Walmsley L. D. (2017) Please explain: Radical enactivism and its explanatory debt. In: Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Cognitive Science Society, Austin TX: 1313–1318. https://cepa.info/5794
Radical Enactivism is a position in the philosophy of cognitive science that aims to displace representationalism, the dominant position in cognitive science for the last 50–60 years. To accomplish this aim, radical enactivism must provide an alternative explanation of cognition. Radical enactivism offers two alternative explanations of cognition. The first I call the dynamical explanation and the second I call the historical explanation. The mechanists have given us reasons for doubting that the first alternative makes for a good explanation. The historical explanation does not hit the right explanatory target without the introduction of a proximate mechanism, but the proximate mechanisms suggested by radical enactivism are associationist mechanisms, the limitations of which led to the initial widespread endorsement of representationalism. Therefore, radical enactivism cannot displace representationalism in cognitive science.
Radical enactivism (REC) and similar embodied and enactive approaches to the mind deny that cognition is fundamentally representational, skull-bound and mechanistic in its organisation. In this article, I argue that modellers may still adopt a mechanistic strategy to produce explanations that are compatible with REC. This argument is scaffolded by a multi-agent model of the true slime mould Physarum polycephalum.