Analyzing the outline of the endless literature on consciousness, the separation between science and philosophy rather than being overcome, seems to come back in different shapes. According to this point of view, the hard problem seems to be how to study consciousness while avoiding a slip back to the old dualism. This article outlines the advantages of the phenomenological method. This method, more than getting over the mind-body separation, anticipates it through an open gaze, able to bring back the human presence as something structurally “ambiguous.” Reintroducing Husserl’s scientific project in a complete way, Francisco Varela opened up a research area yet to be explored, which promises to be fertile for neuroscience, provided that we accept that radicalism essential to phenomenology.
The paper looks at a combination of systems theory, cybernetics, and sociological theory in search of a tool for inquiring into contemporary social forms. The idea of observing networks, drawing on Heinz von Foerster’s and Niklas Luhmann’s notion of observing systems and Harrison C. White’s network calculus of identity and control, is outlined to enable basic sociological intuitions about social forms to be integrated with an understanding of both complexity and recursivity organizing our perspective on the human condition in a precarious world. Social forms are shown to gain robustness not from substantial identity but from relational ambiguity. Observing networks, or so the hypothesis goes, combine bodies, minds, society, and – soon perhaps – intelligent machines. The paper looks at how an understanding of complexity, recursivity, system, form, and network may help flesh out the calculus of our human condition.
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.
We present a tentative proposal for a quantitative measure of autonomy. This is something that, surprisingly, is rarely found in the literature, even though autonomy is considered to be a basic concept in many disciplines, including artificial life. We work in an information theoretic setting for which the distinction between system and environment is the starting point. As a first measure for autonomy, we propose the conditional mutual information between consecutive states of the system conditioned on the history of the environment. This works well when the system cannot influence the environment at all and the environment does not interact synergetically with the system. When, in contrast, the system has full control over its environment, we should instead neglect the environment history and simply take the mutual information between consecutive system states as a measure of autonomy. In the case of mutual interaction between system and environment there remains an ambiguity regarding whether system or environment has caused observed correlations. If the interaction structure of the system is known, we define a “causal” autonomy measure which allows this ambiguity to be resolved. Synergetic interactions still pose a problem since in this case causation cannot be attributed to the system or the environment alone. Moreover, our analysis reveals some subtle facets of the concept of autonomy, in particular with respect to the seemingly innocent system–environment distinction we took for granted, and raises the issue of the attribution of control, i.e. the responsibility for observed effects. To further explore these issues, we evaluate our autonomy measure for simple automata, an agent moving in space, gliders in the game of life, and the tessellation automaton for autopoiesis of Varela et al.
Brown L. & Coles A. (2012) Developing “deliberate analysis” for learning mathematics and for mathematics teacher education: How the enactive approach to cognition frames reflection. Educational Studies in Mathematics 80: 217–231. https://cepa.info/6846
We illustrate and exemplify how the idea of reflection is framed by the enactive concept of “deliberate analysis.” In keeping with this frame, we do not attempt to define reflection but rather work on the question of “how do we do reflecting?” within such a frame. We set out our enactivist theoretical stance, in particular pointing to implications for how we can learn from experience and showing the role of “deliberate analysis.” We then describe, drawing on education literature, what is generally seen as the purpose of reflection and review some existing conceptualizations in mathematics education, pointing out where we draw distinctions. To illustrate how we do reflecting, we offer excerpts from two lessons of an expert teacher and the writing of a prospective teacher. We exemplify how reflecting as deliberate analysis leads to a way of working with teachers supporting them in handling multiple views and ambiguity, their actions being contingent upon their students’ actions in learning mathematics.
Daskolia M., Kynigos C. & Makri K. (2015) Learning about Urban Sustainability with Digital Stories: Promoting Collaborative Creativity from a Constructionist Perspective. Constructivist Foundations 10(3): 388–396. https://cepa.info/2160
Context: Sustainability is among major societal goals in our days. Education is acknowledged as an essential strategy for attaining sustainability by activating the creative potential within young people to understand sustainability, bring forth changes in their everyday life, and collectively envision a more sustainable future. Problem: However, teaching and learning about sustainability and sustainability-related issues is not an easy task due to the inherent complexity, ambiguity, and context-specificity of the concept. We are in need of innovative pedagogical approaches and tools that will allow us to design learning activities in which learners will be empowered to develop new, alternative interpretations of sustainability in personally and collectively meaningful ways. Method: We argue that a constructionist perspective involving the use of expressive media for digital storytelling offers an appropriate frame for designing learning activities fostering collaborative creativity in thinking and learning about urban sustainability. Our study is based on the design of a learning activity following this rationale. We adopted a qualitative approach in the collection and analysis of different sources of data with the aim to explore collaborative creativity as a learning process based on the students’ collective processes and resulting in the co-construction of new ideas and insights about sustainability, and new tangible artefacts (the digital stories) encompassing them. Results: Our analysis of the collaborative creativity exemplified in the three digital stories produced identified important creative elements with regards to the three components of a digital story (script, technical characteristics, and ideas of urban sustainability) and how they were embodied in each digital story produced as a result of the students’ joint constructionist activity. Implications: Our study provides some preliminary evidence that collaborative creativity from a constructionist perspective can stand as an appropriate framework for designing learning activities addressing the difficult concept of sustainability. There are several implications for both theory and educational practice in environmental education and education for sustainable development, constructionism, and digital storytelling in education. Moreover, our study opens up new fields for research and theory in creativity.
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 reappraise enactivism’s “Jonasian turn” and discover an untenable anthropomorphism at its core. As a corrective to this, the authors propose a Maturanian-inspired account of experience (MAT) that could accommodate central enactive insights while avoiding anthropomorphism. In this commentary, I will delve a bit deeper into Villalobos and Ward’s treatment of anthropomorphism. In so doing, I will show that the notion of anthropomorphism (a) trades on an ambiguity that leaves the authors’ own position open to accusations of anthropomorphism and that (b) it needs further justification for why it is at odds with science. I conclude with a few words on why the authors’ assessment of a similar proposal by myself is unfounded.
Dings R. (2021) Making Sense of Autism or Making Sense of Individuals with Autism? Constructivist Foundations 17(1): 061–062. https://cepa.info/7407
Open peer commentary on the article “The Construction of Autism: Between Reflective and Background Knowledge” by Maciej Wodziński & Paulina Gołaska-Ciesielska. Abstract: I argue that the importance of self-illness ambiguity for the social perception of autism is not sufficiently acknowledged, and offer some suggestions for follow-up research.
Dings R. (2021) Meaningful affordances. Synthese 199(1): 1855–1875. https://cepa.info/7973
It has been argued that affordances are not meaningful and are thus not useful to be applied in contexts where specifically meaningfulness of experience is at stake (e.g. clinical contexts or discussions of autonomous agency). This paper aims to reconceptualize affordances such as to make them relevant and applicable in such contexts. It starts by investigating the ‘ambiguity’ of (possibilities for) action. In both philosophy of action and affordance research, this ambiguity is typically resolved by adhering to the agents intentions and concerns. I discuss some recent accounts of affordances that highlight these concerns but argue that they tend to adopt an ‘atomistic’ approach where there is no acknowledgement of how these concerns are embedded in the agents wider concerns, values, projects and commitments. An holistic approach that does acknowledge this can be found in psychological research on agents having a sense of what they’re doing. I will discuss this research in the second part of the paper and argue that agents can analogously have a sense of what is afforded. This is deemed the entry point for understanding the meaningfulness of affordances. In the final part of the paper I apply this analysis to recent attempts which seek to make sense of authentic and autonomous agency in terms of affordances.
Open peer commentary on the article “What Can the Global Observer Know?” by Diana Gasparyan. Upshot: While I agree with Gasparyan’s incisive critique of the concept of the “general observer,” her use of the concept of “event” is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, she equates “events” to Wittgenstein’s and (and, truly, Leibniz’s) “configurations of objects” or “states of affairs” and she consider the world as a collection of such states of affairs. On the other hand, she cites Badiou’s work in support of her criticism of the “general observer.” Yet Badiou’s conception of events is very different from Wittgenstein’s: they are locally produced by historically (hence, spatio-temporally) situated agents in their concrete inter-subjective (social) activities. I argue that a resolution of the target article’s ambiguity in favour of Badiou’s conception of events would allow constructivism to escape a narrow epistemological reading of its basic thesis (which Gasparyan convincingly defends) in favor of a broader interpretation.