The sensorimotor approach to perception addresses various aspects of perceptual experience, but not the subjectivity of intentional action. Conversely, the problem that current accounts of the sense of agency deal with is primarily one of subjectivity. But the proposed models, based on internal signal comparisons, arguably fail to make the transition from subpersonal computations to personal experience. In this paper we suggest an alternative direction towards explaining the sense of agency by braiding three theoretical strands: a world-involving, dynamical interpretation of the sensorimotor approach, an enactive description of sensorimotor agency as contrasted with organic agency in general, and a dynamical theory of equilibration within and between sensorimotor schemes. On this new account, the sense of oneself as the author of one’s own actions corresponds to what we experience during the ongoing adventure of establishing, losing, and re-establishing meaningful interactions with the world. The meaningful relation between agent and world is given by the precarious constitution of sensorimotor agency as a self-asserting network of schemes and dispositions. Acts are owned as they adaptively assert the constitution of the agent. Thus, awareness for different aspects of agency experience, such as the initiation of action, the effort exerted in controlling it, or the achievement of the desired effect, can be accounted for by processes involved in maintaining the sensorimotor organization that enables these interactions with the world. We discuss these processes in detail from a non-representational, dynamical perspective and show how they cohere with the personal experience of agency.
De Jesus P. (2014) Can the revolution be optimised? Oh yes it can! But, maybe not. Report on the one day symposium on “Varieties of Enactivism”. Connection Science 26(3): 293–296. https://cepa.info/4549
The “Varieties of Enactivism: A Conceptual Geography” 4th April 2014, was a one day symposium which took place at Goldsmith University, London. The symposium had the explicit aim of clarifying the status of enactive cognitive science both as a unified paradigm for cognitive science and in relation to the broader embodied cognition framework. In what follows I offer a brief summery of the various talks followed by some thoughts on the current state of play within enactivism.
In their recent book Radicalizing Enactivism. Basic minds without content, Dan Hutto and Erik Myin (H&M) make two important criticisms of what they call autopoietic enactivism (AE). These two criticisms are that AE harbours tacit representationalists commitments and that it has too liberal a conception of cognition. Taking the latter claim as its main focus, this paper explores the theoretical underpinnings of AE in order to tease out how it might respond to H&M. In so doing it uncovers some reasons which not only appear to warrant H&M’s initial claims but also seem to point to further uneasy tensions within the AE framework. The paper goes beyond H&M by tracing the roots of these criticisms and apparent tensions to phenomenology and the role it plays in AE’s distinctive conception of strong life-mind continuity. It is highlighted that this phenomenological dimension of AE contains certain unexamined anthropomorphic and anthropogenic leanings which do not sit comfortably within its wider commitment to life-mind continuity. In light of this analysis it is suggested that AE will do well to rethink this role or ultimately run the risk of remaining theoretically unstable. The paper aims to contribute to the ongoing theoretical development of AE by highlighting potential internal tensions within its framework which need to be addressed in order for it to continue to evolve as a coherent paradigm.
Autopoietic enactivism (AE) is a relatively young but increasingly influential approach within embodied cognitive science, which aims to offer a viable alternative framework to mainstream cognitivism. Similarly, in biology, the nascent field of biosemiotics has steadily been developing an increasingly influential alternative framework to mainstream biology. Despite sharing common objectives and clear theoretical overlap, there has to date been little to no exchange between the two fields. This paper takes this under-appreciated overlap as not only a much needed call to begin building bridges between the two areas but also as an opportunity to explore how AE could benefit from biosemiotics. As a first tentative step towards this end, the paper will draw from both fields to develop a novel synthesis – biosemiotic enactivism – which aims to clarify, develop and ultimately strengthen some key AE concepts. The paper has two main goals: (i) to propose a novel conception of cognition that could contribute to the ongoing theoretical developments of AE and (ii) to introduce some concepts and ideas from biosemiotics to the enactive community in order to stimulate further debate across the two fields.
According to enactivism all living systems, from single cell organisms to human beings, are ontologically endowed with some form of teleological and sense-making agency. Furthermore, enactivists maintain that: (i) there is no fixed pregiven world and as a consequence (ii) all organisms “bring forth” their own unique “worlds” through processes of sense-making. The first half of the paper takes these two ontological claims as its central focus and aims to clarify and make explicit the arguments and motivations underlying them. Our analysis here highlights three distinct but connected problems for enactivism: (i) these arguments do not and cannot guarantee that there is no pregiven world, instead, they (ii) end up generating a contradiction whereby a pregiven world seems to in fact be tacitly presupposed by virtue of (iii) a reliance on a tacit epistemic perspectivalism which is also inherently representationalist and as a consequence makes it difficult to satisfactorily account for the ontological plurality of worlds. Taking these considerations on board, the second half of the paper then aims to develop a more robust ontologically grounded enactivism. Drawing from biosemiotic enactivism, science and technology studies and anthropology, the paper aims to present an account which both rejects a pregiven world and coherently accounts for how organisms bring forth ontologically multiple worlds.
I briefly reflect on the work of John Stewart and his instrumental role in the development of enactive cognitive science, his outstanding ability to communicate across disciplines, and his research obsessions.
Enactive cognitive science combines questions in epistemology, ontology, and ethics by conceiving of bodies as open-ended and mutually transforming through activity. While enaction is not a theory of ethics, it can contribute to its foundations. We present a schematization of enactive ideas that underlie traditional distinctions between Being, Knowing, and Doing. Ethics in this scheme begins in the relation between knowing and becoming. Critical of dichotomous thinking, we approach the questions of alterity and ethical reality. Alterity is relevant to the enactive approach, but not in the radical sense of transcendental arguments. We propose difference, instead, as a more generative concept. Following Simondon, we see norms and values manifest in webs of past and future acts together with their potentialities for becoming. We propose a transindividual concept of moral attunement that includes ethical know-how and consciousness raising. Through generative difference and attunement to configurations of becoming, enaction underpins an ethics of participation linking virtue ethics and ethics of care.
Open peer commentary on the article “Phenomenological Properties of Perceptual Presence: A Constructivist Grounded Theory Approach” by Aleš Oblak, Asena Boyadzhieva & Jure Bon. Abstract: I want to initiate a dialogue on spatial theory between the history of religions and the cognitive sciences. The study of religious experiences offers approaches to perceptual presence to develop further the notion of structure of lived space. At the same time, empirical phenomenology and enactive cognitive science could help us understand the cognitive mechanisms at the interplay of mental imagery and the perception of divine presence.
Froese T. (2009) Hume and the enactive approach to mind. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(1): 95–133. https://cepa.info/4484
An important part of David Hume’s work is his attempt to put the natural sciences on a firmer foundation by introducing the scientific method into the study of human nature. This investigation resulted in a novel understanding of the mind, which in turn informed Hume’s critical evaluation of the scope and limits of the scientific method as such. However, while these latter reflections continue to influence today’s philosophy of science, his theory of mind is nowadays mainly of interest in terms of philosophical scholarship. This paper aims to show that, even though Hume’s recognition in the cognitive sciences has so far been limited, there is an opportunity to reevaluate his work in the context of more recent scientific developments. In particular, it is argued that we can gain a better understanding of his overall philosophy by tracing the ongoing establishment of the enactive approach. In return, this novel interpretation of Hume’s ‘science of man’ is used as the basis for a consideration of the current and future status of the cognitive sciences.
Context: The enactive paradigm in the cognitive sciences is establishing itself as a strong and comprehensive alternative to the computationalist mainstream. However, its own particular historical roots have so far been largely ignored in the historical analyses of the cognitive sciences. Problem: In order to properly assess the enactive paradigm’s theoretical foundations in terms of their validity, novelty and potential future directions of development, it is essential for us to know more about the history of ideas that has led to the current state of affairs. Method: The meaning of the disappearance of the field of cybernetics and the rise of second-order cybernetics is analyzed by taking a closer look at the work of representative figures for each of the phases: Rosenblueth, Wiener and Bigelow for the early wave of cybernetics, Ashby for its culmination, and von Foerster for the development of the second-order approach. Results: It is argued that the disintegration of cybernetics eventually resulted in two distinct scientific traditions, one going from symbolic AI to modern cognitive science on the one hand, and the other leading from second-order cybernetics to the current enactive paradigm. Implications: We can now understand that the extent to which the cognitive sciences have neglected their cybernetic parent is precisely the extent to which cybernetics had already carried the tendencies that would later find fuller expression in second-order cybernetics.