The enactive turn in cognitive science fundamentally changes how questions about experience and behaviour are addressed. We propose that there exists a suite of core concepts within enaction that are suited to the characterisation of many kinds of intentional subjects, including and especially animals, plants, collectivities and artefacts. We summarise some basic concerns of enactive theory and show how the common illustration of the single cell ascending a chemotactic gradient serves as a focus point for discussion of important topics such as identity, perspective, value, agency and life-mind continuity. We also highlight two important deficits of this example: the cell is ahistorical and asocial. Historicity and sociality are defining characteristics of living beings and are addressed within enactive theory by the concepts of structural coupling and participatory sense-making, respectively. This strongly biological framework is to be distinguished from scientific psychology which is, we argue, necessarily anthropomorphic. We propose a constrained bio-enactive framework that remains true to its biological foundations and that would allow us to negotiate consensus-based understanding in contested domains, where incompatible value systems enacted by competing systems are in conflict. A consensual ‘we’ is, we contend, a matter of negotiation, not of fixed essence. A bio-enactive framework may serve as a jumping off point for consensus-based discussion within contested domains.
de Haan S. (2022) Book Author’s Response: Continuity, not Conservatism: Why We Can Be Existential and Enactive. Constructivist Foundations 17(2): 173–178. https://cepa.info/7788
Abstract: García’s and Oblak’s reviews of my book Enactive Psychiatry open up some fundamental debates with regard to my use of the term “enactive” for the kind of approach that I develop. Is my account still properly “enactive” (García) and how does my approach compare to the extended mind theory on the one hand and to constructivism on the other hand (Oblak? In this response, I argue that (a) adding an existential dimension to enactivism is necessary to do justice to our way of being in the world and our specific sense-making and its problems; and (b) that this dimension can be incorporated within enactivism without giving up on either enactivism’s commitment to naturalism or the enactive life-mind continuity thesis. My “existentialized” enactivism is very much enactive in that it adopts the thoroughly relational perspective that forms the core of enactivism. This relational perspective is also what distinguishes enactive theory from both extended mind theory and constructivism. Erratum: In §1, the name of the first commentator is misspelled: Her name is “Enara García” rather than “Elena García.”
De Jesus P. (2016) Autopoietic enactivism, phenomenology and the deep continuity between life and mind. Phenomenology and Cognitive Science 15: 265–289. https://cepa.info/2385
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.
This paper reformulates some of the questions raised by extended mind theorists from an enactive, life/mind continuity perspective. Because of its reliance on concepts such as autopoiesis, the enactive approach has been deemed internalist and thus incompatible with the extended mind hypothesis. This paper answers this criticism by showing (1) that the relation between organism and cogniser is not one of co-extension, (2) that cognition is a relational phenomenon and thereby has no location, and (3) that the individuality of a cogniser is inevitably linked with the question of its autonomy, a question ignored by the extended mind hypothesis but for which the enactive approach proposes a precise, operational, albeit non-functionalist answer. The paper raises a perspective of embedded and intersecting forms of autonomous identity generation, some of which correspond to the canonical cases discussed in the extended mind literature, but on the whole of wider generality. In addressing these issues, this paper proposes unbiased, non-species specific definitions of cognition, agency and mediation, thus filling in gaps in the extended mind debates that have led to paradoxical situations and a problematic over-reliance on intuitions about what counts as cognitive.
Froese T. (2011) Breathing new life into cognitive science. Avant. The Journal of the Philosophical-Interdisciplinary Vanguard 2/2011: 113–129. https://cepa.info/412
In this article I take an unusual starting point from which to argue for a unified cognitive science, namely a position defined by what is sometimes called the “life-mind continuity thesis.” Accordingly, rather than taking a widely accepted starting point for granted and using it in order to propose answers to some well-defined questions, I must first establish that the idea of life-mind continuity can amount to a proper starting point at all. To begin with, I therefore assess the conceptual tools that are available to construct a theory of mind on this basis. By drawing on insights from a variety of disciplines, especially from a combination of existential phenomenology and organism-centered biology, I argue that mind can indeed be conceived as rooted in life, but only if we accept at the same time that social interaction plays a constitutive role in our cognitive capacities.
Froese T. & Di Paolo E. A. (2009) Sociality and the life–mind continuity thesis. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(4): 439–463. https://cepa.info/4460
The life – mind continuity thesis holds that mind is prefigured in life and that mind belongs to life. The biggest challenge faced by proponents of this thesis is to show how an explanatory framework that accounts for basic biological processes can be systematically extended to incorporate the highest reaches of human cognition. We suggest that this apparent ‘cognitive gap’ between minimal and human forms of life appears insurmountable largely because of the methodological individualism that is prevalent in cognitive science. Accordingly, a twofold strategy is used to show how a consideration of sociality can address both sides of the cognitive gap: (1) it is argued from a systemic perspective that inter-agent interactions can extend the behavioral domain of even the simplest agents and (2) it is argued from a phenomenological perspective that the cognitive attitude characteristic of adult human beings is essentially intersubjectively constituted, in particular with respect to the possibility of perceiving objects as detached from our own immediate concerns. These two complementary considerations of the constitutive role of inter-agent interactions for mind and cognition indicate that sociality is an indispensable element of the life – mind continuity thesis and of cognitive science more generally.
This paper provides a critical discussion of the views of Merleau-Ponty and contemporary enactivism concerning the phenomenological dimension of the continuity between life and mind. I argue that Merleau-Ponty’s views are at odds with those of enactivists. Merleau-Ponty only applied phenomenological descriptions to the life-worlds of sentient animals with sensorimotor systems, contrary to those enactivists who apply them to all organisms. I argue that we should follow Merleau-Ponty on this point, as the use of phenomenological concepts to describe the “experience” of creatures with no phenomenal consciousness has generated confusion about the role of phenomenology in enactivism and prompted some enactivists to ignore or turn away from phenomenology. Further, Merleau-Ponty also emphasizes the stark distinction between the vital order of animals and the human order to a greater degree than many phenomenologically inspired enactivists. I discuss his view in connection with recent research in developmental and comparative psychology. Despite the striking convergence of Merleau-Ponty’s visionary thought with the most recent findings, I argue that he somewhat overstates the difference between human experience and cognition, and that of our closest animal kin. I outline a developmental-phenomenological account of how the child enters the human order in the first years of life, thereby further mitigating the stark difference between orders. This results in a modified Merleau-Pontian version of the phenomenological dimension of life-mind continuity which I recommend to enactivism.
Radical and autopoietic enactivists disagree concerning how to understand the concept of sense-making in enactivist discourse and the extent of its distribution within the organic domain. I situate this debate within a broader conflict of commitments to naturalism on the part of radical enactivists, and to phenomenology on the part of autopoietic enactivists. I argue that autopoietic enactivists are in part responsible for the obscurity of the notion of sense-making by attributing it univocally to sentient and non-sentient beings and following Hans Jonas in maintaining a phenomenological dimension to life-mind continuity among all living beings, sentient or non-sentient. I propose following Merleau-Ponty instead, who offers a properly phenomenological notion of sense-making for which sentience is a necessary condition. Against radicalist efforts to replace sense-making with a deflationary, naturalist conception of intentionality, I discuss the role of the phenomenological notion of sense-making for understanding animal behavior and experience.
This paper considers questions about continuity and discontinuity between life and mind. It begins by examining such questions from the perspective of the free energy principle (FEP). The FEP is becoming increasingly influential in neuroscience and cognitive science. It says that organisms act to maintain themselves in their expected biological and cognitive states, and that they can do so only by minimizing their free energy given that the long-term average of free energy is entropy. The paper then argues that there is no singular interpretation of the FEP for thinking about the relation between life and mind. Some FEP formulations express what we call an independence view of life and mind. One independence view is a cognitivist view of the FEP. It turns on information processing with semantic content, thus restricting the range of systems capable of exhibiting mentality. Other independence views exemplify what we call an overly generous non-cognitivist view of the FEP, and these appear to go in the opposite direction. That is, they imply that mentality is nearly everywhere. The paper proceeds to argue that non-cognitivist FEP, and its implications for thinking about the relation between life and mind, can be usefully constrained by key ideas in recent enactive approaches to cognitive science. We conclude that the most compelling account of the relationship between life and mind treats them as strongly continuous, and that this continuity is based on particular concepts of life (autopoiesis and adaptivity) and mind (basic and non-semantic).