In this article, we propose some fundamental requirements for the appearance of adaptivity. We argue that a basic metabolic organization, taken in its minimal sense, may provide the conceptual framework for naturalizing the origin of teleology and normative functionality as it appears in living systems. However, adaptivity also requires the emergence of a regulatory subsystem, which implies a certain form of dynamic decoupling within a globally integrated, autonomous system. Thus, we analyze several forms of minimal adaptivity, including the special case of motility. We go on to explain how an open-ended complexity growth of motility-based adaptive agency, namely, behavior, requires the appearance of the nervous system. Finally, we discuss some implications of these ideas for embodied robotics.
This paper traces the development of enactive concepts of value and normativity from their roots in the canonical work of Varela et al. (Embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991) through more recent works of Ezequiel Di Paolo and others. It aims to show the central importance of these concepts for enactive theory while exposing a potentially troublesome ambiguity in their definition. Most definitions of enactive normativity are purely proscriptive, but it seems that enactive theories of cognitive agency and experience demand something more. On the other hand, it is not clear that anything other than proscriptive normativity can be made compatible with the enactive tenet of autonomy and the rejection of representations.
In this paper, a semiotic framework for natural and artificial adaptive percept-action systems is presented. The functional organizations and operational structures of percept-action systems with different degrees of adaptivity and self-construction are considered in terms of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic relations. Operational systems-theoretic criteria for distinguishing semiotic, sign-systems from nonsemiotic physical systems are proposed. A system is semiotic if a set of functional sign-states can be identified, such that the system’s behavior can be effectively described in terms of operations on sign-types. Semiotic relations involved in the operational structure of the observer are outlined and illustrated using the Hertzian commutation diagram. Percept-action systems are observers endowed with effectors that permit them to act on their surrounds. Percept-action systems consist of sensors, effectors, and a coordinative part that determines which actions will be taken. Cybernetic systems adaptively steer behavior by altering percept-action mappings contingent on evaluated performance measures via embedded goals. Self-constructing cybernetic systems use signs to direct the physical construction of all parts of the system to create new syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic relations. When a system gains the ability to construct its material hardware and choose its semiotic relations, it achieves a degree of epistemic autonomy, semantic closure, and pragmatic self-direction.
Cuffari E. C. (2014) On being mindful about misunderstandings in languaging: Making sense of non-sense as the way to sharing linguistic meaning. In: Cappuccio M. & Froese T. (eds.) Enactive cognition at the edge of sense-making: Making sense of non-sense.. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills: 207–237.
This chapter considers the ethical and epistemological consequences of the enactive notion of “languaging” as whole-bodied, intersubjective sense-making. Making sense in language is defined as a process of moving from stable, shared sense, through idiosyncratic non-sense, to a locally produced, co-available or interactively afforded sense. Enactive concepts of autonomy, autopoiesis, adaptivity, and precariousness imply radical idiosyncrasy in how individuals incorporate the means and moves needed to cope in enlanguaged environments. Differences in sense-making style s predict misunderstanding in social interactions. How do participants of linguistic sense-making share meaning? Presenting meaning as a consequence of mindfulness and misunderstanding, this chapter attempts to include the interiority and variety of experience in descriptions of linguistic participatory sense-making. It gives semantic weight to particularity without losing sight of interactional sources of normativity and intentionality.
Cuffari E. C., Di Paolo E. & De Jaegher H. (2015) From participatory sense-making to language: There and back again. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14(4): 1089–1125. https://cepa.info/4351
The enactive approach to cognition distinctively emphasizes autonomy, adaptivity, agency, meaning, experience, and interaction. Taken together, these principles can provide the new sciences of language with a comprehensive philosophical framework: languaging as adaptive social sense-making. This is a refinement and advancement on Maturana’s idea of languaging as a manner of living. Overcoming limitations in Maturana’s initial formulation of languaging is one of three motivations for this paper. Another is to give a response to skeptics who challenge enactivism to connect “lower-level” sense-making with “higher-order” sophisticated moves like those commonly ascribed to language. Our primary goal is to contribute a positive story developed from the enactive account of social cognition, participatory sense-making. This concept is put into play in two different philosophical models, which respectively chronicle the logical and ontogenetic development of languaging as a particular form of social agency. Languaging emerges from the interplay of coordination and exploration inherent in the primordial tensions of participatory sense-making between individual and interactive norms; it is a practice that transcends the self-other boundary and enables agents to regulate self and other as well as interaction couplings. Linguistic sense-makers are those who negotiate interactive and internalized ways of meta-regulating the moment-to-moment activities of living and cognizing. Sense-makers in enlanguaged environments incorporate sensitivities, roles, and powers into their unique yet intelligible linguistic bodies. We dissolve the problematic dichotomies of high/low, online/offline, and linguistic/nonlinguistic cognition, and we provide new boundary criteria for specifying languaging as a prevalent kind of human social sense-making.
The reflexive character of enactive theory is spelled out, in an effort to make explicit that which is usually implicit in debate: that we are responsible for the distinctions we draw, and that ultimately, the world that we collectively characterize is a joint production. Enaction, as treated here, is not a positivist scientific field, but an epistemologically self-conscious way to ground our understanding of the value-saturated lives of embodied beings. This stance is seen as entirely congruent with the scientific field of ecological psychology, which is itself then cast as a specific example of the kind of science that can be done in an enactive mode.
A proposal for the biological grounding of intrinsic teleology and sense-making through the theory of autopoiesis is critically evaluated. Autopoiesis provides a systemic language for speaking about intrinsic teleology but its original formulation needs to be elaborated further in order to explain sense-making. This is done by introducing adaptivity, a many-layered property that allows organisms to regulate themselves with respect to their conditions of viability. Adaptivity leads to more articulated concepts of behaviour, agency, sense-construction, health, and temporality than those given so far by autopoiesis and enaction. These and other implications for understanding the organismic generation of values are explored.
Di Paolo E., Thompson E. & Beer R. (2022) Laying down a forking path: Tensions between enaction and the free energy principle. Philosophy and the Mind Sciences 3: 2. https://cepa.info/7833
Several authors have made claims about the compatibility between the Free Energy Principle (FEP) and theories of autopoiesis and enaction. Many see these theories as natural partners or as making similar statements about the nature of biological and cognitive systems. We critically examine these claims and identify a series of misreadings and misinterpretations of key enactive concepts. In particular, we notice a tendency to disregard the operational definition of autopoiesis and the distinction between a system’s structure and its organization. Other misreadings concern the conflation of processes of self-distinction in operationally closed systems and Markov blankets. Deeper theoretical tensions underlie some of these misinterpretations. FEP assumes systems that reach a non-equilibrium steady state and are enveloped by a Markov blanket. We argue that these assumptions contradict the historicity of sense-making that is explicit in the enactive approach. Enactive concepts such as adaptivity and agency are defined in terms of the modulation of parameters and constraints of the agent-environment coupling, which entail the possibility of changes in variable and parameter sets, constraints, and in the dynamical laws affecting the system. This allows enaction to address the path-dependent diversity of human bodies and minds. We argue that these ideas are incompatible with the time invariance of non-equilibrium steady states assumed by the FEP. In addition, the enactive perspective foregrounds the enabling and constitutive roles played by the world in sense-making, agency, development. We argue that this view of transactional and constitutive relations between organisms and environments is a challenge to the FEP. Once we move beyond superficial similarities, identify misreadings, and examine the theoretical commitments of the two approaches, we reach the conclusion that far from being easily integrated, the FEP, as it stands formulated today, is in tension with the theories of autopoiesis and enaction.
Several authors have made claims about the compatibility between the Free Energy Principle (FEP) and theories of autopoiesis and enaction. Many see these theories as natural partners or as making similar statements about the nature of biological and cognitive systems. We critically examine these claims and identify a series of misreadings and misinterpretations of key enactive concepts. In particular, we notice a tendency to disregard the operational definition of autopoiesis and the distinction between a system’s structure and its organization. Other misreadings concern the conflation of processes of self-distinction in operationally closed systems with Markov blankets. Deeper theoretical tensions underlie some of these misinterpretations. FEP assumes systems that reach a non-equilibrium steady state and are enveloped by a Markov blanket. We argue that these assumptions contradict the historicity of agency and sense-making that is explicit in the enactive approach. Enactive concepts such as adaptivity and agency are defined in terms of the modulation of parameters and constraints of the agent-environment coupling, which entail the possibility of redefinition of variable and parameter sets and of the dynamical laws affecting a system, a situation that escapes the assumptions of FEP. In addition, the enactive perspective foregrounds the enabling and constitutive roles played by the world in sense-making, agency, development, and the path-dependent diversity of human bodies and minds. We argue that this position is also in contradiction with the FEP. Once we move beyond superficial similarities, identify misreadings, and examine the theoretical commitments of the two approaches, we reach the conclusion that the FEP, as it stands formulated today, is profoundly incompatible with the theories of autopoiesis and enaction.
Egbert M. (2013) For Biological Systems, Maintaining Essential Variables Within Viability Limits Is Not Passive. Constructivist Foundations 9(1): 109–111. https://constructivist.info/9/1/109
Open peer commentary on the article “Homeostats for the 21st Century? Simulating Ashby Simulating the Brain” by Stefano Franchi. Upshot: The target article proposes that Ashby’s investigations of the homeostat and ultrastability lead to a view of living systems as heteronomous, passive “sleeping” machines and thus are in fundamental conflict with concepts of autonomy developed by Jonas, Varela and others. I disagree, arguing that (1) the maintenance of essential variables within viability limits is not a passive process for living systems and (2) the purpose of Ashby’s investigations of the homeostat was to investigate adaptivity, a subject that is related to, but clearly distinct from, autonomy. As such, I find Ashby’s work on adaptivity to be neither in opposition to nor in direct support of modern concepts of biological autonomy and suggest that a productive way forward involves the investigation of the intersection between these two fundamental properties of living systems.