g. Dennett 1991, Flanagan 1996, Schechtman 1996). Under standard interpretations these proposals are ambiguous, underdeveloped in key respects, embed obvious tensions or generate puzzles. For these reasons I think we should be cautious of lax talk of selves that are woven from narrative cloth. This is not to say that I agree with Strawson (2004) that adopting a narrative perspective might not be essential for being a self (or at least being a self of a certain sort – even an ethically interesting sort).1 It is rather that I think that before we get around to assessing such claims we need a better understanding of just what we are committed to in talking of selves in general. This is a major philosophical programme, and not one with which I will attempt to engage in this paper – not even in passing.. (shrink)
This paper contrasts two enactive theories of visual experience: the sensorimotor theory (O’Regan and Noë, Behav Brain Sci 24(5):939–1031, 2001; Noë and O’Regan, Vision and mind, 2002; Noë, Action in perception, 2004) and Susan Hurley’s (Consciousness in action, 1998, Synthese 129:3–40, 2001) theory of active perception. We criticise the sensorimotor theory for its commitment to a distinction between mere sensorimotor behaviour and cognition. This is a distinction that is firmly rejected by Hurley. Hurley argues that personal level cognitive abilities emerge (...) out of a complex dynamic feedback system at the subpersonal level. Moreover reflection on the role of eye movements in visual perception establishes a further sense in which a distinction between sensorimotor behaviour and cognition cannot be sustained. The sensorimotor theory has recently come under critical fire (see e.g. Block, J Philos CII(5):259–272, 2005; Prinz, Psyche, 12(1):1–19, 2006; Aizawa, J Philos CIV(1), 2007) for mistaking a merely causal contribution of action to perception for a constitutive contribution. We further argue that the sensorimotor theory is particularly vulnerable to this objection in a way that Hurley’s active perception theory is not. This presents an additional reason for preferring Hurley’s theory as providing a conceptual framework for the enactive programme. (shrink)
O’Regan and Noë’s sensorimotor approach rejects the old-fashioned view that perceptual experience in humans depends solely on the activation of internal representations. Reflecting a wealth of empirical work, for example active vision, the approach suggests that perceiving is, instead, a matter of bodily exploration of the outside environment. To this end, the approach says the perceiver must deploy knowledge of sensorimotor contingencies, the ways sense input changes with movement by the perceiver or object perceived. Clark has observed that the approach (...) faces a challenge accounting for the experience of temporal duration, since event-like properties cannot be characterised by reference to the sensory consequences of possible movements. This paper argues that the account can best be shored up by emphasising, more than Noë does, the dependence of perceptual experience, in general, on temporally extended, organismic interaction with the outside environment. The paper argues, moreover, that an ‘extensionalist’ account of temporal experience could help make sense of object experience, which is itself, plausibly, an experience of temporal duration. (shrink)
Susan Hurley (1998a, 2003a, 2008) argues that our capacities for perception, agency and thought are essentially interdependent and co-emerge from a tangle of sensorimotor processes that are both cause and effect of the web of interactive and communicative practices they weave us into. In this paper, I reconstruct this view and its main motivations, with a particular focus on three important aspects. First, Hurley argues that an essential aspect of conscious perception – its perspectival unity – constitutively depends on agency. (...) That is, agency is a transcendental condition on the possibility of perception (§3). Second, understanding why this dependence obtains involves understanding why perception and agency emerge together, and how they do so on the basis of a web of interrelated capacities for sensorimotor control (§2, §4). Third, understanding these first two aspects of Hurley’s view is the key to understanding the sophisticated interplay between i) her arguments for the causal interdependence of sensory input and motor output, and ii) her arguments for the essential interdependence of perception and agency. (shrink)
In this book, Daniel Hutto and Erik Myin promote the cause of a radically enactive, embodied approach to cognition that holds that some kinds of minds -- basic minds -- are neither best explained by processes involving the manipulation of ...
The core claim of this paper is that mind minding of the sort required for the simplest and most pervasive forms of joint attentional activity is best understood and explained in non-representational, enactivist terms. In what follows I will attempt to convince the reader of its truth in three steps. The first step, section two, clarifies the target explanandum. The second step, section three, is wholly descriptive. It highlights the core features of a Radically Enactivist proposal about elementary mind minding, (...) revealing it to be at least a possible explanans. The final step is to consider the comparative virtues of the contending proposals; section four. The exercise is to decide which of the possible explanations is best. Various evidential appeals and theoretical considerations that might aid us in this choice are reviewed. The conclusion is that the scales would be tipped in favour of the Radical Enactivist option, decisively, if it should turn out that there is (1) no reason to believe that basic forms of mentality are representational (in a semantically contentful way) and (2) if no good theory is likely to explain how they could be so. It is concluded that all that we need for understanding basic forms of intentional (with a ‘t’) mentality and what it takes to attend to basic cases of mind minding. (shrink)
Does the material basis of conscious experience extend beyond the boundaries of the brain and central nervous system? In Clark 2009 I reviewed a number of ‘enactivist’ arguments for such a view and found none of them compelling. Ward (2012) rejects my analysis on the grounds that the enactivist deploys an essentially world-involving concept of experience that transforms the argumentative landscape in a way that makes the enactivist conclusion inescapable. I present an alternative (prediction-and-generative-model-based) account that neatly accommodates all the (...) positive evidence that Ward cites on behalf of this enactivist conception, and that (I argue) makes richer and more satisfying contact with the full sweep of human experience. (shrink)
We distinguish between three philosophical views on the neuroscience of predictive models: predictive coding, predictive processing and predictive engagement. We examine the concept of active inference under each model and then ask how this concept informs discussions of social cognition. In this context we consider Frith and Friston’s proposal for a neural hermeneutics, and we explore the alternative model of enactivist hermeneutics.
This commentary will seek to clarify certain core features of Thompson’s proposal about the enactive nature of basic mentality, as best it can, and to bring his ideas into direct conversation with accounts of basic cognition of the sort favoured by analytical philosophers of mind and more traditional cognitive scientists – i.e. those who tend to be either suspicious or critical of enactive/embodied approaches (to the extent that they confess to understanding them at all). My proposed way of opening up (...) this sort of dialogue is to concentrate on the close similarities between Thompson’s biologically-based proposal about non-representational forms of basic cognition and what I take to be a reasonable modification to the ambitions of teleosemantic theories of content. Insofar as today’s theories of mental representation are less concerned to understand content in properly semantic terms they are moving ever closer to the sorts of account proposed by enactivists of the Thompsonian stripe – close enough to have meaningful debates about the nature of basic mentality. It is against this backdrop that I put a spotlight on the true promise and value of enactivism, providing some compelling reasons for wanting to go Thompson’s way. (shrink)
This chapter uses one particular proposal for interdisciplinary collaboration – in this case, between early Heideggerian phenomenology and enactivist cognitive science – as an example of how such partnerships may confront and negotiate tensions between the perspectives they bring together. The discussion begins by summarising some of the intersections that render Heideggerian and enactivist thought promising interlocutors for each other. It then moves on to explore how Heideggerian enactivism could respond to the challenge of reconciling the significant differences in (...) the ways that each discourse seeks to apply the structures it claims to uncover. (shrink)
Over the course of the past few decades 4E approaches that theorize cognition and agency as embodied, embedded, extended, and/or enactive have garnered growing support from figures working in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Correspondingly, there has been a rising interest in the wider conceptual and practical implications of 4E views. Several proposals have for instance been made regarding 4E’s bearing on ethical theory, 505–526, 2009; Cash, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 9, 645–671 2010). In this paper I contribute (...) to this trend by critically examining the enactive contribution made by Colombetti and Torrance, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8, 505–526 and by laying the foundations for an alternative enactive approach. Building off recent enactive approaches to social interaction, Colombetti and Torrance, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8, maintain that many of our actions and intentions “and in particular the ethical significance of what we do and mean” are “emergent from the interactions in which we participate”. Taking this seriously, they argue, entails a radical shift away from moral theory’s traditional emphasis on individual or personal responsibility. I challenge their suggestion that accepting a broadly enactive 4E approach to cognition and agency entails the kind of wholesale shift they propose. To make my case I start by revisiting some of the general theoretical commitments characteristic of enactivism, including some relevant insights that can be gathered from Vasudevi Reddy’s broadly enactive approach to developmental psychology. After that I examine both the arguments internal to Colombetti and Torrance’s proposal and, in an effort to sketch the beginnings of an alternative view, I draw some connections between enactivism, the ethics of care and P.F. Strawson’s work on personal responsibility. I believe that a consideration of the commonalities but also the differences between these views helps advance the important conversation concerning the link between enactivism and questions of personal responsibility in ethical theory that Colombetti and Torrance have undeniably helped jumpstart. (shrink)
I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.A pen is a machine to think with.The writer engages the world not only by living in and reflecting it but also by two dynamic processes, one sensory/motor, the other social. The former involves cycles of writing, reading what has been written, responding to it, and writing again; the latter involves writing, reading to an audience, responding to their reactions, and writing again. Dynamic processes involving brain (...) and world, via perception and behavior, have been of great interest to philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists in recent decades. In contrast to classical cognitive science, enactivism proposes... (shrink)
After establishing its roots in basic forms of sensorimotor coupling between an organism and its environment, the new wave in cognitive science known as “enactivism” has turned to higher-level cognition, in an attempt to prove that even socioculturally mediated meaning-making processes can be accounted for in enactivist terms. My article tries to bolster this case by focusing on how the production and interpretation of stories can shape the value landscape of those who engage with them. First, it builds on (...) the idea that narrative plays a key role in expressing the values held by a society, in order to argue that the interpretation of stories cannot be understood in abstraction from the background of storytelling in which we are always already involved. Second, it presents interpretation as an example of what Di Paolo et al. ( 2010 ) have called in their recent enactivist manifesto a “joint process of sensemaking”: just like in face-to-face interaction, the recipient of the story collaborates with the authorial point of view, generating meaning. Third, it traces the meaning brought into the world by interpretation to the activation and, potentially, the restructuring of the background of the recipients of the story. (shrink)
Enactivism has, perhaps, come to mean different things to different people. The version of enactivism that I am going to build on in this paper is that defended in my book The New Science of the Mind (henceforth NSM). That view is, I think, recognizably enactivist. Others might disagree, and I myself not only characterized it in other terms but was careful to distinguish it from other views that fall under the rubric "enactivist." However, the view I defended (...) is, I think, recognizably enactivist to the extent it regards cognition as, in part, made up of processes whereby an individual manipulates, transforms, and/or exploits structures in its environment. These structures carry information that is relevant to the cognitive task in which the individual is engaged, and the processes are ones that transform this information from information that is merely present to information that is available to the individual. This was a common theme of all my ruminations on this topic, all the way back to The Body in Mind. (shrink)
In this paper, I take up the problem of the self through bringing together the insights, while correcting some of the shortcomings, of Indo–Tibetan Buddhist and enactivist accounts of the self. I begin with an examination of the Buddhist theory of non-self ( anātman ) and the rigorously reductionist interpretation of this doctrine developed by the Abhidharma school of Buddhism. After discussing some of the fundamental problems for Buddhist reductionism, I turn to the enactive approach to philosophy of mind and (...) cognitive science. I argue that human beings, as dynamic systems, are characterized by a high degree of self-organizing autonomy. Therefore, human beings are not reducible to the more basic mental and physical events that constitute them. I critically examine Francisco Varela’s enactivist account of the self as virtual and his use of Buddhist ideas in support of this view. I argue, in contrast, that while the self is emergent and constructed, it is not merely virtual. Finally I sketch a Buddhist-enactivist account of the self. I argue for a non-reductionist view of the self as an active, embodied, embedded, self-organizing process—what the Buddhists call ‘I’-making ( ahaṃkāra ). This emergent process of self-making is grounded in the fundamentally recursive processes that characterize lived experience: autopoiesis at the biological level, temporalization and self-reference at the level of conscious experience, and conceptual and narrative construction at the level of intersubjectivity. In Buddhist terms, I will develop an account of the self as dependently originated and empty, but nevertheless real. (shrink)
Enactivism has the potential to provide a sense of teleology in purpose-directed action, but without violating the principles of efficient causation. Action can be distinguished from mere reaction by virtue of the fact that some systems are self-organizing. Self-organization in the brain is reflected in neural plasticity, and also in the primacy of motivational processes that initiate the release of neurotransmitters necessary for mental and conscious functions, and which guide selective attention processes. But in order to flesh out the (...) enactivist approach in a way that is plausible and not merely an epiphenomenon, it is necessary to confront the problem of causal closure in a serious way. Atoms and molecules in the brain do not violate the normal causal principles that govern them in other contexts. The theory of self-organizing dynamical systems must be developed in a way that is compatible with causal closure rather than contradicting it. (shrink)
The paper deals with the enactivist approach to the problem of consciousness. The problem of consciousness is the problem of naturalistic explanation of phenomenal aspects of our experience. According to classical cognitive science, we can explain all mental states as functional, representational states. Many philosophers disagree with this view. They demonstrate that phenomenal qualities of conscious states cannot be understood in terms of mental representations. Contemporary debates about the nature of phenomenal qualities are the debates between representationalists and anti-representationalists. The (...) arguments proposed by anti-representationalists demonstrate the insufficiency of classical representational approach. But it doesn't mean that we should accept the existence of qualia - special nonrepresentational phenomenal properties. It is possible to defend representationalism by reconsidering the nature of mental representations. This article examines the transformation of the concept of mental representation in cognitive science over the last few decades. It demonstrates that the notion of representation in action discussed in enactivist theories can help us to provide the foundation for naturalistic understanding of conscious experience. (shrink)
Context: The majority of contemporary enactivist work is influenced by the philosophical biology of Hans Jonas. Jonas credits all living organisms with experience that involves particular “existential” structures: nascent forms of concern for self-preservation and desire for objects and outcomes that promote well-being. We argue that Jonas’s attitude towards living systems involves a problematic anthropomorphism that threatens to place enactivism at odds with cognitive science, and undermine its legitimate aims to become a new paradigm for scientific investigation and understanding (...) of the mind. Problem: Enactivism needs to address the tension between its Jonasian influences and its aspirations to become a new paradigm for cognitive science. By relying on Jonasian phenomenology, contemporary enactivism obscures alternative ways in which phenomenology can be more smoothly integrated with cognitive science. Method: We outline the historical relationship between enactivism and phenomenology, and explain why anthropomorphism is problematic for a research program that aspires to become a new paradigm for cognitive science. We examine the roots of Jonas’s existential interpretation of biological facts, and describe how and why Jonas himself understood his project as founded on an anthropomorphic assumption that is incompatible with a crucial methodological assumption of scientific enquiry: the prohibition of unexplained natural purposes. We describe the way in which phenomenology can be integrated into Maturana’s autopoietic theory, and use this as an example of how an alternative, non-anthropomorphic science of the biological roots of cognition might proceed. Results: Our analysis reveals a crucial tension between Jonas’s influence on enactivism and enactivism’s paradigmatic aspirations. This suggests the possibility of, and need to investigate, other ways of integrating phenomenology with cognitive science that do not succumb to this tension. Implications: In light of this, enactivists should either eliminate the Jonasian inference from properties of our human experience to properties of the experience of all living organisms, or articulate an alternative conception of scientific enquiry that can tolerate the anthropomorphism this inference entails. The Maturanian view we present in the article’s final section constitutes a possible framework within which enactivist tools and concepts can be used to understand cognition and phenomenology, and that does not involve a problematic anthropomorphism. Constructivist content: Any constructivist approach that aims for integration with current scientific practice must either avoid the type of anthropomorphic inference on which Jonas bases his work, or specify a new conception of scientific enquiry that renders anthropomorphism unproblematic. (shrink)
Context: In the past two decades, the so-called 4E approaches to the mind and cognition have been rapidly gaining in recognition and have become an integral part of various disciplines. Problem: Recently, however, questions have been raised as to whether, and to what degree, these different approaches actually cohere with one another. Specifically, it seems that many of them endorse mutually incompatible, perhaps even contradictory, epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions. Method: By retracing the roots of an alternative conception of mind and (...) cognition, as propounded by Varela, Thompson & Rosch, we provide an outline of the original philosophical framework of enactivism and neurophenomenology. We focus on its three central tenets - reflexivity, subject-world co-determination, and the construal of cognition as situated, skillful and embodied action - and show how they collectively add up to a radical change in attitude towards the age-old philosophical dilemmas. Results: We show how contemporary enactivist and embodied approaches relate to the original Varelian conception, and argue that many of them, despite frequent claims to the contrary, adopt significantly less radical philosophical positions. Further, we provide some tentative suggestions as to why this dilution of the original impetus might have occurred, paying special attention to the deep-rooted disparities that span the field. Implications: It is argued that more attention should be paid to epistemological and metaphysical tenets of different proposals within the 4E movement in general and enactivism in particular. Additionally, in emphasizing the inescapable multilayeredness and contextuality of scientific knowledge, enactivism and neurophenomenology accord with pluralist accounts of science and might provide important contributions to contemporary debates in the field. Constructivist content: The epistemological odyssey, construed as a journey to find a middle way between realism and idealism, is a central tenet of anti-representationalist, non-dualist constructivist approaches aimed at avoiding age-old philosophical traps. (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the article “Perception-Action Mutuality Obviates Mental Construction” by Martin Flament Fultot, Lin Nie & Claudia Carello. Upshot: The authors of the target article seem on the one hand to want to reprimand enactivists for not embracing ecological psychology, and on the other, to criticise them for taking on board some - but not all - of the principles of ecological psychology. In this commentary, I argue that the claim that enactivists have not embraced ecological psychology is (...) false, and that it is coherent for enactivists to take on only some of the principles of ecological psychology, as the two research frameworks have different overall projects. Furthermore, I argue that there is an enactivism-friendly stream of ecological psychology research that is currently yielding exciting results that both broaden the depth of ecological psychology research and bring it into dialogue with enactivism-inspired approaches to understanding perception and experience. (shrink)
This paper does two things. Firstly, it clarifies the way that phenomenological data is meant to constrain cognitive science according to enactivist thinkers. Secondly, it points to inconsistencies in the ‘Radical Enactivist’ handling of this issue, so as to explicate the commitments that enactivists need to make in order to tackle the explanatory gap. I begin by sketching the basic features of enactivism in sections 1–2, focusing upon enactive accounts of perception. I suggest that enactivist ideas here rely heavily (...) upon the endorsement of a particular explanatory constraint that I call the structural resemblance constraint, according to which the structure of our phenomenology ought to be mirrored in our cognitive science. Sections 3–5 delineate the nature of, and commitment to, SRC amongst enactivists, showing SRC’s warrant and implications. The paper then turns to Hutto and Myin’s handling of SRC in sections 6–7, highlighting irregularities within their programme for Radical Enactivism on this issue. Despite seeming to favour SRC, I argue that Radical Enactivism’s purported compatibility with the narrow supervenience of perceptual experience is in fact inconsistent with SRC, given Hutto and Myin’s phenomenological commitments. I argue that enactivists more broadly ought to resist such a concessionary position if they wish to tackle the explanatory gap, for it is primarily the abidance to SRC that ensures progress is made here. Section 8 then concludes the paper with a series of open questions to enactivists, inviting further justification of the manner in which they apply SRC. (shrink)
In Radicalizing Enactivism, D. D. Hutto and E. Myin develop a theory of mind they call ‘Radical Enactive (or Embodied) Cognition’ (REC). They argue that extant enactivist and embodied theories of mind are, although pretty radical, not radical enough, because such theories buy into the representationalist doctrine that perceptual experience (along with other forms of ‘basic’ mentality) possesses representational content. REC denies this doctrine. It implies that perceptual experience lacks reference, truth conditions, accuracy conditions, or conditions of satisfaction. In (...) this review I summarise their anti-representationalist argument and show that it has at least three major weaknesses. (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the article “Never Mind the Gap: Neurophenomenology, Radical Enactivism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness” by Michael D. Kirchhoff & Daniel D. Hutto. Upshot: Enactivism is a welcome development in cognitive science, but its “radical” rejection of representation poses problems for capturing phenomenality. The totality of our interactions exceeds our awareness, so circumscribing the activity that constitutes consciousness seems to require representational guidance.
Enactivist accounts of language use generally treat concrete words in terms of motor intentionality systems and affordances for action. There is less consensus, though, regarding how abstract words are to be understood in enactivist terms. I draw on Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy to argue, against the representationalist paradigm that has dominated the cognitive scientific and philosophical traditions, that language is fundamentally a mode of participation in our world. In particular, language orients us within our milieus in a manner that extends into (...) the depth of the idea-endowed world. This conceptualization of language allows us to see that abstract words orient us bodily just as surely as concrete words do, albeit in a manner that is more diffuse across the entirety of given situations, as I will show with an example of abstract language use in Don DeLillo’s novel Underworld. These insights are applied to some of the recent enactivist discourse to suggest some ways in which representationalism maintains a latent presence in this discourse. I conclude by pointing to developments in conceptual metaphor theory that can enrich our sense of how abstract language is involved in embodied understanding. (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the article “Perception-Action Mutuality Obviates Mental Construction” by Martin Flament Fultot, Lin Nie & Claudia Carello. Upshot: Fultot, Nie, and Carello are correct that enactive researchers should be more aware of the research literature on ecological psychology, but their charge of mental construction is off-target. Enactivism and ecological psychology are compatible frameworks with different, complementary, emphases.
Open peer commentary on the article “Lived Experience and Cognitive Science Reappraising Enactivism’s Jonasian Turn” by Mario Villalobos & Dave Ward. Upshot: Villalobos and Ward’s distinctions between Varelian theories and Maturanian ones about anthropomorphism give rise to questions about what is or is not enactivism. This leads to recognition of an enactivist theoretical multiverse, and to embracing it as a way to advance theorizing along, and beyond, post-positivist lines.
Upshot: In our target article we claimed that, at least since Weber and Varela, enactivism has incorporated a theoretical commitment to one important aspect of Jonas’s philosophical biology, namely its anthropomorphism, which is at odds with the methodological commitments of modern science. In this general reply we want to clarify what we mean by anthropomorphism, and explain why we think it is incompatible with science. We do this by spelling out what we call the “Jonasian inference,” i.e., the idea (...) that we are entitled, based on our first-person experience of teleology, to take the appearance of teleology in other living beings at face value. (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the article “Perception-Action Mutuality Obviates Mental Construction” by Martin Flament Fultot, Lin Nie & Claudia Carello. Upshot: We examine whether there are any irreducible contradictions between ecological psychology and radical enactivism. We concentrate on two points of contention between the two approaches: the relevance of neural structures in understanding perception and the use of semantically loaded concepts in theorizing about perception.
Open peer commentary on the article “Interactivity and Enaction in Human Cognition” by Matthew Isaac Harvey, Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen & Sune Vork Steffensen. Upshot: In contrasting an interactivity account alternative to variants on the enactive approach, the authors discuss the role of sense-making. They claim that their interactivity perspective, unlike enactive approaches, accounts for a dependency on “non-local” resources characteristic of many organisms. I draw attention to the cybernetic-enactivist perspective on homeostatic sense-making, which may fundamentally fail to explain the operationally open (...) nature of organismic regulatory processes better captured by Sterling’s notion of “allostasis.” This sense-making model appears to be more in line with Harvey et al.’s interactivity framework, focusing as it does on the regulatory effect of extrinsic “norms” rather than the cybernetic-enactivist focus on intrinsic “norms.”. (shrink)
Summary: What makes Hutto's account special is his commitment to the rejection of content, a point where he becomes a real radical. The book is not just another book about enactivism but it is an enactive book for everyone written by an enactivist.