Michael D. Kirchhoff is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He has a PhD from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia (2014). His work is primarily focused on philosophy of mind and cognition. Specifically work on the extended mind hypothesis, the causal-constitutive distinction, and the predictive brain hypothesis. He has also published work on non-supervenient emergence, mechanistic explanation, and distributed agency. His current projects include a probabilistic theory of consciousness, which is funded by the New Directions to the Study of the Mind initiative at the University of Cambridge, and work on the life-mind continuity thesis.
Open peer commentary on the article “A Moving Boundary, a Plastic Core: A Contribution to the Third Wave of Extended-Mind Research” by Timotej Prosen. Abstract: We explore both some novel claims made by Prosen’s account of plastic cores and some overlaps between his and other accounts of third-wave extended mind. In the first instance we discuss whether the Markov blanket formalism should be regarded as incompatible with a third-wave extended view. Secondly, we discuss whether Prosen’s proposal of a plastic core quite meets the radical departure of the third wave from organism-centeredness - or whether Prosen’s contribution might be more aptly considered as a compromise between second- and third-wave extended mind.
Hutto D. D., Kirchhoff M. D. & Abrahamson D. (2015) The enactive roots of STEM: Rethinking educational design in mathematics. Educational Psychology Review 27(3): 371–389. https://cepa.info/5075
New and radically reformative thinking about the enactive and embodied basis of cognition holds out the promise of moving forward age-old debates about whether we learn and how we learn. The radical enactive, embodied view of cognition (REC) poses a direct, and unmitigated, challenge to the trademark assumptions of traditional cognitivist theories of mind – those that characterize cognition as always and everywhere grounded in the manipulation of contentful representations of some kind. REC has had some success in understanding how sports skills and expertise are acquired. But, REC approaches appear to encounter a natural obstacle when it comes to understanding skill acquisition in knowledge-rich, conceptually based domains like the hard sciences and mathematics. This paper offers a proof of concept that REC’s reach can be usefully extended into the domain of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning, especially when it comes to understanding the deep roots of such learning. In making this case, this paper has five main parts. The section “Ancient Intellectualism and the REC Challenge” briefly introduces REC and situates it with respect to rival views about the cognitive basis of learning. The “Learning REConceived: from Sports to STEM?” section outlines the substantive contribution REC makes to understanding skill acquisition in the domain of sports and identifies reasons for doubting that it will be possible to apply the same approach to knowledge-rich STEM domains. The “Mathematics as Embodied Practice” section gives the general layout for how to understand mathematics as an embodied practice. The section “The Importance of Attentional Anchors” introduces the concept “attentional anchor” and establishes why attentional anchors are important to educational design in STEM domains like mathematics. Finally, drawing on some exciting new empirical studies, the section “Seeing Attentional Anchors” demonstrates how REC can contribute to understanding the roots of STEM learning and inform its learning design, focusing on the case of mathematics.
This paper targets the constitutive basis of social cognition. It begins by describing the traditional and still dominant cognitivist view. Cognitivism assumes internalism about the realisers of social cognition; thus, the embodied and embedded elements of intersubjective engagement are ruled out from playing anything but a basic causal role in an account of social cognition. It then goes on to advance and clarify an alternative to the cognitivist view; namely, an enactive account of social cognition. It does so first by articulating a diachronic constitutive account for how embodied engagement can play a constitutive role in social cognition. It then proceeds to consider an objection; the causal-constitutive fallacy (Adams & Aizawa, 2001, 2008; Block, 2005) against enactive social cognition. The paper proceeds to deflate this objection by establishing that the distinction between constitution and causation is not co-extensive with the distinction between internal constitutive elements and external causal elements. It is then shown that there is a different reason for thinking that an enactive account of social cognition is problematic. We call this objection the ‘poverty of the interactional stimulus argument’. This objection turns on the role and characteristics of anticipation in enactive social cognition. It argues that anticipatory processes are mediated by an internally realised model or tacit theory (Carruthers, 2015; Seth, 2015). The final part of this paper dissolves this objection by arguing that it is possible to cast anticipatory processes as orchestrated as well as maintained by sensorimotor couplings between individuals in face-to-face interaction.
A recent surge of work on prediction-driven processing models – based on Bayesian inference and representation-heavy models – suggests that the material basis of conscious experience is inferentially secluded and neurocentrically brain bound. This paper develops an alternative account based on the free energy principle. It is argued that the free energy principle provides the right basic tools for understanding the anticipatory dynamics of the brain within a larger brain-body-environment dynamic, viewing the material basis of some conscious experiences as extensive – relational and thoroughly world-involving.
Open peer commentary on the article “Exploring the Depth of Dream Experience: The Enactive Framework and Methods for Neurophenomenological Research” by Elizaveta Solomonova & Xin Wei Sha. Upshot: This commentary focuses on an ontological claim made by the authors of this target article: that perceiving, imagining and dreaming are inseparable. It explores how best to understand this “inseparability condition.” It is shown that the evidence needed to justify a strict reading of the inseparability condition is lacking, while there is room for a more relaxed rendition of the inseparability condition. The inferred lesson is that in developing an enactive neurophenomenology of dreaming, it is a non-trivial task to achieve clarity about the ontology of dreaming, and its relationship to imagining as well as perceiving.
Kirchhoff M. D. (2018) Autopoiesis, free energy and the life-mind continuity thesis. Synthese 195(6): 2519–2540. https://cepa.info/4834
The life–mind continuity thesis is difficult to study, especially because the relation between life and mind is not yet fully understood, and given that there is still no consensus view neither on what qualifies as life nor on what defines mind. Rather than taking up the much more difficult task of addressing the many different ways of explaining how life relates to mind, and vice versa, this paper considers two influential accounts addressing how best to understand the life–mind continuity thesis: first, the theory of autopoiesis (AT) developed in biology and in enactivist theories of mind; and second, the recently formulated free energy principle in theoretical neurobiology, with roots in thermodynamics and statistical physics. This paper advances two claims. The first is that the free energy principle (FEP) should be preferred to the theory of AT, as classically formulated. The second is that the FEP and the recently formulated framework of autopoietic enactivism can be shown to be genuinely continuous on a number of central issues, thus raising the possibility of a joint venture when it comes to answering the life–mind continuity thesis.
Upshot: We respond to three main challenges that the commentaries have raised. First, we argue that to deal successfully with the hard problem of consciousness, it is not enough to posit a remedy by which to move beyond the hard problem. Second, we argue that it makes no sense to explain identity. Yet this does not commit us to definitions by fiat. The strategy we pursue here, and in the target article, is not to explain identity but to explain away the appearance of non-identity. Finally, while we are sympathetic to Varela’s call for a paradigm shift in consciousness studies, we argue here, and in the target article, that this call can only be properly successful if the hard problem is dismantled.
Kirchhoff M. D. & Hutto D. D. (2016) Never Mind the Gap: Neurophenomenology, Radical Enactivism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 346–353. https://cepa.info/2579
Context: Neurophenomenology, as formulated by Varela, offers an approach to the science of consciousness that seeks to get beyond the hard problem of consciousness. There is much to admire in the practical approach to the science of consciousness that neurophenomenology advocates. Problem: Even so, this article argues, the metaphysical commitments of the enterprise require a firmer foundation. The root problem is that neurophenomenology, as classically formulated by Varela, endorses a form of non-reductionism that, despite its ambitions, assumes rather than dissolves the hard problem of consciousness. We expose that neurophenomenology is not a natural solution to that problem. We defend the view that whatever else neurophenomenology might achieve, it cannot close the gap between the phenomenal and the physical if there is no such gap to close. Method: Building on radical enactive and embodied approaches to cognitive science that deny that the phenomenal and the physical are metaphysically distinct, this article shows that the only way to deal properly with the hard problem is by denying the metaphysical distinction between the physical and the phenomenal that gives the hard problem life. Results: This article concludes by discussing how neurophenomenology might be reformulated under the auspices of a radically enactive and embodied account of cognition. That is, only by denying that there are two distinct phenomena - the physical and the phenomenal - can the neurophenomenological project get on with addressing its pragmatic problems of showing how neuroscientists may be guided by first-person data in their analysis of third-person experimental data, and vice versa. Implications: The topic addressed in this article is of direct value to consciousness studies in general and specifically for the project of neurophenomenology. If the neurophenomenological project is to deal with the hard problem, it must denude itself of its non-reductionist background assumption and embrace a strict identity thesis. Constructivist content: Radical enactive and embodied approaches to mind and consciousness adopt a view of consciousness as a dynamic activity - something an organism enacts in ongoing engagement with its environment. These approaches therefore share with constructivist approaches an action-based view of mind.
This paper starts by considering an argument for thinking that predictive processing (PP) is representational. This argument suggests that the Kullback–Leibler (KL)-divergence provides an accessible measure of misrepresentation, and therefore, a measure of representational content in hierarchical Bayesian inference. The paper then argues that while the KL-divergence is a measure of information, it does not establish a sufficient measure of representational content. We argue that this follows from the fact that the KL-divergence is a measure of relative entropy, which can be shown to be the same as covariance (through a set of additional steps). It is well known that facts about covariance do not entail facts about representational content. So there is no reason to think that the KL-divergence is a measure of (mis-)representational content. This paper thus provides an enactive, non-representational account of Bayesian belief optimisation in hierarchical PP.