Inspired by Enactivist philosophy yet in dialog with it, we ask what theory of embodied cognition might best serve in articulating implications of Enactivism for mathematics education. We offer a blend of Dynamical Systems Theory and Sociocultural Theory as an analytic lens on micro-processes of action-to-concept evolution. We also illustrate the methodological utility of design-research as an approach to such theory development. Building on constructs from ecological psychology, cultural anthropology, studies of motor-skill acquisition, and somatic awareness practices, we develop the notion of an “instrumented field of promoted action”. Children operating in this field first develop environmentally coupled motor-action coordinations. Next, we introduce into the field new artifacts. The children adopt the artifacts as frames of action and reference, yet in so doing they shift into disciplinary semiotic systems. We exemplify our thesis with two selected excerpts from our videography of Grade 4–6 volunteers participating in task-based clinical interviews centered on the Mathematical Imagery Trainer for Proportion. In particular, we present and analyze cases of either smooth or abrupt transformation in learners’ operatory schemes. We situate our design framework vis-à-vis seminal contributions to mathematics education research.
In this article we analyze the methodological commitments of a radical embodied cognition (REC) approach to social interaction and social cognition, specifically with respect to the explanatory framework it adopts. According to many representatives of REC, such as enactivists and the proponents of dynamical and ecological psychology, sociality is to be explained by (1) focusing on the social unit rather than the individuals that comprise it and (2) establishing the regularities that hold on this level rather than modeling the sub-personal mechanisms that could be said to underlie social phenomena. We point out that, despite explicit commitment, such a view implies an implicit rejection of the mechanistic explanation framework widely adopted in traditional cognitive science (TCS), which, in our view, hinders comparability between REC and these approaches. We further argue that such a position is unnecessary and that enactive mechanistic explanation of sociality is both possible and desirable. We examine three distinct objections from REC against mechanistic explanation, which we dub the decomposability, causality and extended cognition worries. In each case we show that these complaints can be alleviated by either appreciation of the full scope of the mechanistic account or adjustments on both mechanistic and REC sides of the debate.
Shaun Gallagher applies enactivist thinking to a staggeringly wide range of topics in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, even venturing into the realms of biological anthropology. One prominent point Gallagher makes that the holistic approach of enactivism makes it less amenable to scientific investigation than the cognitivist framework it seeks to replace, and should be seen as a “philosophy of nature” rather than a scientific research program. Gallagher also gives truth to the saying that “if you want new ideas, read old books”, showing how the insights of the American pragmatists, particularly Dewey and Mead, offer a variety of resources and tools that can be brought to bear on modern day enactivism. Here, I suggest that the adoption of enactivist thinking would undermine the assumptions of certain scientific positions, requiring their abandonment, rather than simply making it more difficult to conduct research within an enactivist framework. I then discuss how Mead’s work has been used previously as a “pragmatist intervention” to help resolve problems in a related 4E endeavour, Gibson’s ecological psychology, and make a case for the inclusion of radical behaviorism as another pragmatist resource for 4E cognition. I conclude with a plea for further enactivist intervention in studies of comparative cognition.
Cariani P. (2016) Learning of New Percept-Action Mappings Is a Constructive Process of Goal-Directed Self-Modification. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 322–324. https://cepa.info/2573
Open peer commentary on the article “Perception-Action Mutuality Obviates Mental Construction” by Martin Flament Fultot, Lin Nie & Claudia Carello. Upshot: In my view, the clash between ecological psychology, enactivism, and constructivism in general has more to do with irreconcilable metaphysical and theoretical incommensurabilities (ontologies, epistemologies, modes of explanation) than disagreements about specific mechanisms or processes of perception. Even with mutual enabling of action and perception, some internal process of self-modification (neural construction, learning) is still needed if novel behavior is to be adequately explained.
Caruana F. & Borghi A. M. (2013) Embodied cognition, una nuova psicologia [Embodied cognition: A new psychology]. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia 1/2013: 23–48. https://cepa.info/938
Embodied Cognition represents the most important news in cognitive psychology in the last twenty years. The basis of its research program is the idea that cognitive processes depend, mirror, and are influenced by bodily control systems. A whole class of novel perspectives entered into the psychologists’ agenda only after the emergence and success of EC. In the paper we will deal with some of the main topics debated within EC, from the discussion on the role of representation, to the relationship with enactivism, with functionalism and with the extended mind view. Against an interpretation according to which EC is simply an evolution of the classical cognitivist program, we will focus on the aspects that highlight crucial discontinuities with it, suggesting instead that the EC perspective is indebted to previous theoretical traditions such as American pragmatism, ecological psychology and phenomenology. In the present paper we will discuss some of the most important achievements of EC in different areas of experimental research, from the study of affordances to that of the bodily experience, from the investigation on emotions to that on language. Our aim is to force the Italian public, particularly recalcitrant to EC, to critically reflect on the debts to previous traditions. Relevance: The paper reviews embodied theories with a special focus on enactivist approaches.
Corris A. (2020) Defining the environment in organism–environment systems. Frontiers in Psychology 11: 1285. https://cepa.info/7382
Enactivism and ecological psychology converge on the relevance of the environment in understanding perception and action. On both views, perceiving organisms are not merely passive receivers of environmental stimuli, but rather form a dynamic relationship with their environments in such a way that shapes how they interact with the world. In this paper, I suggest that while enactivism and ecological psychology enjoy a shared specification of the environment as the cognitive domain, on both accounts, the structure of the environment, itself, is unspecified beyond that of contingent relations with the species-typical sensorimotor capacities of perceiving organisms. This lack of specification creates a considerable gap in theory regarding the organization of organisms as coupled with their environments. I argue that this gap can be filled by drawing from resources in developmental systems theory, namely, specifying the environmental state-space as a developmental niche that shapes and is shaped by individual organisms over developmental and, on a population scale, evolutionary time. Defining the environment as an organism’s developmental niche makes it clearer how and why certain contingencies have arisen, in turn, strengthening a joint appeal to both enactivism and ecological psychology as theories asserting complementarity between organisms and their environments.
Human thinking uses other peoples’ experience. While often pictured as computation or based on the workings of a language-system in the mind or brain, the evidence suggests alternatives to representationalism. In terms proposed here, embodiment is interlaced with wordings as people tackle the integration problem. Using a case study, the paper shows how a young man uses external resources in an experimental task. He grasps a well-defined problem by using material resources, talking about his doings and switching roles and procedures. Attentional skills enable him to act as an air cadet who, among other things, connects action, leadership and logic. Airforce practices prompt him to draw timeously on non-local resources as, using impersonal experience, he interlaces language, action and perception. He connects the cultural and the metabolic in cognitive work as he finds a way to completion of the task.
Recognition of the importance of autopoiesis to biological systems was crucial in building an alternative to the classic view of cognitive science. However, concepts like structural coupling and autonomy are not strong enough to throw light on language and human problem solving. The argument is presented though a case study where a person solves a problem and, in so doing relies on non-local aspects of the ecology as well as his observer’s mental domain. Like Anthony Chemero we make links with ecological psychology to emphasize how embodiment draws on cultural resources as people concert thinking, action and perception. We trace this to human interactivity or sense-saturated coordination that renders possible language and human forms of cognition: it links human sense-making to historical experience. People play roles with natural and cultural artifacts as they act, animate groups and live through relationships drawing on language that is, at once, artificial and natural. Thus, while constrained by wordings, interactivity is able to fine-tune what we do with action-perception loops. Neither language nor human problem solving reduce to biological sense-making.
Since the multi-scalarity of life encompasses bodies, language and human experience, Timo Järvilehto’s (1998) ‘one-system’ view can be applied to acts of meaning, knowing and ethics. Here, I use Paul Cobley’s Cultural Implications of Biosemiotics (2016) to explore a semiotic construal of such a position. Interpretation, he argues, shows symbolic, indexical and iconic ‘layers’ of living. While lauding Cobley’s breadth of vision, as a linguist, I baulk at linking ‘knowing’ too closely with the ‘symbolic’ qua what can be said, diagrammed or signed. This is because, given first-order experience (which can be deemed indexical/iconic), humans use observations (by others and self) to self-construct as embodied individuals. While symbolic semiosis matters, I trace it to, not languaging, but the rise of literacy, graphics and pictorial art. Unlike Chomsky and Deely, I find no epigenic break between the symbolic and the iconic/indexical. The difference leads one to ontology. I invite the reader to consider, if, as Cobley suggests, meaning depends on modelling systems (with ententional powers) and/or if, as Gibson prefers, we depend on encounters with whatever is out-there. Whereas Cobley identifies the semiotic with the known, for others, living beings actively apprehend what is observable (for them). Wherever the reader stands, I claim that all one-system views fall in line with Cobley’s ‘anti-humanist’ challenge. Ethics, he argues, can only arise from participating in the living. Knowing, and coming to know, use repression and selection that can only be captured by non-disciplinary views of meaning. As part of how life and language unfold, humans owe a duty of care to all of the living world: hence, action is needed now.
A widely cited roadblock to bridging ecological psychology and enactivism is that the former identifies with realism and the latter identifies with constructivism, which critics charge is subjectivist. A pragmatic reading, however, suggests non-mental forms of constructivism that simultaneously fit core tenets of enactivism and ecological realism. After advancing a pragmatic version of enactive constructivism that does not obviate realism, I reinforce the position with an empirical illustration: Physarum polycephalum, a communal unicellular organism that leaves slime trails that form chemical barriers that it avoids in foraging explorations. Here, environmental building and sensorimotor engagement are part of the same process with P. polycephalum coordinating around self-created, affordance-bearing geographies, which nonetheless exist independently in ways described by ecological realists. For ecological psychologists, affordances are values, meaning values are external to the perceiver. I argue that agent-enacted values have the same status and thus do not obviate ecological realism or generate subjectivism. The constructivist-realist debate organizes around the emphasis that enactivists and ecological theorists respectively place on the inner constitution of organisms vs. the structure of environments. Building on alimentary themes introduced in the P. polycephalum example and also in Gibson’s work, I go on to consider how environment, brain, visceral systems, and even bacteria within them enter perceptual loops. This highlights almost unfathomable degrees of mutually modulating internal and external synchronization. It also shows instances in which internal conditions alter worldly configurations and invert values, in Gibson’s sense of the term, albeit without implying subjectivism. My aim is to cut across the somatic focus of enactive constructivism and the external environment-oriented emphasis of ecological realism and show that enactivism can enrich ecological accounts of value.